Not for the first time wilt is affecting Bt cotton in India. In Madhya Pradesh a fact finding team has been studying a large area of wilt on Bt cotton which is now beginning to affect adjacent non-Bt cotton plots.
This follows on from the case in Andhra Pradesh of a large area of Bt cotton being affected by an unusual disease caused by Tobacco Streak Virus, which normally affects sunflower and groundnut crops and is not known to attack cotton crops.
The report says this suggests an "increased vulnerability of transgenic plants to new diseases". The authors of the report also strongly object to the fact that farmers are unfairly being held responsible for the wilt found in their fields when they were not warned in advance of any peculiar management requirements of Bt Cotton, nor were they warned about its unpredictability.
Report of a Fact Finding Team's visit to Badwani district, Madhya Pradesh
Purpose: To investigate into the large scale phenomenon of wilt being reported by (Bt) cotton farmers in villages of Badwani district
An 11-member Fact Finding Team [FFT] of the MEC [Monitoring & Evaluation Committee]1 and the Beej Swaraj Abhiyan of Madhya Pradesh, consisting of farmers, social activists and agriculture scientists visited villages and met farmers in three villages of Badwani district [and block] on 24th and 25th of October 2005, to look into the wide-spread reporting of wilt in Bt Cotton fields and the subsequent losses incurred by farmers here. Earlier in the day on 24th October, a smaller team also met senior officials in the agriculture department in the DDA's office and had an initial round of discussions on the government's assessment of the situation.
The government officials met had mainly given the following reasons for the phenomenon of wilt being witnessed [mainly in the Badwani-Thikri belt, as per the officials]. The following is the official version, as explained to the smaller delegation.
* that while the shedding of squares, flowers and bolls is much higher in non-Bt Cotton, in the case of Bt Cotton, only 3% shedding happens; this implies that the nutrient requirement of the plant during the reproductive stage is very high and farmers often do not apply fertilizers, including compost with adequate humus, at required and frequent intervals.
* that Bt Cotton is also being grown in non-heavy soils where the content of humus is very low and this could result in wilting of the plant
* there was a long gap in rainfall in the month of August, where it did not rain for more than 20 days
* that farmers who had sown during the summer are the worst affected with this phenomenon of wilt - however, they had harvested a good crop for themselves of upto 10 quintals per acre. While this may not be as much as the farmers expected or the company propaganda implied, the farmers did not incur losses, as per the officials.
The team also found that even though official surveys are on, many villages/farmers who had complained a few weeks back have still not been visited by the official survey teams. It was also reported that teams from Mahyco and from the Zonal Agricultural Research Station in Khargone have also visited farmers and inquired into the phenomenon of wilt but their findings and conclusions were not available to the FFT.
On 24th evening, villages of Borlayi and Sajwani were visited by the FFT and on the 25th, Amli village was visited. In Borlayi, a few Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton fields were visited by the team [Shankar Balaji Yadav (non-Bt and unapproved Bt Cotton), Rameshar Dhurji Patidar (non-Bt, sown early), Mohan Patel (two Bt Cotton plots, RCH2 Bt and MECH 6301 Bt, both sown in the monsoon], and farmers met [Gopal Bhikaji Patidar (RCH2 Bt Cotton sown early in summer), Gangaram Motiji Barpha (RCH2 Bt, sown in summer), Jagadish Maru (MECH 184 Bt, late sowing and RCH2 Bt, summer sowing]. In Sajwani, farmers like Laxman Lunaji Choyal, Mohan Tejaji, Badri Kanaji, Bhagwan Dudaji, Puraji Manaji shared their experience with the FFT. In Amli, fields of Omkarlal Rukduji Parmar and Bharat Singh Darbar were visited by the team.
* from the discussions with farmers, it was found that the wilt attack happened around the same time in all the farmers' fields, irrespective of the sowing date. This was about a month back, soon after the last round of rains. Late sowing or early sowing did not seem to matter, from our visit and discussions.
* The fields were not uniformly affected. Some fields had all the plants drying up, while fields of some RCH2 Bt Cotton crop which were mostly sown early were affected somewhat less
* For those who had done summer sowing, the crop yielded an average of 9.5 quintals. However, for those who had gone in for late sowing, the average yields ranged only around 2.5 quintals. In Sajwani, the averages ranged around 3-5 quintals only.
* The wilt appears to be spreading and affecting neighboring fields even now, including non-Bt cotton
* As per a detailed analysis done of the economics of MECH 184 Bt of Shri Jagadish Maru and RCH2 Bt of Shri Gopal Patidar, the cost of cultivation ranged between 6350/- rupees to 7000/- rupees per acre [all costs including family labour, transportation costs to the market, FYM etc., were included in these calculations]. The gross returns in the case of Shri Jagadish Maru were only Rs. 5200/- while those of Shri Gopal Patidar were Rs. 11,900/- per acre. This certainly meant great losses for the farmers, both in terms of expected returns not being obtained and the cost of cultivation being more than the returns.
