Today in AgBioView Special: February 21, 2003
* Prakash: Is Bt Cotton a Success in India?
* Shanthu: Outstanding Performance of Bt Cotton in India....Really?
* Asia Times: Report on Success of GE Cotton Sows Confusion
* Response by Dr. Qaim
* Response by Dr. Roush
* Indian Farmers Earn Extra $140 per Acre with Bt cotton
* The 'Science' Publication On Biotechnology
* Science: India's GM Crops Yield Dramatic Results
* Nature: Transgenic Cotton A Winner In India
* Final Words by Dr. Shantharam
Is Bt Cotton a Success in India?
Dear AgBioView Readers:
Dr. Matin Qaim and David Zilberman recently published a paper "Yield
effects of genetically modified crops in developing countries." in the
'Science' journal, as many of you would have known already (See below).
This paper examined the yield increases in Bt cotton crop field studies in
India and reported substantial yield gains. Dr. Shanthu Shantharam then
sent a commentary critical of this paper to AgBioView which is posted
below. I forwarded these comments to the Science paper author Dr. Qaim
whose response to Shanthu's comments appear below. Dr. Rick Roush, a
noted authority on Bt cotton, also responds below.
Activists in India have always been the doubting thomases on any report of
success of biotechnology and thus, not surprisingly, have begun to attack
the Qaim and Zilberman paper. A news article by Ms.T. V. Padma from Asia
Times reports this attack of activists in detail but as Rick Roush tells
me that it is sad that this journalist ignored to contact any real
scientists. Response from Ms. Ranjana Smetacek, Director - Public
Affairs of Monsanto - India along with a latest press release on the Bt
cotton performance in India is also posted below along with news stories
from Science and Nature.
I invite further discussion on this from the AgBioView readers.
- C. S. Prakash
Yield Effects Of Genetically Modified Crops In Developing Countries
- Matin Qaim and David Zilberman, Science Vol 299, No. 5608, pp. 900-902.
February 7, 2003
Full paper at
On farm field trials carried out with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton
in different states of India show that the technology substantially
reduces pest damage and increases yields. The yield gains are much higher
than what has been reported for other countries where genetically modified
crops were used mostly to replace and enhance chemical pest control. In
many developing countries, small-scale farmers especially suffer big
pest-related yield losses because of technical and economic constraints.
Pest-resistant genetically modified crops can contribute to increased
yields and agricultural growth in those situations, as the case of Bt
cotton in India demonstrates.
1 Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, Walter-Flex-Strasse
3, 53113 Bonn, Germany. 2 Department of Agricultural and Resource
Economics, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
Outstanding Performance of Bt Cotton in India....Really?
- Shanthu Shantharam, Shanthushantharam@yahoo.com
It was really startling to read the latest report in SCIENCE 7 February
2003 on the outstanding (hard to believe) performance of Bt cotton field
trials. It was equally startling as to how this report passed the muster
of peer review at SCIENCE. This paper really questions the current
standards of peer review in a prestigious like SCIENCE that has a century
old reputation for high scientific standards of the journal. It is
unfortunate that both SCIENCE and NATURE are making very serious errors in
judgement in this most controversial of all technologies and by hastily
publishing such premature manuscripts based on seemingly not so rigorous
data. By doing so, these journals are doing a great disservice to science
and technology development. The timing of the publication also makes it
quite suspicious. I thought SCIENCE would have learnt a lesson from NATURE
publication on Oxaca episode and also from its own experience publishing
the rice genome papers last year.
First of all, I have no doubts that Bt technology in any crop when
deployed as a part of integrated pest management program will outperform
non-Bt counterparts and help protect the environment in more ways than
one. But, to suggest as the authors Matin Qaim and David Zilberman do that
Bt cotton has out yielded non-Bt cotton by more than 80% and link it
directly to a single Bt gene is outlandish. It is obvious that the authors
have no background in plant breeding and genetics; otherwise prudence
would have them consult cotton breeders before staking out such a claim.
Going by this paper, Bt gene is more apt to be dubbed a "miracle gene".
Sadly, it is not.
The other weakness of the paper is total reliance on the company (Mahyco)
supplied data from field tests and extrapolating it into the stratosphere.
