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Organic Cultivation and Non-Pesticidal Management at Yaenabaavi, Andhra Pradesh, India: 2. The Impressions
Prof. C. Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education,
Bangalore, India
krao@vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org

Yaenabaavi farmers have cited several reasons for not cultivating Bt cotton:
expensive seed; more sucking pests; new root and drying diseases; reduced soil fertility; death of sheep and damage to the health of the cattle that ate Bt cotton plants; causes allergy.  Yaenabaavi farmers said that they are not against new technology.   They would take a chance with new varieties of crops even when the previous year’s experience was disappointing but Bt cotton failed consistently, in Narasapeta (where illegal Bt cotton is grown), Lingala Ghanapur, Ranganathapalli and Devarappula Mandals of the Warnagal district and in most of Karnool district. 

The causes for not cultivating Bt cotton given by the farmers are based on hearsay as no Bt cotton was ever grown here and they have no first hand experience about it.   Their assertion that Bt cotton consistently failed in the neighbouring areas was also based on fed information, although they cited one farmer of the village who cultivated Bt cotton with disastrous results. 

Yaenabaavi farmers analyzed for us the causes for farmers’ suicides: There have been more farmer suicides in the recent years (this may partly be due to more extensive press coverage), than in the earlier years.  Crops failed during the previous three years or so.   High costs of ‘company seeds’, chemical fertilizers and pesticides did not yield proportionate returns.  Monoculture (means cultivation without crop rotation?) reduced yields year by year.  Market forces conspired to pay the farmer less and less.  There is no price difference between Bt cotton and non-Bt cotton, in the market.  Chemical inputs reduced soil fertility resulting in bad crop yield.  All this has increased indebtedness.   Of course, there were alcohol and family problems to add.   Although they cited several causes for farmers’ suicides, there is a serious implication of Bt cotton in this tragedy.   Same with the death of sheep.

Yaenabaavi is not practicing non-pesticidal agricultural management, as neem, tobacco and panchagavya are used as pesticides; only that no chemical pesticides and fertilizers are in use.  Nicotine extracted from tobacco, used as a chemical pesticide is a taboo, but nicotine in tobacco decoctions is not.   Neem is reputed to contain over a hundred antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and pesticidal chemical compounds.   Which chemicals panchagavya contains is beyond imagination.  On the same count, green manure and vermicompost also contain a very large number of chemical compounds.  

I am not very sure that the principles and practices of Organic Cultivation are properly and adequately understood, as only NPM and organic manures are simplistically cited. 

The only genetically engineered crop commercialized in India is Bt cotton.   With 65 per cent of cotton cultivated in India being non-Bt, there is no special merit in declaring Yaenabaavi as ’GM free’.  

In this low pest pressure year, in no Bt cotton field we saw any sucking pests, but on the Banni crop (non-Bt cotton variety) in Yaenabaavi, some pests like the red cotton bug, were conspicuous.  Over 10 per cent of the bolls were unopened indicating pest damage.  
The leaves of the Ladies’ finger crop were full of holes, a clear indication of pest damage.  The crops are certainly not pest-free.

It is the excessive and unwarranted use of chemical inputs that has wrecked farming and not their rational use.   The same crops under chemical fertilizer and pesticide management are much more luxuriant elsewhere than in Yaenabaavi.  In general, farming practices in today’s Yaenabaavi are largely the same as those in Indian Agriculture, before Green Revolution.

A net income of Rs. 5,000 per acre does not compare well with a return of over Rs. 6,000 on Bt cotton and maize even n the dry land areas.   The moderate income of Yaenabaavi farmers does not spell prosperity, even if the situation were much worse earlier.  Though tobacco yields a lot more, it is not extensively grown, probably in view of higher inputs and the farmers need to grow food crops for their own consumption. 

The farmers seemed euphoric in the feeling that by avoiding chemical inputs they are doing a great service to themselves and the country, in addition to what they were made to believe as successful farming, which they consider did not affect their food or financial security.

We met the same farmers (Venkatadri, Krishna, Mallaiah and several others) as the correspondents of The Hindu and NDTV, and also cited in the CSA Press Release, but we are not as excited.   The uniform and chorused answers of the farmers to our questions, gave an impression that the responses to questions were not spontaneous.  They cannot possibly understand the intricacies of the technology based issues they were talking about.   They seemed to be experienced in answering the routine questions on Bt cotton, organic farming and NPM practices, as there have been too many visitors, some from abroad, to this now famous place.  The farmers here are conscious of the attention they are getting from the national and international media and agencies.

The presence of CROPS, CSW, CAS and AEI in Yaenabaavi is inescapable and these organizations have certainly put in a lot of hard work in steering Yaenabaavi to the present fame.

While the general scenario is apparently reassuring, this does not warrant other farmers taking the same path, except to take advantage of the high moral ground of the current organic fervour.   Exclusive Organic and NPM practices keep the incomes of small farmers very low.

If the farmers of Yaenabaavi are happy, we all should be happy for them, though I am not sure of who are the real beneficiaries of this exercise.