Implications of Bt cotton crops for Indian agriculture
Farmers have been cultivating Bt cotton for a decade in India. With the decade-long experience, supporters and detractors of GM crop technology have been engaged in building two different and contrasting narratives. Supporters have been showing the data on the immense increase in cotton production in the country with the adoption of Bt cotton seeds by farmers. They have argued that Bt cotton seeds have helped farmers reduce the use of chemical pesticides and thus saved them the money they used to spend on buying costly pesticides. It was not the government which approved Bt cotton initially. Farmers had started cultivating it illegally. Supporters of GM crop technology have been arguing that since the benefits from Bt cotton cultivation were so impressive and apparent, the government could not do much to stop it and was compelled to fall in line by approving its commercial cultivation in 2002. They argue that farmers have the right to access high-quality seeds and technologies for a higher yield in agriculture. According to them, the farmers themselves chose the higher-quality Bt cotton seeds to earn higher income.
However, detractors have drawn a contrasting picture on Bt cotton cultivation in India. They have argued that it has damaged the environment and the biodiversity of cotton crop plants. Today, the private companies have flooded the markets with Bt cotton seeds because of which other hybrid and indigenous varieties have become extinct. The detractors have been alleging that Bt cotton seeds have not helped farmers increase their yield; rather, with their adoption, farmers have gone into debt and are committing suicide in increasing numbers. The detractors have also alleged that animals have fallen sick and even died after feeding on Bt cotton plants. Thus, Bt cotton cultivation has increased the conflict among supporters and detractors of GM crop technology even further.
The field surveys in three phases have highlighted the different‘truths’ about GM crops. These ‘truths’ relate to issues concerning yield, biodiversity, ecological disturbance, health and ownership rights of farmers over seeds. During the field survey, it was found that farmers are at the receiving end from the after-effects of GM technology. Also, farmers are unaware of the future consequences of the use of GM crops. Their goal is only short-term, i.e.
to get a higher yield and thus increase their income. But the real political conflict is happening among the experts of different coalitions or alliance groups mentioned in Table 7.1. It has been observed that the coalition members of both pro- and anti-GM crops have been projecting themselves as being on the side of farmers and working for their benefit. ACF theory and Millstone’s co-dynamic model have been used simultaneously in the book to observe the broader picture of the complications involved in the use of GM technology in agriculture. While the ACF talks about the nature of various coalitions formed to support or oppose the use of GM technology in agriculture, the co-dynamic model elaborates on the reasons and normative judgements that brought the various stakeholders together to form a coalition. In other words, ACF theory and the co-dynamic model together would help in establishing a dialogue between stakeholders of different views. The stakeholders, who are members of different coalitions, are experts in specific areas like farming, environment, biotechnology, health and economics and therefore analyse GM crops from their own specific perspective. Frequently, experts from different areas might disagree on an issue like GM technology. Therefore, this increases the need for regulatory bodies to consider the voices of different stakeholders coming from different coalitions. The future of GM technology depends on finding a way in which different scientific truths can be brought together for analysis and discussion and reforming the regulatory bodies accordingly to reconcile the conflicting arguments of stakeholders. The theory and the model discussed in the book enable us to understand the debate better and should provide a perspective on policy processes on the use of GM crops in agriculture.
1 Shetkari Sanghatana is a non-political union of farmers formed with the aim of providing freedom of access to markets and technology for farmers. It was founded by Sharad Anantrao Joshi in the late 1970s.
Similarly, PAU Kisan Club was started by Dr T.S. Sohal in 1966 in Barewal village near Punjab Agricultural University. Like Shetkari Sanghatana, PAU Club is also a nonpolitical, non-profit organisation of progressive farmers of the state. Similarly, Naujawan Kisan Club is a non-political and non-profit organisation based in Punjab, and Karnail Singh is its president. Nagarjuna Rythu Samakhya and Pratapa Rudra Farmers Mutually Aided Cooperative Credit and Marketing Federation are the other two non-profit organisations for farmers based in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana regions, respectively.
- 2 CIFA was launched in March 2000 at Tirupathi by farmer leader Shri Sharadh Joshi. It is a coalition of various small organisations of farmers that work to enable Indian farmers to get access to modern technologies that can help them increase farm production and also get direct access to the market.
- 3 Gene Campaign is a research and advocacy organisation dedicated to the food and livelihood security of rural and Adivasi communities and the rights of farmers and local communities. It works with communities in villages as well as at policymaking levels to ensure the rights of farmers and local communities over their biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. Gene Campaign was set up in 1933 by Dr Suman Sahai and a group of scientists, environmentalists and economists.
- 4 Navdanya started as a programme of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), a participatory research initiative founded by Dr Vandana Shiva, to provide direction and support to environmental activism. The main aim of the Navdanya biodiversity conservation programme is to support local farmers and to rescue and conserve crops and plants that are being pushed to extinction and make them available through direct marketing.
- 5 Greenpeace India has been working on various issues related to the environment since 2001. It is a non-profit organisation with a presence in 40 countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
- 6 Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU) is a federation of unions of agricultural workers, marginal farmers, fisherfolk and rural workers in Andhra Pradesh. It was established in 1991.
- 7 Shashwatsheti Kriti Parishad (SSKP) is a farmers’ organisation promoted by the Yuva Rural Association (YRA). The organisation has been taking up local issues such as availability of water and seeds.