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Bt Cotton in Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh, India: 3. The Farmers' Story
Prof. C Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education,
Bangalore, India
krao@vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org

We met about 20 Bt cotton growing farmers from different villages such as Kadipikonda (Hanumakonda Mandal), Kapulakanaparthi (Sangyem Mandal), Dharmaram (Beejakonda Mandal), Uggonipalli and Ustarapalli (both in Atmakur Mandal), and Yellampalli (Chityala Mandal) in  the Warangal District.  Three or four farmers we met have abandoned their non-Bt crop in the face of very severe pest infestation, though this was a low-pest pressure year.  Rain fed crop allows only two pickings while the irrigated crop provides for at least three pickings.   The acreage of each farmer varied from one to five, though a few cultivate 10 acres or more.  Not being properly guided and not being sure of what to choose, in the face of several Bt varieties, the farmers planted a different variety on each acre, in the hope of choosing the best for the next year. 

Almost no one planted a refugium.  Three pesticide sprays being the norm, one did not spray any pesticide at all, while one sprayed eight times in an anxiety to ‘provide greater protection to the crop’.  Untimely rain damaged the crop in several places in the District.  There were problems of germination, some varieties were susceptible to virus disease or the grey mildew and there was a higher incidence of jassid and white fly in some areas.  They expect an income of Rs. 6,000 (rain fed) to 10,000 (irrigated) per acre and seemed satisfied with it.  Some farmers are cultivating even the illegal Bt bought in Maharashtra in the hope of realizing an unrealistically high yield of up to 15 quintals.   Farmers do not believe that sheep died out of eating Bt cotton and asserted that no farmer committed suicide on account of Bt cotton. 

One farmer owning 12 acres grows cotton on eight acres.  On three acres, he is growing Bollgard II (the two gene stacked BGII).  He bought the seed in Nanded, Maharashtra, as BGII was not approved for AP and is very happy with this variety.  On one acre he is growing Bt cotton variety Brahma, and on another MECH 12, both of which also were not approved for AP. 

The farmers have no thought of crop rotation and intercropping that would have reduced pest damage, as they hope to earn more from continuous cotton cropping.  

One serious complaint was that the banks which advanced crop loans deducted some amount as insurance premium but did not pay compensation for crop losses, an unfair practice.  Another complaint was that some dealers mislead farmers by telling that their Bt seed does not need any pesticide spray. 

We have also visited the Yaenabaavi village, widely publicized for its management of agriculture without chemical inputs and without Bt cotton, discussed on this blog earlier (January 25, 2007).
The Bottom Line

There have been certain instances of suboptimal performance of Bt cotton in the Warangal District and elsewhere.  The causes for this lie not in the Bt technology per se, but in management.   All the important players such as the Government (not controlling illegal and spurious seed and no seed certification policy), Bt event developers (not choosing appropriate varieties for specific regions), the seed dealers (insufficient post-sale guidance and crop monitoring), and the farmers (cutting edges and not adopting appropriate cultivation practices), have contributed to certain deficiencies in the crop outcome.  The NGOs play on these problems of management and project an over blown picture of Bt cotton disaster to the world.  What the farmer ultimately earns depends not on just the crop yield but on the market forces on the day of sale of cotton.   The Government should ensure that the farmer gets a fair price which necessitates the elimination of middlemen. 

In the semi-arid Telengana region and similar areas, the most important negative factor is growing cotton in red soil and that too as a rain fed crop.   This is in spite of the advice of the AP Department of Agriculture which had cautioned against the practice a long time ago, particularly in areas where the annual rain fall was less than 60 cm and not distributed uniformly during the crop season.   There is a very striking difference between Bt cotton grown as a rain fed and irrigated crop, as between Bt and non-Bt crop.  Whatever the enthusiasm of the farmer, cotton cannot be grown profitably everywhere. 

Compulsory registration of Bt seed developers and their seed plots, permitting the sale of only authentic Bt cotton seed exclusively through Government recognized outlets and providing for adequate and appropriate farmer education would immensely improve the situation. 
In the ideological and political campaign against Bt cotton, truth and facts are the prime casualties and the ultimate sufferer is the farmer, for whose benefit every one claims to be working.

May 21, 2007