Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - February 1, 2007
* Update on Indian Petition and Supreme Court Decision
* Letter from an Indian Farmer - We Need Innovative Technologies!
* Ten Years of Labelling in Europe: Few Products, But A Lot of Discussion
* Success of Bt Cotton in India
* India: Bt Cotton Delivers, Awareness Issues Remain
* Drought-Resistant Crops Being Developed
* Can This Fruit Be Saved?
* Are Organic Food Advocates in Thrall to Mythology Rather Than Science?
* Farmer-Activist Bove Joins French Presidential Race
* Recent Advances in Plant Biotech - Impact on High Quality Plant Production
* Bt Cotton, Farmer Suicides, GM-Free Village - Impressions of A Visit to Indian Town
* Ganesh and Brahma Bow to A New God
* Warangal Bt Cotton Leads to De-Skilling
Update: Petition In Support of Indian Farmers' Right to Grow Biotech Crops and Scientific Field Testing
Dear AgBioView Readers:
I thank all of you for responding enthusiastically to our call for signatures in support of right to field testing of GM crops in India. So far we have nearly 640 individuals who have signed on in the past three days .
Apparently this 'Public Interest Litigation' case in Supreme Court of India has been adjourned until February 15, 2007. So we still have time and those of you who have not signed on to this letter to the Ag Minister of India, please read it and endorse at
We, the Undersigned, endorse the following petition:
"Petition In Support of Indian Farmers' Right to Grow Biotech Crops and Scientific Field Testing"
Target: Honorable Mr. Sharad Pawar, Union Minister of Agriculture, Govt of India
"As scientists who are familiar with plant biotechnology and the positive impacts biotech crops have delivered over the past decade, we are disappointed and concerned to read about the recent interim moratorium on field testing of biotech crops in India. We are equally concerned about the recent actions by activist groups who are advocating a complete ban of all field testing of biotech crops in India......
Letter from an Indian Farmer - We Need Innovative Technologies!
from - Jayantilal P Satashia -jsatashia.at.yahoo.co.in -
I have received the following feedback on your petition, "Petition In Support of Indian Farmers' Right to Grow Biotech Crops and Scientific Field Testing", on ThePetitionSite.com:
I am son of farmer and involved in farming from my childhood. I saw what my father was struggling to protect the crop from pest damage, money being spent on chemical usage and finally very low earning from 8 acres land.
Today, with the adoption of Bt cotton technology for last 4 years, we are able to produce double cotton yield every year, earlier we were spraying hazardous agro chemicals 12 time to protect the cotton from bollworms, but now we do spray hardly for one or no spray. This way we simply doubled the yield and reduced the cultivation cost and well protected the environment by drastically cutting the chemical usage. Moreover, quality of cotton is improved a lot which gives more prices.
If such innovative technology adopted wide across the crops in India, I am sure we will remain self sufficient with our growing population and may compete with world farmers in terms of yield, quality, earning, cost saving, environment and any more.
Ten Years of Labelling in Europe: Few Products, But A Lot of Discussion
- GMO Compass, Jan. 26, 2007
Ten years after the introduction of labelling requirements in Europe for genetically modified foodstuffs, there is still little evidence of such on an ordinary trip to the supermarket. Factually, the worldwide production area for GM plants has multiplied in the past decade, and the application of GM microorganisms in the production of additives and enzymes also has increased - nonetheless, practically no labelled products are to be found in EU countries. Only in the Netherlands may one see such products self-evidently in shop displays.
On 27 January 1997, the Novel Food Regulation (258/97) was finalised. Under this act, foodstuffs and ingredients made from genetically engineered organisms were defined as "novel food" and became subject to particular obligations in approval and labelling. On 15 May, this regulation came into effect - but was impracticable. With several trailing amendments, the EU Commission attempted to define the legal framework more precisely. In 2004, GM foodstuff then was removed from the Novel Food Regulation and placed under a regulation of its own. A new policy came into effect at this point: whereas labelling previously was bound to proof of the relevant GMO in foodstuff, the new regulation orders labelling even in cases in which an applied GMO no longer is detectable in the final product. Consequently, food authorities have faced increased difficulties when monitoring labelling.