I have no reason to doubt the data just because it was collected by
Mahyco, but because no reader of the paper can decipher precisely what
kind of data was made available to authors. I wish the company put their
field test data and the methods by which they gathered the data available
on their company web site so that any other scientist who wishes to
analyze them can do so. By doing that they will be contributing to the
evolution of a body of scientifically rigorous knowledge that can be more
In my opinion, this paper should have been published in Journal of Crop
Science or Agronomy with much more details so that it would help
discerning readers to evaluate the quality of the data and the
conclusions. By no means the editor of SCIENCE should have allowed the
title of the paper as it is. The whole paper is about the field tests in
India, and the title had no business to suggest that it happens in
Developing Countries. This paper has been published in undue haste, and
considering the fact the Mahyco Bt cotton varieties were just
commercialized last April and only one or two pickings have taken place,
the authors and the company should have waited for another two more years
(the duration of current commercialisation authorization) and collect
statistically meaningful data and carry out rigorous analysis to stake out
a claim on the performance of Bt cotton. Every field agronomist or a
breeder knows that carefully controlled field tests and real farmers field
performance are directly not so related.
There is hardly any good quality science in the paper and yet SCIENCE
chose to publish it. It is really very disturbing that even the peer
reviewers let go so much of rumination on various social and economic
aspects related to GM technology.
As I said in the beginning, I have no doubts about the promise and
performance of Bt technology, but I have serious misgivings about the
negative impact of this paper will have in furthering the cause of
biotechnology anywhere. This kind of shoddy publication based on meagre
and questionable field data in reputed journals like SCIENCE do more harm
to science and technology development, perhaps set GMO technology
backwards. Those of us who took NATURE to task for publishing a shoddy
paper on Bt maize "contamination" episode should not let SCIENCE get away
with this publication as well.
On 18 Feb 2003 at 11:51, C S. Prakash wrote:
I wanted to get back to you before I posted on AgBioView your comments on
the Qaim and Ziberman's science paper Bt cotton peformance in India. I am
copying this also to four other scientists so that they can offer their
perspective and let us know what to do with it. I have also copied this to
the primary author of the paper, Dr. Qaim from Germany and request his
input to your comments.
I believe that your comments are too general and you do not provide any
specific points to back up your criticism of this paper. I read the paper
a couple of times, and I did not see any thing that would refute the
authors conclusions on yield (as they have correctly used a isogenic line
I understand your criticism that authors have relied on Mahyco/Monsanto to
provide them with the data but here you are joining the green bandwagon by
doubting the credibility of such data because as a former regulator you
must know that companies cannot get away with "meagre and questionable
field data" that you assert.
So, I wanted to get your input and also comments from others before I
posted your commentary so that we can pose a more balanced and fair
criticism of the paper in a public discussion board. I hope you
Report on Success of GE Cotton Sows Confusion
- T V Padma, Asia Times, Feb 19, 2003 (via agbios.com)
New Delhi - Civil society groups have been taken aback by a new scientific
report that sings the praises of the superlative yields of genetically
engineered (GE) cotton in India, at a time when ground realities speak of
It was left to leading voluntary agencies to point out that the report in
the leading international journal Science in February was outdated and
based on data from field trials carried out in 2001 by the Maharashtra
Hybrid Company (MAHYCO), a subsidiary of the US seed giant Monsanto Corp.
The report spoke of a 70 to 80 percent yield increases of Monsanto's
patented Bt cotton, compared to conventional hybrids. Bt cotton is
genetically engineered to contain a gene borrowed from a common soil
bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which produces a substance lethal
to the bollworm that devastates more than half of India's cotton crop.
The wide international publicity given to the Science report, authored by
researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the
University of Bonn, Germany, underplayed the fact that it relied on data
from trials in India in 2001 - and was not from commercially grown cotton,
activists here say.
These trials were the ones that decided the Indian federal government's
clearance of commercial production of Bt cotton in March the following
year. "Thanks to the publicity, there is an erroneous impression that the
study was based on the crop season that ended. In reality, the analysis is
based on the data MAHYCO-Monsanto had collected in the final year of
field-testing in 2001, a year before the crop was commercialized," says
Devinder Sharma, a leading food policy and trade analyst.
Data in the Science report was recorded in the third and last round of
trials by MAHYCO-Monsanto before the cotton was cleared, and not on data
after the cotton was commercially grown in actual field conditions. The
controversial clearance for commercial production of Bt cotton was given
last year despite the fact that a case against "illegal" trials filed by
voluntary agencies and farmers" organizations was pending in India's apex
Not only was MAHYCO-Monsanto entrusted with carrying out its own field
trials, unusual in a country which has large, well-funded agricultural
research organizations, but the results were never made public. India's
first crop of Bt cotton sown by farmers last year in several
cotton-growing states, was, by the accounts of several farmers"
organizations, a failure. There were in fact a clamor for compensation.
