Thursday, June 18, 2015

ARTICLE : Pier-reviewed study on Bt cotton in India - cause of suicides


Authors : Andrew Paul Gutierrez, Luigi Ponti, Hans R Herren, Johann Baumgärtner and Peter E Kenmore
Environmental Sciences Europe 2015, 27:12  doi:10.1186/s12302-015-0043-8
The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Received: 31 October 2014
Accepted: 22 April 2015
Published: 17 June 2015

© 2015 Gutierrez et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited.


In the light of this more thorough holistic agro-ecological analysis, recommendations by international agricultural economists [20, 44] and some Indian government official to implement the Bt technology in cotton (and other crops) as a solution for pest problems become questionable. Worldwide, the use of pesticides to solve pest problems promised short-run economic benefit but instead led farmers onto path dependency [56, 91] that increases system complexity by inducing pest outbreaks (iatrogenic effects) that may cause crop losses (idiopathic effects) [34, 47, 92] and increase costs (see Additional file 1). In his 1974 Nobel Prize in Economics lecture titled “The Pretense of Knowledge” concerning larger economic issues, F.A. von Hayek stated “…[economists]…have… little cause for pride: as a profession [we] … made a mess of things” [93]. In biotechnology, agricultural economists have pushed forward agendas without understanding the ecological bases of the crop production problem and in the process they often wrongly filled the information gaps created by corporate intellectual property constraints on field research on GM crops [76]. The adherence to doctrines that exclusively accept or select observations and disregard fundamental ecological principles for supporting scientific claims imposes serious limitations on their conclusions and has been a hindrance to progress in agricultural research [85]. In India and elsewhere, subsistence farmers often lack a clear understanding of pest control issues that trapped them on a pesticide treadmill (e.g., [11]) and now onto a biotechnology treadmill [33] and that ignores the impending collapse of ground water levels for irrigated cotton [26]. Subsistence farmers, especially in areas with low but high variable yields can ill afford the high costs of industrial farming technologies that contribute to bankruptcy and in some suicide cases.
In review, PBW has been a chronic severe problem in long-season irrigated Indian cotton and can provide inoculum for infestations of rainfed cotton during late summer amplifying feedback and creating an inherent conflict between the two systems. When insecticides became available for control of PBW and other pests, outbreaks of highly damaging bollworms (and other pests) were induced, and F1 Bt hybrid cotton that discouraged seed saving was introduced for control. Prior to the onset of heavy pesticide use, bollworm was not a major pest in Indian cotton [48]. As a percentage of the total revenues, the costs of the Bt and insecticide technologies decrease with increasing yield making it an acceptable assurance option in high-yield areas, but not in areas with low yields with high variability where the high costs increase the risk of bankruptcy (and suicide). Suicides in rainfed areas of south-central India are inversely related to farm size and yields and directly related to area of Bt cotton adoption, or more likely the combined high costs of Bt seed and insecticide. Short-season high-density cotton is a viable solution in both irrigated and rainfed cotton reducing the need for the Bt technology. Even where irrigation is available, short-season cotton could be grown rainfed allowing the irrigation water and the period prior to the monsoon to be used for the production of other food crops. This would promote development of diversified and sustainable, including organic agriculture. A recent report shows that despite near complete adoption of Bt cotton in India, insecticide use was higher in 2013 than in 2000 and now targets induced outbreaks of hemipteran insect pests [69]. Last, assuming no change in rainfall, increases in temperature due to climate change during the monsoon season would increase productivity <8 % in rainfed cotton in central and south India. The above results amply illustrate how policy makers need holistic analyses before new technologies are promoted in agricultural development.

Authors’ information

A.P. Gutierrez is a professor in the Graduate School in the College of Natural Resources at the University of California at Berkeley, CA, and CEO of CASAS NGO. He has more than 40 years of experience in agro-ecosystem analysis and bio-economics with extensive experience in field research in cotton and other crops worldwide.
L. Ponti is Marie Curie Fellow and a research scientist at ENEA with expertise in modeling and GIS.
H. Herren is World Food Prize Laureate and CEO of the Millennium Institute.
J. Baumgärtner is retired full professor from the University of Milan with expertise in modeling ecosystems including cotton with interest in philosophical aspects of agricultural systems study and management.
P.E. Kenmore has worked over the past 33 years in India, holds an Honorary Doctorate from Wageningen University, the Netherlands, and was formerly head of FAO Plant Protection globally and then head of FAO (Representative) in India.

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