To date, the discussion of labelling remains open. While lawmakers perceive labelling as a neutral consumer information tool, consumers are more likely to perceive such labelling as a warning notice. Correctly labelled foodstuffs are less likely to be bought and, consequently, fearful producers avoid preliminary products and ingredients which are liable for labelling. However, an array of applications of gene technology remains outside the labelling provision: for example, the use of genetically modified fodder plants does not automatically lead to a labelling requirement for the resulting animal products such as meat, milk or eggs.
- Labelling GMO Products: A Consumers Guide
- Labelled Goods Hard to Find
The Success of Bt Cotton in India
- Dr. Camille Gonsalves, http://www.scidev.net/ 26 January 2007
Your article (see GM in India: The Battle Over Bt cotton) presents an unbalanced view on Bt cotton in India. We would like to highlight the following facts.
1. With regard to insect resistance, a 2005 press release issued by the Indian government described how the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) had conducted a study on American bollworm resistance to Bt-cotton (Bollgard technology). The resistance of this pest depends on the area planted with Bt cotton and usage of proper insect resistant strategies. With the implementation of proper strategies as suggested by CICR, it is possible to delay resistance by at least 30-40 years, if not more.
2. Dr Keshav Raj Kranthi, a senior scientist at the department of biotechnology in CICR whose study has been quoted in your article has said that Bt technology is a good pest management tool that has helped farmers. In a press report, he clearly says: "It's unfortunate that our results are being cited to wage a war against genetically modified products. This technology is important for the future, but it needs to be refined."
3. A recent study commissioned by the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad has reported that the net profit per hectare to farmers from Bt cotton cultivation has more than doubled. Another key finding was that spraying against the bollworm was reduced in fields planted with Bt cotton by an average of four to five sprays, which translates into a saving of Rs 1137 (about US$25) per acre.
4. Based on 2005 data by the Indian Market Research Bureau , farmers who have planted Bollgard cotton in 2006 are likely to earn an additional Rs 7026.5 crores (US$1.5 billion) in income, based on the planting of 8.6 million acres achieved during this crop season. The rural income is expected to increase by 36 per cent over the total generated in 2005.
5. Since its introduction in 2002, Bollgard technology has been rapidly adopted by cotton farmers across India's nine cotton-growing states. The year 2006 witnessed a phenomenal increase in Bollgard acreage in these states, with more than 2 million farmers. This increase in acreage and number of farmers adopting Bollgard is a testament to the continuing success and acceptance of the technology in India since it was introduced in 2002.
Director of Public Affairs, Monsanto India
India: Bt Cotton Delivers, Awareness Issues Remain
- Financial Express, January 31, 2007
The usage of Bt cotton has resulted in higher productivity and satisfaction levels, farmers in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka continue to show poor awareness about it and thus resulting in lower cotton yield nationally, a survey has revealed. According to an IMRB survey, farmers using certified Bt cotton seeds showed higher levels of satisfaction with increased productivity expectations as opposed to those who used non-Bt seeds. Also, there is enough awareness on Bt cotton seeds in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
About 30% of farmers in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka reflected poor awareness, the survey has revealed. The study aimed to understand the awareness, perception and acceptability of Bt cotton seeds in cotton growing areas. Announcing the survey results, Paresh Verma, spokesperson, All India Crop Biotechnology Association, said that there is a preference for Bt technology from those farmers who have adopted it. Over 81% of the farmers surveyed are in the process of recommending this technology to other vegetables and fruits as well.