With no independent scientific assessment in place, the government and
scientists ignored these failure reports often brought to their notice by
activists and farmers" groups. This was the data that 'still remains
hidden from the public gaze in India", and "has no relevance to the crop
harvest in 2002-03", Sharma says.
The report also errs in treating savings in crop losses as yield
increases, says Sharma. "But then for an industry under tremendous
pressure for public acceptance of its risky technology, playing the yield
card was a simple way to hoodwink the masses," he observed.
Commercial clearance to Bt cotton was granted on the grounds that it has
been fully tested in Indian conditions, that it does not require pesticide
sprays and gives higher yield and farmers higher incomes. "All the claims
on the basis of which the clearance was given have been proven false by
the total failure of Bt cotton in states where it was cleared for
planting, including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh,"
points out Vandana Shiva, director of the Research Foundation for Science,
Technology and Ecology (RFTSE).
A field survey conducted by the RFSTE from October 23 to November 2 last
year in two cotton-growing states - Maharashtra in western India and
Andhra Pradesh in southern India - belied claims of super yields and
successful warding off of the bollworm pest by Bt cotton. In a statement,
RFSTE said there continued to be substantial attack of bollworm and
sucking pests like jassids, aphis and thrips on Bt in Maharashtra.
It has documented instances of several farmers in Yawatmal district in
Maharashtra and Warrangal in Andhra Pradesh saying they sprayed pesticides
for bollworm and sucking pests several times in their cotton fields.
Additionally, the cotton crops were attacked by two fungal diseases, root
rot and wilt, which was confirmed by plant disease scientists at the Zonal
Agricultural Research Center in Yawatmal district in Maharashtra and
Warrangal district in Andhra Pradesh. RFSTE also says that contrary to
claims of 15 quintals per acre with Bt cotton, yields have been as low as
20 kg per acre in some areas.
Yields in cotton in general could have been lower last year due to a
crippling drought - the worst in the past 12 years. Nevertheless, even
Monsanto said in a statement that Bt cotton did suffer from a condition
called root wilt seen in times of severe moisture stress, proving it is
certainly not drought resistant.
RFSTE says even the claims of higher income for farmers are also
farfetched. Many poor farmers recorded poor yields and lower prices for
the genetically engineered crop, despite paying much more for the
Bt-cotton seed and spending more on pesticide sprays.
RFSTE's field survey also found no effective safeguards for biosafety.
Farmers growing Bt cotton did not plant adequate "refugia" or areas
planted plants with ordinary cotton to prevent accidental transfer of
pollen to nearby non-genetically engineered plants.
The performance of Bt cotton in India has been mired in controversy since
the country prepared itself for its first harvest of the genetically
engineered cotton last year. In December 2002, Environment and Forests
Minister T R Baalu told parliament that the performance of Bt cotton was
'satisfactory" in the first year of its planting.
But three voluntary organizations - Greenpeace India, Center for Resource
Education and Sarvodaya Youth Organization said their investigations
showed otherwise. "The government has conveniently ignored other important
issues like the inferior quality of Bt cotton, the weakness of Bt cotton
wherein the stalk breaks and the plant falls, unfavorable market rates for
Bt cotton and the fact that Bt cotton farming is labor-intensive which
increases the costs incurred by the farmer," said Kavitha Kuruganti, a
Response from Dr. Qaim (the senior author of Science paper)
Dear Prof. Prakash,
Thank you very much for copying me into this E-mail, so that I can clarify
some of the misconceptions of Mr. Shanthu Shantharam related to David
Zilbermanăs and my Science paper that was published on February 7, 2003.
Most of Mr. Shantharam's criticism relates to the source and quality of
the data. Our research builds on the large-scale field trials with Bt
cotton in India that were initiated by Mahyco and Monsanto in 2001 under
close supervision by the government authorities. We have used the company
field-trial records about pest infestation levels, such as larval counts
per plant. Those were collected during weekly trial visits by local
company agronomists, and we received the complete bundle of handwritten
field records, not just aggregated summary statistics.
