Has Bt cotton helped farmers? Sharad Pawar says yes, His Ministry No
Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that use of high quality hybrid cotton seeds has helped farmers make big gains due to decreased use of pesticides. At a time when India is in the grips of an agrarian crisis, this statement should have been seen as a glimmer of hope:Only Pawar’s own ministry seems to think that the converse is happening.
The agriculture ministry’s reports cite ICARfindings as recent as January 2012 to prove that Bt cotton production in the last five years has reduced whereas use of insecticide and pesticides has increased.
Activists say the information given by Pawar is misleading. Vidarbha cotton farmers’ advocacy group Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti (VJAS) activist Kishore Tiwari said the false hype created was part of propaganda to create environment for allowing genetically modified seeds in the country.
Pawar told the House: “With the use of high quality hybrid cotton seeds, Indian farmers experienced the biggest gain in the form of reduced insecticide usage from 46% in 2001 to less than 26% after 2006 and 21% during the last two years — 2009 and 2010. Introduction of Bt cotton hybrids has helped in production increase from 156 lakh bales (170 kg lint per bale) in 2001 to an estimated 356 lakh bales in 2011…The Bt cotton hybrids approved till date do not require any herbicide in addition to those required by their non Bt counterparts for enhancing the results.”
However, the agriculture ministry’s report dated January 9, 2012 (SJ/FA-2/1a/i) says:“Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers. In fact cost of cotton cultivation has jumped from Rs 7 million per hectare to Rs 12 million due to rising costs of pesticides. Total Bt cotton production in the last five years has reduced.”
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