ISIS Report 03/05/05
Indias Bt Cotton Fraud
Monsanto rides roughshod over Indian cotton farmers leaving a wake of
false claims and doctored information, despite being fined for bribery in
Indonesia Rhea Gala
The sources for
this article are posted on ISIS members website.
As the battle for control over cotton farming in India intensifies,
Monsantos tactics to extend approval for its Bollgard Bt cotton call to
mind those for which it was recently fined US$1.5m for bribery and corruption
In advance of a deadline for a decision on licence renewal in March
2005, Greenpeace and the Sarvodaya Youth Organization released two versions of
a report on Bt cotton prepared by the Joint Director of Agriculture of Warangal
District, Andhra Pradesh (AP). The data in the original report, commissioned
under a memorandum of understanding between the AP government and
Monsanto-Mahyco, revealed a comprehensive failure of Bt cotton in AP. The
second visibly tampered-with version exaggerated the yields, thereby
substantially reducing Monsantos compensation to farmers. State
agricultural committees have consistently demanded compensation to be paid to
farmers for losses at a rate of Rs.20 000 (US$458.5) per acre, but Monsanto has
refused to pay up so far.
Greenpeace campaigner Divya Raghunandan said, "We are disappointed by
the governments decision to expand the region under Bt cotton, while the
need was to stop where it was already grown
The fact that data has been so
clearly manipulated in this case, raises serious doubts about the authenticity
of any data that the Genetic Engineering Advisory Committee (GEAC) would use to
review Bt cotton."
Market research: wishful thinking, or science?
Monsanto commissioned a study using a market research agency for the
2004 season, which claimed that Bt cotton yield was up by 58% on a country wide
basis, resulting in a 60% increase in farmers incomes; and that in Andhra
Pradesh, a 46% yield increase and a 65% reduction in pesticide costs gave a 42%
increase in income to farmers.
A notorious piece of research by Martin Qaim (University of Bonn) and
David Zilberman (University of California, Berkeley) was published in
Science, claiming outstanding (80%!) yield increases from
Monsantos GM cotton; and projected the results as relevant to farmers
throughout the developing world. The paper drew a storm of protest, as it
derived all its data from Monsanto and its findings were completely at odds
with the reports coming from Indian farmers. Dr Devinder Sharma, a food policy
expert, called Qaim and Zilbermans paper a "scientific fairytale".
Agricultural scientists Dr Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari conducted an
independent study on Bt cotton on a season-long basis for three years in 87
villages of the major cotton growing districts of AP - Warangal, Nalgonda,
Adilabad and Kurnool - and found against Bt cotton on all counts:
- Bollgard failed miserably for small farmers in terms of yields;
non-Bt cotton surpassed Bt in yield by nearly 30% with 10% less expense
- Bollgard did not significantly reduce pesticide use; over the three
years, Bt farmers spent Rs. 2571 on pesticides on average, while the non-Bt
farmers spent Rs.2766
- Bollgard did not bring profit to farmers; over the three years, the
non-Bt farmers earned on average 60% more than Bt farmers
- Bollgard did not reduce the cost of cultivation; on an average, the
Bt farmers had incurred 12% more costs than non-Bt farmers
- Bollgard did not result in a healthier environment; researchers found
a special kind of root rot spread by Bollgard cotton, infecting the soil so
that other crops would not grow.
Another report entitled, The story of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh:
Erratic processes and results, published by the Centre for Sustainable
Agriculture (CSA), documents the dubious events of three years of commercial Bt
cotton cultivation in AP.
It researched the economics as well as the incidence of pests and
diseases, and beneficial organisms in Bt cotton and non-pesticidal management
(NPM) cotton fields. It established that the cost of pest management of Bt
cotton was 690% higher than in NPM farming systems. Moreover seed cost of Bt
cotton was 355% higher than conventional varieties.
These findings are documented by the women of the Deccan Development
Societys Community Media Trust, who have made a film called "Bt Cotton in
Warangal: A three year fraud" Their previous film "Why are Warangal Farmers
Angry with Bt Cotton" made in 2003, has been translated into French, Spanish,
Thai and German and English; and is making waves around the world in national
and international film festivals.
BBCs recently broadcast Bitter Harvest series looks at the plight
of farmers in India through issues such as seed-saving, patents, farmer
suicides, depopulation of rural areas, subsidies, free trade and the debt trap.
The corporate take-over of farming, the green revolution and
biotechnology are constant points of reference, with detail on how the public
system in the Punjab is used to promote Monsantos seeds, and how Monsanto
makes use of religion in its advertising to farmers in order to project its
seeds as miraculous.
Never mind the facts
The GEAC approved six new varieties of Monsanto-derived Bt cotton seed
for commercial use in the fertile northern states of Punjab, Rajasthan and
Haryana, and eight new varieties have approval for large-scale trials in these
states. This greatly extends the area given to GM cotton - which had previously
been restricted to six central and southern states - in spite of the
overwhelming evidence of harm caused to farmers livelihoods by the GM
Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya and Dr Krishan Bir Choudhary of Bharat
Krishak Samaj, together with representatives of other NGOs, met the Prime
Minister to demand the withdrawal of Bt cotton. Dr Devinder Sharma, called it
"a scientific fraud" to impose Bt cotton on farmers.
The CSA and Gene Campaign complained to the GEAC about its pretence of
inviting consultation with civil society. NGOs were invited, with one days
notice, to voice their concerns; but their promised 10-minute slot was cut to 5
minutes and there was no discussion. A GEAC member refused to reveal her name
on the grounds that it was confidential.
In a joint letter to GEAC chairman Suresh Chandra, CSA executive
director Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu and Gene Campaign director Dr Suman Sahai alleged
that the evidence of Bt cotton failure which they provided were not included in
the minutes of the meeting. The minutes contained responses of seed companies
on some questions raised by the GEAC.
The decision to extend the period of approval for Monsantos
failed Bt cotton hybrids, Mech-12 Bt, Mech-162 Bt and Mech-184 Bt, which
expires this season, was deferred again by the GEAC in April until the next
meeting on May 11. One Bt variety was approved for commercial cultivation in
the 2005 season in central India, and three more transgenic cotton varieties,
including a VIP cotton from Syngenta, were approved for large-scale field
trials in northern India.
These approvals, in the face of both grass-roots and scientific
evidence of huge losses to farmers using Monsantos Bt seeds, are
reminiscent of those in Indonesia, which came to an end with a change in
government. Monsanto was exposed and fined $1.5m for bribery and corruption in
the United States ("Corruption, half-truths and lies",
SiS 25). The
case of the tampered-with report on GM cotton remains unanswered here.
The AP Coalition demanded that the AP government immediately take steps
to prevent the sale of Bollgard seeds for the present season, which is already
going on. It also demanded that the government order a judicial enquiry into
the official agencies suppression or manipulation of the evidence to
favour the Mahyco-Monsanto corporation.
Farmers, scientists and researchers from around the world meeting in
Hyderabad as part of the Global Week of Action, narrated first-hand encounters
with Bt cotton and GM crops. A statement from the Deccan Development Society
(DDS) said: "Having shared our encounters with genetic engineering from our
countries, we are stronger in our conviction that the use of transgenic crops
has unleashed new hazards onto our farms and into our lives. The profit-driven
life science industry is more life destroying than life giving."