The data about yields and input amounts that we use in our study were
collected based on our own survey form, and this data collection in the
states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu was initiated by us
and financed by the German Research Council (DFG), the biggest public
research funding agency in Germany. We entered the data from the
questionnaires into the computer ourselves and conducted the analyses
completely independently from Mahyco or Monsanto. Also, the data is far
from being meager. An on-farm trial design with a Bt hybrid, a non-Bt
counterpart, and a conventional check on adjacent plots at 157 different
locations produces a data base that is very rarely available for the kind
of study we did.
Concerning the magnitude of observed yield gains: we do not only suggest
that Bt cotton has out-yielded non-Bt cotton by 80%, as Mr. Shantharam
writes, but this is a statistical fact which is derived from the
comprehensive data. Having isogenic hybrids with and without the Bt gene
growing next to each other, and controlling for other inputs, it is an
appropriate inference that most of the yield effect is due to the Bt gene.
This is not a "miracle". For instance, when pest-related yield losses are
50% of the genetic yield potential, and suddenly you would be able to
control this pest damage, then - taking the actually achieved yield as the
reference - the yield increase would be 100%.
Bt does not completely control the damage by the American bollworm, but it
has been shown repeatedly in the entomological literature that
pest-related yield losses for cotton in India are often around 50-60%, and
even higher in years with high pest pressure. Figure 2 of our article,
which is based on the econometric analysis in the supplementary online
material, confirms this for 2001. As we state in endnote 15 of our paper,
independent trials by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR)
showed positive yield effects that were even slightly higher than those
that we report. The high yield effect can be explained by pest control
theory, and we do so in the paper.
We agree that 2001, the season on which our analysis is based, was a high
pest pressure year, and that the 80% yield gains in field trials, even
though they were carried out on farm, cannot simply be transferred to
commercial agriculture. These are caveats that we mention in the paper.
But given the order of magnitude, the general statements will also hold
after discounting for these aspects. Furthermore, similar trials in
earlier seasons also showed very significant yield effects (an average of
60% over a period of four years), so that our results are certainly not
Nonetheless, our Science paper is not a substitute for a careful analysis
of broader Bt cotton impacts in India in commercial agriculture. We are
currently planning a comprehensive farm survey in different states of
India to capture the outcome of the 2002/03 commercial crop, and will
continue this type of research also in the seasons to follow.
Mr. Shantharam also criticizes the broad title of our paper that goes
beyond the case of Bt cotton in India. Concerns that this case might not
be representative of other crops and other countries are valid up to a
certain point. Different crop species are attacked by different pests, and
agroecological and socioeconomic conditions are not uniform across
countries. Thus, one should not simply extrapolate the exact numerical
findings of our paper. Yet, significant pest damage also occurs in other
crops and other countries, especially in the tropics and subtropics, and
genetic resistance mechanisms to various pests are available at the
The general relationship that yield effects of pest control agents are
higher the higher the crop loss is a theoretical fact. Thus, we had a
theoretical base to suspect that Bt will have higher average yield effects
in India than say the US or China. We use the example of Bt cotton in
India to explain these broader theoretical linkages, which, by the way,
are also supported by empirical evidence from South Africa and Indonesia.
Hence, the more general title of the paper is appropriate. We maintain
that the yield effects of genetically modified, pest-resistant crops will
be higher in the small farm sector of the tropics and subtropics than what
hitherto examples of temperate climatic zones would suggest. We do not
consider Bt a silver bullet to solve all pest and food problems, but we
have evidence that it is effective in many locations and should be part of
an integrated pest management strategy that assesses technologies
according to their real impacts.
Whether or not the research in the paper is good quality science is a
question that has been answered by the peer- review process and the
editorial decision to publish the paper. The experimental setting and the
resulting data set are certainly quite unique, and the statistical
analyses follow very rigorous standards. We are among the first to include
host- plant resistance in a crop production function using a damage-
control specification and estimating this model econometrically. Some of
the broader conclusions go beyond the statistical analyses, but they are
based on theory and lessons from the crop-protection literature.
- Matin Qaim
Dr. Matin Qaim, Center for Development Research (ZEF) , University of Bonn
Walter-Flex-Str. 3 53113 Bonn Germany Phone: +49-(0)228-73-1872 Fax:
+49-(0)228-73-1869 E-mail: email@example.com
Response From: Dr. Richard Roush, University of California, Davis
I am short on time to make extensive comments, but could shed light on a
few points. I am familiar with the insect pressures and yields from cotton
in India, China, South Africa and elsewhere. Although my first hand
inspections have been brief in India, China, and South Africa, I have
extensive experience in the US, northern Mexico, and Australia.