Analysing the financial distress faced by the farmers, the survey explained that high input costs, low minimum support price, improper financial planning, rising fertiliser costs and lack of alternative occupations were some of the reasons for the farmers' distress. In Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, low minimum support price was cited as the most important reason for the distress and high input costs were considered a major cause in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
The study conducted in 23 districts across five cotton growing states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka showed that the farmers using certified Bt cotton seeds had better return on investment. Further, productivity expectations with certified Bt cotton were higher than non-Bt hybrid and ordinary cotton seeds. On an average, the profit of percentage of investment for farmers using certified Bt cotton seeds was as high as 57% as oppose to profits of 44% by farmers using non-Bt hybrid seeds, the survey has revealed.
Drought-Resistant Crops Being Developed
- Alan Wang, ABC -KGO TV (San Francisco), Jan 31, 2007 http://abclocal.go.com/kgo
Jan. 31 - KGO - There is concern that global warming is putting our water supply in jeopardy. That's why researchers are creating new drought-resistant crops that will reduce the amount of water needed by farmers.
A weed-like plant is the lab rat for most genetic plant research, because it's the first to be genetically sequenced. Out of 125 million base pairs, Mendal Biotechnology in Hayward identified about a dozen genes that control drought tolerance.
Dr. James Zhang V.P., Mendel Biotechnology: "We very precisely splice those genes into the plants... in field tests, the genetically engineered crops actually produced more. They don't lose as much water when they open their pores, even when they breathe."
Researchers say farmers could be growing a variety of drought-tolerant fruits and vegetables, and people could be buying them right now. But the biggest obstacle is consumer acceptance.
Dennis Walton, produce consumer: "I'm not certain that it's scientifically shown yet that it's safe for people." Frank Egger, the former mayor of Fairfax, helped ban genetically altered produce from Marin County... "Genetically modified crops are untested and unregulated." Egger wants genetically engineered crops to be labeled under the law. Frank Egger, former Fairfax mayor: "Genetically engineered products are not labeled, and the public has a right to know what they're eating. The consumer has a right to know."
But scientists say 80-percent of U.S. corn that we consume is already genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides and pesticides. They predict in less than a decade we'll see drought-resistance crops on shelves.
Can This Fruit Be Saved?
- Dan Koeppel, Popular Science, 9 Jan 29, 2007 Full story at http://www.popsci.com/popsci/science/5a4d4c3ee4d05010vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html
"A Banana," says Juan Fernando Aguilar, "is not just a banana." The bearded botanist and I are traipsing through one of the world's most unusual banana plantations, moving down row after row of towering plants and ducking into the shade of broad leaves in an attempt to avoid the Central American midday heat. In an area about the size of a U.S. shopping mall, Aguilar, 46, is growing more than 300 banana varieties. Most commercial growing facilities handle just a single banana type-the one we Americans slice into our morning cereal.
The diversity of fruit in Aguilar's field is astonishing. Some of the bananas are thick and over a foot long; others are slender and pinky-size. Some are meant to be eaten raw and sweet and some function more like potatoes, meant for boiling and baking or frying into snack chips. But Aguilar's admonition is aimed squarely at our northern lunch boxes and breakfast tables.
The reason bananas are so susceptible to disease has to do with their ancient origins. Almost no plant has been cultivated longer by humans. The earliest banana production began in Southeast Asia, but of the hundreds of varieties found in that region, only about 10 or 15, according to Swennen, were brought to Africa. (Bananas are a perfect crop for subsistence farming, since once a family has a healthy plant, no more seeds need to be planted-or bought; instead farmers simply replant shoots, called "suckers," from existing trees.) Bananas mutate easily, and of the few Asian banana varieties that originally made it to Africa, more than 200 new varieties have emerged. But these varieties remain genetically similar, so they're prone to parallel afflictions. The situation in Latin America is even worse. "Only a few moved from Africa to there," Swennen says, "so you've got even lower variability."
The geneticist has already created one sweet banana that, using genetic material from radishes, has built-in resistance to Black Sigatoka. The lab is also developing high-yield plantains for Africa and a banana manipulated to be high in beta-carotene. Swennen emphasizes that biotech is literally the only way to save the Cavendish, which, because it is 100 percent seedless, can't be improved on by traditional hybridization methods. And FHIA's approach of growing a new variety from scratch, he argues, is too slow.
