1.Optimal Pesticide Use Can Save Cotton Farmers
2.No Bt Cotton, No Pests!
1.SCIENCE-AUSTRALIA: Optimal Pesticide Use Can Save Cotton Farmers
By Neena Bhandari Inter Press Service, 7June 2007 http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=38073
MELBOURNE, Jun 7 (IPS) - A relatively low-tech approach to managing pesticides promises to help hundreds of thousands of cotton farmers across Asia raise yields and reduce environmental contamination.
Melbourne scientists are already collaborating with groups across Asia to combat the cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), an agricultural pest that causes five billion US dollars worth of crop damage each year and serious distress to farmers in countries like India.
Helicoverpa armigera is a major pest prevalent in 29 cotton producing countries across Asia, Australia, Africa and Southern Europe. Besides cotton, this moth attacks more than 100 different commercial crops including maize, wheat, sorghum, sunflower, chickpea, lupins, soybeans, tobacco, tomato, lettuce, sweet corn, capsicum and beans and flowers including chrysanthemums, gladioli and roses.
Derek Russell and Philip Batterham, professors at the 'Bio21 Institute' of the University of Melbourne have been working closely with Keshav Kranthi of the Central Institute of Cotton Research in Nagpur (India) and a number of other groups in India, China and Pakistan, to develop technologies to aid farmers in their fight against this destructive moth.
About 40 percent of the annual cost of growing cotton is spent on insecticides by the eight million cotton farmers spread across 11 states in India, while still failing to control the caterpillars. Cotton bollworm has often caused total crop loss driving hundreds of farmers in India to suicide.
Besides making the pest resistant, indiscriminate spraying of insecticides has created ecological havoc. Russell says, "By the mid 1990s, Indian cotton farmers were spending 43 percent of the variable costs of cotton production on insecticides, around 80 percent of that being for cotton bollworm control. Insecticide use on cotton was 50 percent of all insecticide use in the country and it was increasing at seven percent per annum. For many, perhaps even most, cotton production was being rendered uneconomic."
"In 1998-99, 14.6 percent of Indian cotton production was lost to insect -- mainly cotton bollworm -- damage. The Green Revolution had increased the area of more susceptible cotton bollworm hosts and the intensification of cropping patterns meant that these hosts were available all year round." he adds.
Kranthi and his collaborators, supported by Russell, have implemented a control programme in thousands of Indian villages, slashing insecticide use by 50 percent, which has led to increase in yields by 11 percent and profitability by 75 percent. In the Wardha district of central Maharashtra, where the programme was introduced in 1997, common insecticides once again kill cotton bollworms easily.
According to official figures maintained by the provincial government of Maharashtra, close 1,500 farmers, most cotton growers, committed suicide in 2006 and the trend has continued this year in spite of attempts at intervention by the government.
Apart from higher yields, selective use of insecticides has major benefits for the environment and human health. A 2004 survey found that under the programme the number of farmers poisoned by insecticides had decreased roughly tenfold.
Russell says, "There were seven major groups of insecticides being used. Now farmers are using four groups and rotating them intelligently, keeping human and environmental health in mind." The strategy is implemented in an integrated pest management context, not using insecticides that kill the biological control agents or disrupting control of other pest species in the cotton. The group has had some major successes, recently identifying resistance genes for two important classes of insecticides, the neonicotinoids and the spinosyns.
The collaborators have developed a number of test kits, similar to home pregnancy test kits, which allow the farmer to determine if an insecticide will be effective against the moth. It is now possible to test the quality or identity of the insecticide, thereby allowing a farmer to check whether he is getting what he paid for. Another test detects whether a population of moth will be affected by a particular insecticide.
As farmers' spraying habits tend to be heavily influenced by their neighbours, the scheme is introduced to whole villages at a time. The programme tells farmers how to check whether insecticides are needed and if so which type of insecticide to use and when best to use it, so that during each of the four month-long "windows" of the growing season, only one type of insecticide is used. The life cycle of the Helicoverpa armigera is about one month, so the offspring of any resistant insects that survive one round of insecticide are killed by a different one the next month.
Some aspects of the programme have been introduced in China and Pakistan. In Uganda, they have taken a different approach says Russell. "There is no effective agricultural extension support structure in Uganda, so, with donor and national collaborator support we have been running 9,000 demonstrations per year. By the end of 2007 we would have contacted every cotton grower in Uganda."