I accept that it would be important for the authors of the Science paper
to tell us more about the data, and agree that it would help the debate
enormously for the company to put their field test data and methods on
their web site so that any other scientist can analyze them.
However, given the well-known status of extensive insecticide resistance
in Helicoverpa in India and high insect densities there, I am not
convinced that yield increases of 80% are outlandish. Even in Mississippi,
Texas, and Australia, where insecticide and other management practices are
good (and pest densities not so high), I have seen yield losses of 60-80%
where insecticide resistance led to poor control.
I note in another article in today's AgBioView that in South Africa,
"between the adopters and the non-adopters, the latter's yield was 40
percent more than the former's". This is consistent with what I have seen.
South Africa also has generally good technical support for cotton pest
management and only modest resistance problems.
Bt gene is not a "miracle gene", but it can help to stabilise yields.
Further, I believe that the major conclusions of the paper, and the reason
it should have been published in Science, are correct: "...GM crops
developed so far can already have important impacts (in developing that
developed countries)..... Responsible risk management and balance science
communications are prerequisites for overcoming acceptance problems and
ensuring sustainable use of GM crops."
- Rick Roush (one of the main architects of the refuge strategy for Bt
From: Ranjana Smetacek
Just to broaden your perspective on this issue, I wanted to share with you
the attached press release, issued by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech on January
20th to declare the yield data from the first Bollgard commercial season
in India. This release covers the cotton harvest in five states as Tamil
Nadu harvests are not yet complete and is based on thousands of farmer
testimonials,which have come in from these states.
I think it would be relevant to mention here that bollworm attacks were in
epidemic proportions in 2001 (many farmers dug up their fields and
abandoned their harvest)as compared with extremely low levels of attack in
2002. This would of course change the extent of spraying for these pests
and the yield increase percentages (I think 80% is more like the upper end
of the spectrum than an average).
Ranjana Smetacek Director - Public Affairs, Monsanto (India)
Farmers earn extra income of about Rs 7000/acre ($140) with Bt cotton
Pesticide use against bollworms dropped by 65-70% on most farms, Yields
increased on an average by 30%
New Delhi, January 20, 2003: Nearly 55,000 cotton farmers who have
harvested insect-protected Bollgardň, the first ever biotech crop to be
planted in India in Kharif 2002, report a 65-70 per cent reduction in the
use of pesticides and an increase in income of about Rs 7,000 per acre.
The in-built protection against bollworm in the Bt cotton seed resulted in
yields increasing by 30%.
Comprehensive information compiled by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd.
(MMB), from a large sampling of farmers who have completed their final
pickings in five states, show that the three varieties of Bt cotton
hybrids they planted lived up to expectations. All the three hybrids -
MECH 12, MECH 162 and MECH 184 - had been tested extensively for six
years, two years in greenhouses and four years in field trials. In Tamil
Nadu, harvesting is yet to be completed, but farmers are excited by the
performance of the crop so far.
The sample studies show the following:
State---Reduction in pesticide use/ac ----Increase in
yield(quintals/ac----Increase in income/ac
Maharashtra Rs 720/- 3.26 Rs 7250/-
Gujarat Rs 530/- 3.42 Rs 7370/-
Andhra Pradesh Rs 1090/- 2.41 Rs 5930/-
Karnataka Rs 610/- 2.93 Rs 6480/-
Madhya Pradesh Rs 950/- 4.33 Rs 9600/-
All India (average) Rs 770/- 3.24 Rs 7260/-
(Rs. 50 = US$1 approx. )
Four teams from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC),
comprising officials from the Department of Biotechnology, the Ministry of
Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health, also
monitored the crop. Scientists from the Central Institute for Cotton
Research (CICR), were involved in the monitoring operations.
Scientists from Gujarat Agricultural University at Anand, the Main Cotton
Research Station at Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh and Dharwad Agricultural
University in Karnataka, as well as other research institutions, also took
a keen interest in the farmersă experience with the crop.
Based on the reports from the official teams, the Union Environment
Minister, Mr T.R. Baalu, told the Rajya Sabha on December 13, 2002, that
the performance of this cotton in terms of "higher number of bolls,
reduced number of sprays for control of bollworms and higher yields
harvested so far" has been found to be 'satisfactory".