Traditional banana scientists, like the ones in Honduras, know that the methods they use are slower by decades than the lab-induced DNA manipulation that Swennen and his fellow researchers are working on. But they also know that resistance to genetically engineered foods runs deep among the world's consuming public. A recent survey by Fyffes (the banana importer that is to Britain what Chiquita is to the U.S.) found that 82 percent of U.K. shoppers said they would never buy a genetically altered banana, even if proven to be safe, even if doing so allowed the elimination of pesticides and other potentially harmful agricultural chemicals-a major advantage, supporters say, of biotech crops. Public aversion to DNA-altered foods exists throughout Europe, where most such fruits and vegetables are banned. Although Chiquita wouldn't comment for this story, company executives have repeatedly rejected biotech techniques for use in consumer products.
"I can't understand this romantic idea that nature is perfect, and that what we do is create Frankensteins," Swennen says. People "are frightened-and they're wrong." He believes that the threats bananas face mean that they are likely to be the bioengineered food that finally forces global shoppers to consider-and accept-science's inevitable intervention in the agricultural process. "There's almost no choice," he says. "We need resistant bananas."
How much time is left for the Cavendish? Some scientists say five years; some say 10. Others hold out hope that it will be much longer. Aguilar has his own particular worst-case scenario, his own nightmare. "What happens," he says, with a very intent look, "is that Pan-ama disease comes before we have a good replacement. What happens then," he says, nearly shuddering in the shade of a towering banana plant, "is that people change. To apples."
Are Organic Food Advocates in Thrall to Mythology Rather Than Science?
- Letters, Wall Street Journal, Jan 29, 2007. Via Agnet http://online.wsj.com/
Lee M. Silver, a Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Affairs at Princeton University as well as auth or of "Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life," Ecco, 2006, regarding, "When Buying Organic Makes Sense -- and When It Doesn't" (Personal Journal, Jan. 16), to say it was refreshing in its presentation of the quietly held view of many scientists that the touted virtues of organic food are exaggerated or non-existent. But you weren't sufficiently skeptical when you accepted the commonly held belief that organic farmers "eschew pesticides and other chemicals in an effort to protect the environment."
In fact, organic farmers are free to use many chemicals on their crops, including pyrethrin (with the formula C21H28O3) and rotenone (C23H22O6), which is a potent neurotoxin long used to kill fish and recently linked to Parkinson's disease. Organic farmers also commonly spray their crops with Bacillus thuringiensis solutions containing BT larval toxins, and they use sulfur and copper (both long-lasting soil contaminants) as fungicides.
Organic-certification rules only prohibit most, although not all, "synthetic substances and ingredients." The word "chemical" isn't used in the rules because there is no intrinsic physical difference between the categories of synthetic and nonsynthetic substances. They are all chemicals.
Nevertheless, says Silver, organic advocates operate under the pre-scientific delusion that substances produced by living organisms, such as pyrethrin and rotenone, aren't really chemicals, but just organic "botanical" constituents of nature. Even the poison strychnine can be defined as "organic," although it's too lethal for use by organic farmers. In actuality, no currently approved crop pesticide, whether organic or not, has any detectable effect on the health of consumers. The enormous premium paid to purchase organic foods is based on mythology, not fact.
Evan Ravitz of Boulder, Colo., writes that your article never mentions taste when comparing organic with conventional foods. Without expounding on "mouth feel" or "finish," suffice it to say the difference is often obvious. I'll leave it to the experts to decide if the better taste implies a healthier banana. But when comparing foods, taste them.