A similar test has been developed by Kranthi to check the integrity of Bt cotton -- a transgenic form of cotton that contains a bacterial insecticide. Seeds can be ground up and a dip-stick style test used to detect the presence of the toxin. Undoubtedly, Bt cotton has been a huge success with widespread adoption in a number of countries including Australia, China, India and the U.S, but public opposition to the genetic modification of food crops means that in the short-term genetically modified Bt plants are not a viable alternative for controlling the moth on the majority of the crop species it attacks.
The next crucial step is to sequence the moth's genome, to find its Achilles heel.
Prof. Philip Batterham from the Bio21 Institute wants to extend the kit technology by determining the full range of genes that can be involved in insecticide resistance. He says, "With this knowledge it will be possible to develop a diagnostic to predict the usefulness of different insecticides. We will be able to prescribe the best possible control treatment regime to control this pest."
"We believe it will be possible in the future to manage or prevent resistance so that farmers can keep their produce in the market. To maximise control over insect pests, we are working towards next generation solutions -- pest-specific insecticides," Batterham adds. (END/2007)
2.No Bt Cotton, No Pests!
How cotton farmers are being fleeced
By Devinder Sharma
For the beleaguered cotton farmers, who consume an overdose of harmful pesticides every year, and are now being lured to adopt genetically modified cotton, there is finally a silver-lining on the dark and polluted horizon.
No pesticides, no Bt cotton and there are no pests!
A tiny village in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh in southern India has successfully charted an easy and simple escape route from the multiple rings of a chakravyuha* or a trap that the agribusiness industry had very conveniently thrown around the neck of cotton farmers. Like the legendary warrior Abhimanyu in the great Indian epic Mahabharta, cotton farmers were being pushed into a chakravyuha from which there was no way out. The greater the attack of insect pests, the greater the use and abuse of potent chemicals. Thousands of cotton farmers, unable to loosen the tightening rope around their neck, had in the process taken the fatal route.
Punukula village, about 12 kms from Kothagudem town in Andhra Pradesh, and with a population of about 860, was also a victim of the vicious circle of poison. Indiscriminate application of pesticides on cotton and chili had brought in a horde of problems, including deaths resulting from acute poisoning and suicides by debt-ridden farmers. While the sale of chemicals soared, raking in annually Rs 2-3 million** for the pesticides traders from only about 500 acres of land holdings that exist in the village, farmers continued to slide into debt following the devastation inflicted on the natural resource base. If only the sale receipt from unwanted pesticides had remained within the village, the village economy would have been on an upswing.
It was in 1999 that a few farmers began experimenting with Non-Pesticidal Management (NPM) practices. A year later, in 2000-01, a local NGO Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment (SECURE) with technical support from the Centre for World Solidarity in Hyderabad was able to convince 20 farmers to opt for NPM. The highly contaminated environment began to change for the better. Soil and plant health looked revitalised, and the pests began to disappear. Such was the positive impact both environmentally and economically that by 2004 the entire village had stopped using chemical pesticides. Restoring the ecological balance brought back the natural pest control systems. Along with the pesticides, the pests too disappeared.
With no pests to worry about, Punukula had no reason to go in for Bt cotton.
At a time when more than 55 per cent of the total pesticides used in the country are applied on cotton alone, the story of Punukula is a reminder of the dangers of a silent spring. First pesticides, and now Bt cotton, is being promoted to reduce crop losses from the dreaded bollworm pests. The idea being that pesticides being harmful to the environment any reduction in its usage (with the cultivation of Bt cotton) is a saving from chemical contamination. What the industry, as well as agricultural scientists, however, refuses to accept is that the pest population multiplies only because of the unwanted application of chemical pesticides. In the early 1960s, only six to seven major pests were worrying the cotton farmer. The Farmer today is battling against some 70 major pests on cotton. Therefore the solution is not to push the cotton farmer deeper by strengthening the multiple rings of poison (and now the biological treadmill of Bt cotton) but to pull him out of the pesticides trap.