According to Dr C. D. Mayee, Director, CICR, "The performance of the three
hybrids has shown that the Bt gene is highly effective against all the
three prevalent species of bollworms. Our experience clearly indicated the
superiority of MECH hybrids -- on an average at least three sprays could
be avoided for bollworm management."
Dr Mayee, along with Dr S. K. Banerjee and Dr K. R. Kranthi of CICR, said
that in two villages, Telgaon and Tishi in Saoner taluka of Nagpur
district, farmers found that despite drought conditions, MECH 184 gave an
yield of 3.88 quintals/acre against the local hybrid's yield of 2.94
quintals/acre. Similarly, MECH 162 gave an yield of 3.46 quintals/acre as
against 2.74 quintals/acre of the local hybrid.
The most enthusiastic endorsements have come from farmers. "The Bt cotton
seeds have performed much better than we expected. Not only did I have to
spray less, saving on time and labour, but my yield also went up
considerably and I have earned extra income this year. I will plant
Bollgard again next year," says farmer Pedli Malla Reddy of Ontimadipally
village in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh.
Farmer Ishwara Padmaraj Maviloor of Chikkalinqudhalli village in Bellary
district of Karnataka said: "Fears that Bt cotton is best only for big
farmers in America and Australia have been proved wrong. This plant can be
grown by any farmer who is ready to try it. I only wish the cost of the
seeds was lower."
"It's a huge relief for us because spending on pesticides was so much. It
will be very beneficial to us," said Ishwarbhai Patel, a cotton farmer in
Idar, a drought-prone town in the western state of Gujarat.
Mr Santosh Rao Daspute, ex-MLA from Bhokardan, Maharashtraăs Jalna
district, planted Bollgard on five acres in village Warshed. "I had to
spray only twice for bollworm and I got 40 quintals of cotton. Bollgard
has definitely proved beneficial to farmers. Next year I will plant it on
Farmer Laxman Shriram Patil, Secretary of the Service Co-operative
Society, Piplod, Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, grew MECH 184 on one
acre and says: "I spent less money on spraying insecticide, the number of
bolls per plant were greater and I harvested 15 quintals without any
tension. I have been cultivating cotton for the last 15 years, but I have
never seen such a good yield with low sprays. Next year, I will plant
Bollgard cotton on the maximum possible area of my land and also advise my
farmer friends to grow more Bollgard."
Bollgard is one of the most extensively researched crops, globally and in
India. The GEAC approved it in March 2002, after a rigorous scrutiny of
field data generated over four years by Mahyco and Government research
institutions like ICAR. This is the first and only approved biotech crop
in India. Its planting last June was preceded by an extensive education
programme for farmers, dealers and agriculture extension officials.
Farmers were also supplied conventional cotton seed for planting as
refuge, as per the conditions laid down by the GEAC. MMB field staff were
at hand to guide and advise farmers at every stage.
Bt cotton is targeted specifically at the bollworm, which is the most
destructive of cotton pests in India. While the need to spray against the
bollworm may not be eliminated, it is greatly reduced. To obtain the most
effective control of bollworms, farmers were trained in the scouting
process to determine when supplemental sprays were necessary.
Environmental factors like drought, untimely rain and even unusually heavy
rain play a major role and impact any crop, regardless of whether it is
conventional or derived through biotechnology. For instance, the new wilt
phenomenon localised within some districts was a result of drought and
unusual weather conditions this year - excess rainfall over a brief
period, followed by very high temperatures of as much as 40 degrees C.
According to Dr Mayee, this phenomenon was "not restricted to Bt cotton.
The malady is universal to all hybrids and is because of physiological
changes induced by the typical rainfall pattern of this year." Farmers who
experienced this phenomenon were guided on how to handle it with the help
of CICR scientists. As a result, in some of these districts the plants
revived and yields were higher than those for non-Bt cotton.