Gregory D. Miller, Ph.D., F.A.C.N., Executive Vice President Science and Innovation, National Dairy Council, Rosemont, Ill., writes that he has dedicated his 20-year career to the study of dairy nutrition, and can assure you that there is no scientific evidence that organic dairy products are safer or healthier than regular dairy products. All milk is tested regularly for antibiotics, and any milk that tests positive is disposed of and doesn't get into the food supply. Additionally, the latest data released by the Food and Drug Administration shows that milk and milk products have been consistently found to be pesticide free. The safety of rBST has been affirmed by the leading U.S. health organizations and regulatory agencies from 50 countries around the world. It is also important to note that, according to the American Cancer Society and the FDA, there is no evidence linking milk from rbST-supplemented cows to an increased risk of cancer.
Mark Eisner of Washington asks, what about the farm worker's continual exposure to pesticides, especially in developing countries where there is less protection for uninsured workers who are using chemicals so dangerous that they are banned in the U.S? What about the Costa Rican children who walk by fields being crop dusted with noxious chemicals? Shouldn't these issues be brought into consideration when making a choice to buy organic or not? Consumers should pay a premium to buy organic so that the earth and other humans aren't harmed by direct exposure to these dangerous pesticides, not just out of concern for their own personal health.
Recent Advances in Plant Biotechnology - Impact on High Quality Plant Production
- June 10-16, 2007 in Stara Lesna, Slovak Republic
Institute of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology, Slovak Academy of Sciences and Institute of Plant Molecular Biology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic organize the 7th International Symposium in the
Series, in surroundings of splendid mountain region of High Tatras.
Farmer-Activist Bove Joins French Presidential Race
- James Mackenzie Reuters, Jan 31, 2007
Paris - France's most famous farmer-activist, Jose Bove joined the presidential race on Wednesday, pledging to stand up for voters disillusioned with the mainstream parties. "It's for all those people, this invisible France, that I am announcing this morning that I am candidate," he declared in an interview with Thursday's edition of Le Parisien newspaper, released ahead of publication.
Bove, walrus-moustachioed scourge of fast food chains and genetically modified crops, may have no hope of election but his high personal profile could push Green and anti-globalisation issues further up the mainstream agenda. "People have to be at the heart of decisions," he said. "Ecology and the struggle against globalisation are my two other priorities," he said.
Although Bove has no formal party backing, the potential for outsiders to cause surprises was shown in 2002 when discontented leftist voters deserted Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, leading to a humiliating first round knockout.
The attraction of the radical, anti-globalisation movement for many French voters was also reflected in their rejection of the European constitution in 2005. After the failure of attempts to unite the gaggle of groups on the far left ahead of the 2007 poll, Bove had been expected to try a run, although he may struggle to raise the 500 signatures from mayors needed to register for the vote in April.
The two main candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy on the right and Segolene Royal on the left, have both eagerly embraced environmental issues and have even echoed some of the kind of anti-market rhetoric Bove has made his own.
But apart from the tiny Green party, environmentalists have lacked a champion with star appeal, especially since Nicolas Hulot, a popular television presenter who embodies ecological issues for many French people said he would not be running.
Bove himself arouses sharply differing feelings and has had several brushes with the law, including time in prison during a series of campaigns that have made him an icon of the anti-globalisation movement. A radical activist turned sheep farmer, Bove became an internationally known celebrity in 1999 when he ransacked the site of a McDonald's hamburger restaurant being constructed in the Pyrenees town of Millau.
He has campaigned against "malbouffe" (bad food), the World Trade Organisation and the European constitution, been denied entry to the United States and destroyed genetically modified crops, securing a firm position amid a colourful field on the French far-left.
His legal problems may yet cause difficulties for his campaign with a judgement from the court of appeal expected next week on whether he faces prison for destroying genetically modified crops. But Bove was philosophical. "If they want to put me in prison, they should do it," he told Le Parisien. "They know where I live, I'm not hiding."