As Punukula shows, NPM practices have not only restored the ecological balance but also reduced the dependence of farmers on external inputs. This in turn has minimized the debt trap and thereby the resulting spiral death dance. Punukula today stands like an oasis in the highly pernicious and contaminated farming systems being promoted by agricultural research and the agribusiness industry.
Punukula however does not figure in the research agenda of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), the umbrella organization that controls farm research in India, as well as the National Academy for Agricultural Sciences and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. So much so that the Union Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, and his colleague, the Science and Technology Minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, continue to blindly beat their drums in support of GM technology. Like the mainline agricultural scientists, they too remain removed from the realities of farmers fields while always having a ready ear for the agribusiness industry.
Mr Pawar had recently said: "GM crops are necessary for ensuring food and nutrition security and increasing farmers' income. Like the IT sector, India has to exploit its potential to emerge as a leader in agricultural biotechnology." Mr Pawar's misplaced emphasis on a risky and faulty technology is essentially to help the commercial interests of the biotechnology industry. What Mr Pawar is not aware OF is that in 2003-04, the total acreage under NPM cotton went up to 1200 acres in Punukula and the neighbouring Pullaigudem villages. With an average yield of 7500 kgs per acre (reaching a maximum of 12000 kgs per acre) against an average of 5000 to 7500 kg for Bt cotton, farmers in Punukula have emerged free from the recurring cycle of pesticides, debt and death.
Another NGO, the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), Hyderabad, has clearly demonstrated the economics of Bt cotton and hybrid cotton in some of the selected pockets of Andhra Pradesh. It has established that the cost of pest management in Bt cotton was 690 per cent more than the NPM farming systems. This was over and above the seed cost, which was 355 per cent higher in case of Bt cotton seeds. Who gains from the promotion of Bt cotton seeds, therefore, is quite obvious. Unfortunately, the entire agricultural research infrastructure in India and for that matter globally is being used to ensure the viability of the seed and agribusiness companies. The farmer is just an incidental beneficiary in the reductionist economics that is worked out in support of such farming technologies and approaches.
The Indian biotech industry claims to have sold Bt cotton seeds sufficient for planting in 500,000 hectares in 2003-04. Interestingly, at Rs 1600 per acre as the seed price, including Rs 1200 as the technology fee that the industry is willfully charging, the seed industry and trade has very conveniently drawn out Rs 1400 million from the rural areas (in technology fees alone). If the Ministry of Agriculture and the ICAR were to instead promote the Punukula model of sustainable cotton cultivation, farmers wouldn't be exploited by the seed industry. In simple words, Rs 1400 million would have stayed with the cotton farmers. Every rupee saved is an additional rupee earned. Rural poverty, hunger and farm suicides would then be a thing of the past.
If Punukula too had taken to Bt cotton, the village would have been forced to fork out Rs 600,000 as additional seed price (at Rs 1200 per acre as technology fee) for the 500 acres under cotton cultivation. The farmers would have then remained eternally in debt, a victim of the cutting-edge technology that is actually benefiting the agribusiness companies. It is therefore quite obvious that in connivance with the agricultural scientists and policy makers, the Bt cotton seed industry is thriving at the expense of marginalized farming communities.
Punukula village has the potential to pull out cotton growers from the chemical and biological chakravyuha. A beginning has to be made, the sooner the better. #
*In the mythological epic Mahabharta, Maharsi Vyasa (the writer) created a noble character of a gallant prince Abhimanyu. In this epic, he was the son of Arjuna. Abhimanyu learnt the art of military science relating to the entry in a highly fortified and invincible army of soldiers describd as "Chakravyuah", when the great warrior Arjuna was explaining the same to his wife and the infant Abhimanyu was still in her womb. Since Arjuna's attention was diverted owing to some urgent message, he could not explain how to get out of this fortification of the enemy camp. This part of knowledge relating to military science the infant could not get while in the womb. Mahabharta thus conveys that a person could acquire knowledge only after the entry of soul and consequent consciousness into him/her. Later, after about two decades as a young and gallant warrior, Abhimnyu participated in the great Mahabharta war between Pandavas and Kauravas at Kurukshetra. He could enter the invincible Chakravyuah of the Kaurvas - the enemy camp and fought valiantly like a gallant prince and brave soldier, but could not come out of the fortification of the soldiers and was finally killed.
**1 Euro is equal to Rs 57 approximately.