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Cover Letter:

23 November 2017



Dear Friends and Colleagues

The Fall of GM Cotton in India

Genetically modified (GM) cotton was first introduced to India in 2002 by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd., which is a joint venture between Mahyco Seeds and Monsanto India. The company sub-licences the GM technology to 49 Indian seed firms. Backed by an aggressive advertising campaign, Bt cotton became the dominant force in Indian cotton production. About 90% of the India’s cotton area of 11.8 million hectares is GM.

A recent report explores the astronomical rise and catastrophic fall of GM cotton in India - the world’s largest producer and second biggest exporter of cotton (Item 1). GM (Bt) cotton was genetically engineered to be resistant to the pink bollworm. But secondary pests abounded, and four years after Monsanto released its first-generation GM cotton, the pink bollworm had become resistant to it in Western India. Monsanto then released a more expensive, second generation Bt cotton, but within a few years, the pink bollworm had developed resistance to it too. All this led to increased insecticide use. In 2014, the Cotton Advisory Board of India found a threefold increase in the cost of growing cotton, due to the high price of Bt seeds, and other input costs such as fertilisers and the pesticides needed to deal with the serious pest problems.

Overall, the area planted with Monsanto’s seeds has declined by roughly 10 percent either because farmers have switched to desi (local strains of) cotton or have moved away from growing cotton altogether. Farmers report comparable yields of desi cotton, at nearly half the input costs compared to Bt cotton. India is the world’s largest producer of organic cotton.

Another report by PAN UK (Item 2), which investigates the current rate of pesticide use in cotton farming in six countries, confirms the above scenario. It reports that while insecticide use declined in some areas initially following the introduction of GM cotton varieties, it is on the rise again as farmers struggle to control secondary pests like aphids and whitefly. The report also finds that pesticide poisoning remains a serious problem in smallholder cotton farming. Noteworthy is that those countries which have been most successful at cutting pesticide use have been those who have embraced Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The report recommends making more use of tools like IPM and other agro-ecological approaches to control pests to replace pesticides.

With best wishes,

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang
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