"Bt Cotton, Farmer Suicides, GM-Free Village - Impressions of A Visit to Indian Town"
Organic Cultivation and Non-Pesticidal Management at Yaenabaavi, Andhra Pradesh, India: 1. The Story of the Farmers
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India. Full blog at
Yaenabaavi (Eenabaavi, Enabavi), a hamlet of the Kalyanam Revenue village, Lingala Ghanapur Mandal, Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh, has recently become famous. A Press Release of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), Secunderabad, announced that 'Enabavi village goes GM free; (the village) says that food security has not suffered by shifting to organic' (GM Watch, October 12, 2006). The Hindu (October 12, 2006) pronounced that 'Enabavi farmers create history' and NDTV (October 13, 2006) called this place 'An island of prosperity'. These three reports are more or less identical. The unbelievable story of Yaenabaavi made some wonder if this place were a 'heaven on earth'.
Curious to know the ground realities first hand, Professor Ronald Herring (Cornell University, Ithaca, USA), Dr S Shantharam (Biologistics International, Ellicott City, USA) and I went to Yaenabaavi, on December 16, 2006.
Yaenabaavi is proclaimed as 'chemical and GM free' hamlet. The Centre for Rural Operations and Programmes Society (CROPS), Janagam, and the Centre for World Solidarity (CSW), Secunderabad, monitor the agricultural operations at Yaenabaavi and other places in the Warangal and Khammam Districts in Andhra Pradesh. The CSA closely interacts with the farmers and guides them, with support from Aide à l'enfance de l'Inde (AEI), Luxembourg. Before going to Yaenabaavi, we visited CSA's office in Secunderabad and discussed this hamlet, among other issues.
Organic Cultivation And Non-Pesticidal Management At Yaenabaavi, Andhra Pradesh, India: 2. The Impressions
C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India krao.at.vsnl.com. Full blog at
Yaenabaavi farmers have cited several reasons for not cultivating Bt cotton:
expensive seed; more sucking pests; new root and drying diseases; reduced soil fertility; death of sheep and damage to the health of the cattle that ate Bt cotton plants; causes allergy. Yaenabaavi farmers said that they are not against new technology. They would take a chance with new varieties of crops even when the previous year's experience was disappointing but Bt cotton failed consistently, in Narasapeta (where illegal Bt cotton is grown), Lingala Ghanapur, Ranganathapalli and Devarappula Mandals of the Warnagal district and in most of Karnool district.
The causes for not cultivating Bt cotton given by the farmers are based on hearsay as no Bt cotton was ever grown here and they have no first hand experience about it. Their assertion that Bt cotton consistently failed in the neighbouring areas was also based on fed information, although they cited one farmer of the village who cultivated Bt cotton with disastrous results.
Yaenabaavi farmers analyzed for us the causes for farmers' suicides: There have been more farmer suicides in the recent years (this may partly be due to more extensive press coverage), than in the earlier years. Crops failed during the previous three years or so. High costs of 'company seeds', chemical fertilizers and pesticides did not yield proportionate returns. Monoculture (means cultivation without crop rotation?) reduced yields year by year. Market forces conspired to pay the farmer less and less. There is no price difference between Bt cotton and non-Bt cotton, in the market. Chemical inputs reduced soil fertility resulting in bad crop yield. All this has increased indebtedness. Of course, there were alcohol and family problems to add. Although they cited several causes for farmers' suicides, there is a serious implication of Bt cotton in this tragedy. Same with the death of sheep.
Yaenabaavi is not practicing non-pesticidal agricultural management, as neem, tobacco and panchagavya are used as pesticides; only that no chemical pesticides and fertilizers are in use. Nicotine extracted from tobacco, used as a chemical pesticide is a taboo, but nicotine in tobacco decoctions is not. Neem is reputed to contain over a hundred antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and pesticidal chemical compounds. Which chemicals panchagavya contains is beyond imagination. On the same count, green manure and vermicompost also contain a very large number of chemical compounds.
I am not very sure that the principles and practices of Organic Cultivation are properly and adequately understood, as only NPM and organic manures are simplistically cited.
The only genetically engineered crop commercialized in India is Bt cotton. With 65 per cent of cotton cultivated in India being non-Bt, there is no special merit in declaring Yaenabaavi as 'GM free'.
