Thursday, March 13, 2014

The answer exists, and it is not GM

  • The Statesman
  • 12 Mar 2014 | 
  • Shaheen Contractor

    While India overtakes Canada to become the fourth largest country to grow Genetically Modified (GM) crops, the repercussions are clear. As the area under Bt cotton increased from 0.5 million ha in 2004 to 11 million ha in 2013, farmer suicides for an eight year period (2004-12) stand at 1,46,373; at a much higher annual average of 16,264 as compared to previous years. In 2012, farmer suicides in Maharashtra increased by almost 450 to 3786 (3337 suicides were recorded in 2011). In the same year a study showed that four states ~ Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh ~ which predominantly grow cotton in rainfed conditions recorded 68 per cent of the farmers' suicides.  The two major states Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh showed an increase of 13 and 17 per cent respectively as compared to the previous year and together account for 46 per cent of the total farmers' suicides. The spur in farmer suicides along with the stagnation of cotton yields and the onslaught of secondary pests are indications repercussions faced by cotton farmers in India.  While farmer suicides cannot be attributed directly to Bt cotton, the high cost of seed, increasing cost of cultivation and the risk of crop failure have played a role.
    The increase in the area of Bt cotton and GM worldwide for the year 2013 was recently compiled in a report titled 'Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2013'. The data reported by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a group funded by governments, foundations and companies including Monsanto, has faced criticism from a number of organisations for overestimating its figures. In fact last year in its 2012 report titled "Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2012" the African Centre for Biosafety criticised it for overestimating the spread of GM crops in South Africa by a staggering 400 per cent!
    A closer look at the ISAAA data reveals that the planting of genetically modified crops fell by about 2 per cent in industrialised countries to 81 million ha for the first time since the technology was commercialized in 1996. Looking at statistics, there is no doubt that the growth of GM crops is plateauing in developed countries.
    With opposition in European markets and stagnation in the US, GM crops are being propagated and lobbied for in developing countries, as these are seen as lucrative markets/ have huge market potential.  As reported by Business week, the stagnation of developed markets is evident from the fact that the area under GM in both Canada and Australia fell over the last year, as Canada sowed less modified canola and Australia cut back on cotton. The area under GM in the US increased by less than oneper cent as modified cotton fell to 90 per cent, from 94per cent a year earlier.  Along with this is a growing demand for the labeling of GM foods in the US. Although labeling bills voted upon in the states of Washington and California lost by a narrow margin, a number of companies have decided to steer clear of GM foods. Recently both McDonald's and Gerber have rejected GM apples.
    A number of international reports, studies by various organizations and highly reputed scientists have found that agro-ecological approaches, provide a sustainable answer to the world's food crisis. This is mirrored in India, where Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CSMA) in Andhra Pradesh resulted in a net income increase for farmers, ranging from Rs 4,000 to 12,000 per acre per annum, in addition to meeting family food needs of farming households. A single CMSA village was found to have saved Rs 60 lakh simply by not using chemical pesticides.
    According to an ASSOCHAM study titled 'Organic West Bengal: Ushering a New Era of Prosperity'(2011), the demand for organic food products is likely to increase rapidly due to rising health consciousness and growing awareness among people. Listing the benefits of organic farming, the study finds that the adoption of organic farming can increase net per capita income of a farmer by a whopping 250 per cent to over Rs 15,680 per month, lead to wealth accumulation of Rs 12,000 crore, generate exports worth Rs 550 crore and create nearly 20 lakh employment opportunities in the next five years. This is the path India should follow. Not one which is facing growing opposition worldwide along with increasing scientific evidence as to its adverse impacts.

    the writer is a researcher at the leaf Initiative (


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