For further information, please contact Ranjana Smetacek on 022- 28247217
or 98 201 90598
The Science Publication On Biotechnology
- Marcia Vincent, Special Focus Global Biotech Science News, Feb 17, 2003
Science Paper by Qaim and Zilberman
A third article of interest was released this month in the journal
Science. The Science article provides an analysis of on-farm field trials
with Bt cotton in different states of India. The scientists reported
substantially higher yield increases - with average yields of Bt hybrids
exceeding those of non-Bt hybrids and popular check controls (non-Bt local
variety) by 80% and 87% respectively with the gains largely due to the Bt
Scope of study and key conclusions by Qaim and Zilberman:
Background / Scope:
-- The Bt cotton technology used was developed by Monsanto and was
introduced into several Indian hybrids in collaboration with the
Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco)
-- The first contained field trials with Bt hybrids in India were
conducted in 1997
-- In subsequent years, field tests were extended to collect additional
-- In 2002 Bt cotton technology was commercially approved
-- In 2001 field trials were carried out on 395 farms in seven states of
-- The trials were managed by the farmers using customary practices,
although initiated by Mahyco and supervised by regulatory authorities
-- Tests included 3 varieties: Bt cotton hybrid, the same hybrid without
the gene; and a different hybrid commonly used in the location (popular
-- This study focused on the more comprehensive information collected from
157 farms on agronomic aspects and farm and household characteristics.
Observations from these 157 farms constituted the data basis for this
analysis - covering 25 districts in three major cotton-producing states
-- Data tables provided: Comparing insecticide use and yields; Yield
density functions for Bt and conventional cotton hybrids; Relationship
between insecticide use and crop losses with and without Bt technology;
Expected yield effects of pest-resistant biotech crops in different
Key Conclusions Reported:
-- The amounts of insecticide used on Bt plots were reduced by almost 70%
both in terms of commercial products and active ingredients. According to
the authors, most of these reductions occurred in highly hazardous
-- In financial terms, the pesticide savings were about U. S. $30 per ha.
-- More sizeable benefits are due to yield advantages with average yields
of Bt hybrids exceeding those of non-Bt hybrids and popular checks by 80%
and 87% respectively with the gains largely due to the Bt gene
The authors conclude: "Agricultural biotechnology offers many more
applications for developing countries beyond pest control, but we show
that the GM crops developed so far can already have important impacts -
Although there is mounting evidence on the benefits side, the
technological potentials are not widely acknowledged. Responsible risk
management and balance science communications are prerequisites for
overcoming acceptance problems and ensuring sustainable use of GM crops."
India's GM Crops Yield Dramatic Results
Nicky Lewis, SciDev.Net 2003
New research has found massive increases in the yields of genetically
modified (GM) crops planted on farms in India, offering promise for the
use of such crops in developing countries.
Field trial data taken from over 150 farms in southern and central India
shows that yields for Bt cotton were over 80 per cent higher than non-GM
or local hybrid cotton plants. And the GM crop also needed almost 70 per
cent less pesticide, equivalent to a saving of US$0.30 per hectare.
Bt cotton --which has a gene that produces a toxin to kill the pest
bollworm, and was commercially approved in India last year --is already
known to dramatically reduce the need for pesticide. But until now crops
engineered to be resistant to insect damage have not shown significant
yield improvements (and in some cases have actually reduced yields).
The researchers are confident that the yield benefits demonstrated --which
are reported in this week's journal Science --are largely due to the Bt
gene itself. They say that tropical conditions make it easier for pests,
such as bollworm, to thrive and destroy crops. In India, crop damage
losses from bollworm attacks average up to 60 per cent.
Another reason for the extra pest pressure is that poorer farmers are less
likely to use chemicals to control pests --in contrast to those in the
United States or China (where pesticides have been subsidised), for
These environmental, technical and economic factors make GM crops an
extremely promising option for small-scaled farmers in developing
countries, they say, with the largest yield gains expected in south and
southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
"We are reporting on cotton, but the results are easily transferable to
food crops since the type of pest damage they would sustain would be the
same," says lead author of the study Matin Qaim of the University of Bonn,
The researchers urge those that oppose the use of GM crops to consider the
"mounting evidence" for benefits of such crops. And they call for balanced
communication of the issues surrounding the technology.
"The bottom line is biotechnology has the potential to positively impact
the lives of small, poor farmers in developing nations," says co-author
David Zilberman of the University of California, Berkeley, United States.
"It would be a shame if anti-[GM] fears kept important technology away
from those who stand to benefit the most from it."
Transgenic Cotton A Winner In India
- John Whitfield , Nature, February 72003
'Insect-resistant varieties show big yield improvements.'
In India, genetically modified (GM) cotton produces crops that are 80%
larger than conventional varieties, farm trials from 2001 have found.