In this low pest pressure year, in no Bt cotton field we saw any sucking pests, but on the Banni crop (non-Bt cotton variety) in Yaenabaavi, some pests like the red cotton bug, were conspicuous. Over 10 per cent of the bolls were unopened indicating pest damage. The leaves of the Ladies' finger (okra) crop were full of holes, a clear indication of pest damage. The crops are certainly not pest-free.
It is the excessive and unwarranted use of chemical inputs that has wrecked farming and not their rational use. The same crops under chemical fertilizer and pesticide management are much more luxuriant elsewhere than in Yaenabaavi. In general, farming practices in today's Yaenabaavi are largely the same as those in Indian Agriculture, before Green Revolution.
A net income of Rs. 5,000 per acre does not compare well with a return of over Rs. 6,000 on Bt cotton and maize even n the dry land areas. The moderate income of Yaenabaavi farmers does not spell prosperity, even if the situation were much worse earlier. Though tobacco yields a lot more, it is not extensively grown, probably in view of higher inputs and the farmers need to grow food crops for their own consumption.
The farmers seemed euphoric in the feeling that by avoiding chemical inputs they are doing a great service to themselves and the country, in addition to what they were made to believe as successful farming, which they consider did not affect their food or financial security.
We met the same farmers (Venkatadri, Krishna, Mallaiah and several others) as the correspondents of The Hindu and NDTV, and also cited in the CSA Press Release, but we are not as excited. The uniform and chorused answers of the farmers to our questions, gave an impression that the responses to questions were not spontaneous. They cannot possibly understand the intricacies of the technology based issues they were talking about. They seemed to be experienced in answering the routine questions on Bt cotton, organic farming and NPM practices, as there have been too many visitors, some from abroad, to this now famous place. The farmers here are conscious of the attention they are getting from the national and international media and agencies.
The presence of CROPS, CSW, CAS and AEI in Yaenabaavi is inescapable and these organizations have certainly put in a lot of hard work in steering Yaenabaavi to the present fame.
While the general scenario is apparently reassuring, this does not warrant other farmers taking the same path, except to take advantage of the high moral ground of the current organic fervour. Exclusive Organic and NPM practices keep the incomes of small farmers very low.
If the farmers of Yaenabaavi are happy, we all should be happy for them, though I am not sure of who are the real beneficiaries of this exercise.
Ganesh and Brahma Bow to A New God
- Andrew Leonard, Salon, Feb 1 2007
Embedded links and full paper at http://www.salon.com/tech/htww/2007/01/31/glenn_davis_stone/
In 2003, varieties of hybrid cotton seed known by the brand names Ganesh and Brahma were the popular choice among farmers in Gudepad, a village in the Warangal district of the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. By 2005, a majority of farmers throughout the entire district had switched to RCH-2 Bt, a genetically modified strain of cotton designed to produce its own insecticide.
The biotech industry would like us to believe that the migration to GM cotton was a result of individual farmers' testing out various seeds and coming to the sage conclusion that RCH-2 Bt performed the best. In contrast, anti-GM activists, even as they claim, despite the evidence in Warangal, that farmers are rejecting GM crops, also stress that whatever adoption does occur is likely the result of corporate propaganda and distribution muscle. Oh, and the new strains don't work as advertised, either.
But as is so often the case, neither side's explanation fully captures the situation on the ground. For that we must turn to a brilliant new paper by anthropologist Glenn Davis Stone, "Agricultural Deskilling and the Spread of Genetically Modified Cotton in Warangal," from the February issue of Current Anthropology.
Since 2000, Stone has spent some 45 weeks doing field research on Warangal farmers' cotton seed choice decision-making process. There is a granularity to his research, embedded in careful anthropological theory, that puts most conventional "investigative reporting" to shame. And unlike so many commentators on the topic of genetic modification, he comes neither to promote nor condemn. His purpose is to understand.