* An analysis of the fertilizer application of these farmers shows that on an average, at least 4 cartloads to 12 cartloads of farm yard manure was applied per acre in all cases. Chemical fertilizers were applied as per recommended dosage. Irrigation was provided as and when required. In fact, we did not find a major difference in this management between all the farmers met, including the non-Bt farmers and Bt farmers and those with large scale wilt and low wilt. This factor cannot therefore be used to explain the current wilt phenomenon. Further, we did meet farmers like Ramlal Parmar who had applied fertilizers during the reproductive stage of the crop including flower and boll formation. However, his crop experienced wilt too.
Additionally, farmers discussed the fact that wheat crop grown after harvesting Bt Cotton is yielding lower produce, possibly due to the deterioration of soil conditions, despite all other practices being kept the same. The difference in yield in those plots which did not have Bt Cotton grown on them and those wheat fields which have had Bt Cotton grown in the earlier season, ranged from 5 to 6 quintals. This issue was revealed to the FFT in both Borlayi and Sajwani villages.
The FFT concludes that farmers who have experienced the wilt problem have certainly not obtained the performance promised by the Bt Cotton companies in their propaganda [farmers were expecting at least 20 quintals per acre with different Bt Cotton hybrids, as per the posters and other propaganda used by the companies] and for some of the farmers met, the cost of cultivation has been more than the returns from the crop.
The wilt was observed mostly on Bt Cotton fields of various hybrids [MECH 162 Bt, MECH 184 Bt, MECH 6301 Bt, RCH2 Bt] and is not limited to any particular hybrid. Therefore, this cannot be attributed as a hybrid characteristic.
The wilt was not witnessed to such an extent on non-Bt Cotton, especially varieties like Shankar 8 and hybrids like JKH 1 and Bunny. Therefore, the wilt phenomenon cannot be attributed to weather conditions and abiotic stress like lack of rainfall and moisture. Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton fields which are adjacent to each other with similar soil conditions and management practices adopted, presented a striking picture of contrast to the visiting FFT.
Practices like sowing time or fertilizer application did not seem to impact the occurrence of wilt, since discussions revealed that the crop of different farmers who had engaged in both summer sowing and late sowing was affected.
Similarly, fertilizer application seems to follow a uniform pattern with most farmers met, who use a mix of traditional compost and chemical fertilizers in almost all cases.
Having concluded that wilt is a phenomenon affecting Bt Cotton [and now spreading to adjacent non-Bt cotton plots], the FFT also rules out the wilt as a result of an abiotic stress or as a shortcoming in the farmers' practices with Bt Cotton. This seems to be a reflection of the unpredictable results expectable from the transgenic technology used in Bt Cotton and the increased vulnerability of transgenic plants to new diseases [as witnessed in the case of Andhra Pradesh where more than one lakh acres of Bt Cotton have been affected by an unusual disease caused by Tobacco Streak Virus which normally affects sunflower and groundnut crops and is unknown to attack cotton crop] and pests.
The FFT also strongly objects to the fact that farmers are unfairly being held responsible for the wilt being witnessed in their fields ["they should apply more fertilizers", better management practices should be adopted etc.] - farmers were not warned beforehand of the requirements of Bt Cotton, its peculiar 'requirements' and unpredictability. Therefore, the government should pro-actively warn the farmers about such potential problems with Bt Cotton and recognize that if there is a change in management practices needed with Bt Cotton, farmers were not warned about it.
DEMANDS OF THE FFT2:
- There should be deeper investigations into the phenomenon of wilt in Bt Cotton. In the earlier years, this was attributed to particular hybrids as a characteristic of the hybrid. The current occurrence shows that different Bt Cotton hybrids have been affected.
- The government should also pro-actively assess the extent of the phenomenon, the reasons and the extent of losses and not wait for farmers to complain first.
- The government should immediately put into place compensation mechanisms for farmers affected.
1 The Monitoring and Evaluation Committee [MEC] to monitor Bt Cotton across the country was set up by Adivasi Ekta Sangathan, AKRSP, CEAD, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Grameen Vikas Trust, Greenpeace India, Jan Saahas, Kheti Virasat Mission, Krishnadevaraya Rythu Sankshema Sangam, Krushi, MARI, Navajyothi, Pasumai Tayagam, Prasun, Rashtriya Satyagrah Dal, Sampark, Sarvodaya Youth Organisation, SECURE, VASPS and YUVA.
2 FFT members include: Avdhesh Sharma, Bhuru Singh, Ganesh Kanade, Hukum Singh Bhati, Kalu Singh, Kavitha Kuruganti, Madhav Avasia, Nilesh Desai, Nilesh Yadav, Radheshyam Parmar and Shailendra Tomar