Results from last year's commercial harvest were similar, although less
spectacular, says the Indian biotech industry. But environmental groups
GM crops will be especially useful in tropical developing countries, says
agricultural economist Matin Qaim of the University of Bonn in Germany.
"Population growth and limited farmland mean that we need yield
advantages," he says. Qaim and his colleague David Zilberman looked at 157
typical cotton farms in three Indian states1.
Farmers grew Bt transgenic cotton alongside two non-GM varieties. Bt
plants carry a gene for a toxin from bacteria that makes them resistant to
bollworm caterpillars. Indian cotton farmers typically lose about half of
their crop to pests.
Bt cotton gave 80% higher yields, and used almost 70% less pesticide, than
conventional varieties. The GM seed costs four times as much as normal
cotton, but the yield improvements mean that the crop is worth five times
as much, says Qaim.
The benefits of Bt cotton in 2001 were unusually large, as bollworm
populations were high. Over several years, the farm trials show that Bt
cotton yields about 60% more than conventional varieties. "Farmers were
very positive," says Qaim. "There were not enough seeds available to
Trials in South Africa have shown similar results and met with a similar
reaction, says development researcher Stephen Morse of the University of
Reading, UK: "I concur completely with what Qaim is saying."
The benefits seen for cotton may not extend to other crops, says Morse.
Species such as maize are affected more by soil quality and water than
pests. Maize also has a wider range of pest species, which the Bt gene
would not protect against.
Seed money. Others deny that Bt cotton is better. "I have personally
conducted a study in two states, and have found a drastic failure of
transgenic Bt cotton," says Afsar Jafri, deputy director of the Research
Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, a New Delhi-based
conservation group. The foundation says that Bt cotton has shown worse
yields and more pests than conventional varieties.
Bt cotton has a controversial history in India. Farmers have burnt crop
trials, and illegally grown GM plants have been found. GM cotton was grown
commercially in India for the first time in 2002.
About 40,000 of the 9 million hectares of Indian cotton in 2002 were Bt
varieties. These GM crops yielded 30% more than conventional varieties,
increasing farmers' incomes by about 3,000 rupees (US$63) per hectare,
says Ranjana Smetacek of Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech, the Mumbai-based company
that sells Bt seed in India. Smetacek expects that there will be more than
250,000 hectares of Bt cotton in 2003.
In temperate regions such as North America and China, Bt cotton yields
little more than conventional varieties. "A 2-3% improvement is fairly
typical in the United States," says cotton researcher Fred Bourland of the
University of Arkansas in Keiser. In the tropics there is more room for
improvement: pests do more damage, farmers have less access to pesticides,
and pesticide resistance is more common.
Worm turn. There was another thumbs-up for Bt cotton this week. US
researchers announced that in Arizona over the past decade the spread of
resistant cotton has led to a drop in the bollworm population2. The
finding suggests that planting areas of non-GM cotton is working to
prevent pests evolving resistance to the Bt variety.
1. Qaim, M. & Zilberman, D. Yield effects of genetically modified crops in
developing countries. Science, 299, 900 - 902, (2003).
2. Carri╦re, Y. et al. Long-term regional suppression of pink bollworm by
Bacillus thuringiensis cotton. Proceeding of the National Academy of
Sciences, published online, doi:10.1073/pnas.0436708100 (2003).
From Dr. Shantharam
Dear Prakash: It is a good idea that you have referred it to other
scientists. I did not give a blow by blow account of the problems as your
postings generally do not publish peer review points. The biggest problem
with the paper is based on just one season data for the year 2001. This
was precisely the criticism I and many others charged against Bt cotton
report from China published by Greenpeace.
The other point is they attribute this more than 80% increase due to
single Bt gene and that cannot be true. Bt gene is not a yield increasing
gene it only compensates for loss due to pest attack. Then, more than half
of the paper ruminates on social and economic aspects in too many general
terms for which there is no warrant from data or the results. They don't
even mention the check variety and it is important that they compare the
performance of Bt variety with their non-Bt counterparts and also the
check variety. I don"t see any such data in the paper. There is far too
generalized comments inn the discussion that has no basis in the data.
You must have noticed that I have said that there is no reason to not to
believe that data just because it was supplied by the company, but what
kind of data and what kind of methodology used is not clear. I have also
mentioned that I do believe in the performance of Bt cotton, but my only
concern is the papers assertion that Bt cotton will give 80% yield
increase that is misleading.