He's chosen to navigate a tricky path, rejecting simultaneously the corporate biotechnological Neo-Malthusianism that declares that any opposition to GM crops is equivalent to condoning the starvation of African children, and the Green-activism absolutism that holds all genetically modified crops to be inherently evil. His position becomes even more precarious when you consider that some critics from the left are quick to portray even a stance of neutrality as a political sellout that allows corporate interests to control the research and development agenda. But Stone's middle path allows him to draw distinctions -- between, for example, privately owned research focused primarily on maximizing profits and encumbered by intellectual property restrictions, and publicly sponsored non-proprietary research aimed at addressing the needs of poor people. The world is not black and white: Stone's own version of anthropology is, he says, "a science of the gray."
In 1997, hundreds of cotton farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh. Advocates of GM crops cited the epidemic as a reason to push for deployment of new strains of cotton. Green activists said that pests that disproportionately targeted new, technologically sophisticated hybrids (which also required increasing inputs of fertilizer and pesticides that farmers could not afford) were the reason why farmers were committing suicide, and that GM crops would just worsen the situation. More recently, there's been another outbreak of cotton farmer suicides elsewhere in India, which has been blamed on the cheap price of cotton on the global market, due largely to American subsidized overproduction.
A grounding in Stone's work cautions us to avoid one-sentence explanations or easy villains (GM crops! Globalization!) for such tragedies. At the close of his essay "A Science of the Gray: Malthus, Marx, and the Ethics of Studying Crop Biotechnology," he discusses the 1997 suicides and provides a revealing look at how he approaches understanding the messy complexity of what is actually happening, out there in the real world.
"Suicides are "caused" not just by either American bollworms or globalization but by a dozen insect pests, by pesticide resistances and the high cost of pesticides, by the ready availability of means for suicide (the pesticides themselves), by vendors' usurious lending practices and their draconian collection tactics, by unscrupulous seed salesmen and a weak regulatory system that fails to protect farmers from bogus seed, by the boom in the cotton market and government campaigns enticing farmers into risky practices, by the large number of small and marginal farmers, by the dropping water tables combined with the preponderance of thirsty cotton varieties, by the cost and unpredictability of hitting water in a bore well, by government payments to suicides' families, by alcohol abuse, and by a long list of other general and specific factors. Rather than championing a cause that serves one's own interests at the expense of a richer understanding of the situation at hand, my ethnographic science of the gray reaches for a more systemic and synthetic analysis of the sociocultural context into which genetically modified crops are being introduced. "
A science of the gray. Words to live by.
Warangal Bt Cotton Leads to De-Skilling
- Ritu Gupta, Economic Times, Jan 30 2007 http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/
New Delhi: Bt cotton may not be a silver lining for farmers in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh who are using the GM crop as a solution to virulent pest attacks.
A multi-year ethnography by Glenn Davis Stone from Washington University shows that Warangal Bt cotton farming has led to 'agricultural deskilling'. The Bt seed fads do not have an environmental basis, and farmers generally lack recognition of what is actually being planted. This is a contrast to the highly strategic seed selection processes in areas where technological change is learned and gradual.
In Gujarat, the loss of corporate control over the Bt technology has led to an increased involvement of farmers in local breeding, and an apparent increase in knowledgebased innovation.
The findings of Stone imply more woes for the district that is a key cotton growing area of the country. Farmers here commit suicide every year due to repeated crop failures owing to virulent pest attack. The crop failure increases the cost of cultivation and leads to high debts. Reports complied by farmers' wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) show that during a single month in 2006 about 279 farmers had committed suicide.
In fact, the 'deskilling problem' precedes the use of Bt cotton, Stone points out. Its root causes are reliance on hybrid seed, which must be repurchased every year, and a chaotic seed market in which products come and go at a furious pace and farmers often cannot tell what they are using.
Farmers' desire for novelty exacerbates the turnover of seeds in the market, Stone argues, and seed firms frequently take seeds that have fallen out of favour, rename them, and resell with new marketing campaigns.