Growing Bt cotton requires more expense on seeds, pesticides, and fertilisers, new study shows
A study of smallholder farmers in Maharashtra has found that under rain-fed conditions, farmers growing traditional Indian cotton can obtain similar revenue and profit as farmers growing GM Bt cotton.
Note that the article below says that rain-fed is the predominant condition of Indian agriculture.
In rain-fed areas, Indian cotton crop gives similar profit as Bt cotton: Research
DNA India, 9 June 2015
A study of smallholder farmers in Maharashtra has found that under rain-fed conditions, farmers growing traditional Indian cotton crop can obtain similar revenue and profit as farmers growing genetically modified American cotton (BT American cotton).
The research conducted by UK scientists, published in Nature Plants, found that farmers growing BT American cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) obtained slightly higher yields than farmers growing Asiatic cotton (Gossypium arboreum), the native Indian variety. However, growing BT American cotton requires more expense on seeds, pesticides and fertilisers, as a result of which the profits generated by farmers ended up being similar to those generated by farmers growing Asiatic cotton.
The researchers have suggested that Asiatic cotton should be considered when farmers are deciding which cotton to grow under rain-fed conditions, which are predominant in India.
The research is set to initiate a fresh debate on genetically modified crops and energise the anti-GM lobby once again. Asiatic cotton was traditionally cultivated in India till the entry of BT cotton in 2002. BT cotton, at present, makes up 90% of the cotton grown in Maharashtra and even across India. Most farming in Maharashtra is dependent on rains due to skewed irrigation facilities. Even the average rainfall in the state in the past few years has been 70%.
Anti-BT activists and farmer activists have been questioning since long its safety and economic feasibility, arguing that the variety is costlier and more input-intensive, and therefore an undesirable burden on resource-poor farmers. These groups have also been seeking review from the state government on whether BT cotton is suitable in rain-fed or non-irrigated regions such as Vidarbha.
"While economic benefits of BT cotton in terms of yields, farmers' net revenue and reduction in pesticide cost are well-documented, it was unclear to what extent irrigation influences the performance of BT cotton, especially on smallholder farming in India, and if, in the absence of irrigation, growing BT provides greater economic benefits compared to traditional Asiatic cotton," states the paper, citing the reasons which prompted the study.
American BT cotton became popular as it was promoted as "far better" than the native variety. Its fibres are longer than Asiatic cotton fibres and better suited to existed textiles technology. As American cotton is very sensitive to insect and disease damage, it has been genetically modified to be more resistant to pests, including bollworms. The hybrid seeds also need to be bought every time, that too at almost 10-fold the cost compared to traditional seeds.
The data was collected by lead author Dr Carla Romeu-Dalmau, a James Martin fellow at Oxford University, from 51 smallholder farmers in Maharashtra. A comparison of input costs, yields and revenues suggests that while Asiatic cotton in the rain-fed area required an input cost ranging from Rs10,000 to Rs15,000 per acre, giving an average net revenue of Rs15,000 to Rs20,000, BT cotton cultivation required average input cost of Rs15,000-Rs20,000 per acre, giving an average net revenue of Rs15,000-Rs25,000.
Dalmau also found that farmers growing BT American cotton under irrigated conditions obtained higher yields than farmers growing the same under rain-fed conditions. However, higher yields did not translate into higher profits as they spent more to cultivate the cotton.
Director of Cotton Corporation of India MM Choklingam, however, rejected the findings of the study. "Though BT cotton requires higher input cost initially, the yield is far more than the traditional variety," he said.
Nonetheless, he appreciated the efforts of farmers growing the traditional variety. "Some traditional growers are using high density seed-sowing, maybe three to six times more plants per acre, and getting higher yields than before."
Asiatic cotton can generate similar economic benefits to Bt cotton under rainfed conditions
Carla Romeu-Dalmau, Michael B. Bonsall, Katherine J. Willis & Liam Dolan
Nature Plants 1, Article number: 15072 (2015) doi:10.1038/nplants.2015.72
Published online 1 June 2015
American cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.), transformed with Bacillus thuringiensis Cry genes (Bt G. hirsutum) that confer resistance to lepidopteran pests, is extensively cultivated worldwide. In India, transgenic Bt G. hirsutum was commercially released in 2002 and by 2014 95% of farmers had adopted Bt G. hirsutum1. The economic benefits of Bt G. hirsutum over non-Bt G. hirsutum are well documented and include increase in yields, increase in farmers' net revenue and reduction in pesticide application against lepidopteran pests2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. However, it is unclear to what extent irrigation influences the performance of Bt G. hirsutum on smallholder farming in India, and if, in the absence of irrigation, growing Bt G. hirsutum provides greater economic benefits for Indian smallholder farmers compared with growing the Asiatic cotton Gossypium arboreum L. Here, we compare the economic impact of growing Bt G. hirsutum with growing G. arboreum under rainfed conditions in the Indian state of Maharashtra, and show that G. arboreum can generate similar net revenue, and thus similar economic benefits for smallholder farmers compared with growing Bt G. hirsutum. We also compare the economic impact of growing Bt G. hirsutum under rainfed conditions with growing Bt G. hirsutum under irrigated conditions and show that even though Bt G. hirsutum yields increase with irrigation, the net revenue does not significantly increase because farmers using irrigation spend significantly more than farmers growing Bt G. hirsutum without irrigation. We conclude that our data provide a broader insight into how socio-economic data needs to be incorporated into agro-ecological data when planning strategies to improve cotton farming in India.