Genetically engineered (also called genetically modified or GM) cotton is grown on 25 million hectares around the world, mostly in India, China, Pakistan and the US. Other countries growing much smaller amounts of GM cotton are South Africa, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Columbia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Burma, Australia, and Egypt.
Cotton is genetically engineered to produce a toxin that kills the bollworm, one of the cotton’s primary pests. This pest-resistant cotton is engineered with a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thurengiensis or “Bt”.
- Video: Farmers in Burkina Faso discussing their experience with GM Bt cotton, 2015
- CBAN’s factsheet: Genetically Engineered Cotton 2013
- CBAN’s GMO Inquiry Report: “Do We Need GM Crops to Feed the World?” 2015
- Report from the African Centre for Biodiversity: Cottoning on to the lie: the introduction of genetically modified cotton in. Africa will harm, not help, smallholder farmers 2015
GM Cotton in Africa
2015: CBAN member Inter Pares supported the farmer-research project in Burkina Faso, West Africa. “The cotton farmers were not consulted. We were told that Bt cotton would be good for us, and we would save money as we would have to spray less pesticides. This was true for the first year, but not after that. We now have to spray two to three times more, and the caterpillars still come…The farmer suicides in India left many orphans. We do not want this to happen here.” Video: Farmers in Burkina Faso discussing their experience with GM Bt cotton.
Opinion: GM Cotton a False Promise for Africa Haidee Swanby, Senior Researcher, African Centre for Biodiversity, June 2015
May 2015: According to the weekly Jeune Afrique, a conglomerate of cotton companies in Burkina Faso, which includes the Société burkinabè des fibres textiles (SOFITAX), Faso Coton (owned by IPS) and the Cotton Company of Gourma (Socoma, a subsidiary of the French group Geocoton) has decided to phase out use of Monsanto’s GM cotton over the next three years. At issue: the yields, lower than what was announced in the contract, and the quality of cotton fiber, which is not up to par. In addition to withdraw from their contracts with Monsanto, the companies are currently assessing the amount of compensation they will demand from Monsanto for losses related to the cultivation of its transgenic cotton since 2008.
“Farmers have no control over this technology, which makes us extremely dependent. I am convinced that farmers will ultimately abandon GM cotton because it wasn’t designed to serve our interests,” said Issouf Sanou, Coordinator of the Burkina National Federation of Farmer Organizations in a CBAN press release February 25, 2013. Burkina Faso is growing a small amount of GM cotton. CBAN is working in solidarity with farmer groups in Sudan, West Africa and India
Report from African Centre for Biodiversity, June 2015“GM cotton has impoverished smallholder farmers due to the expense of the technology coupled with inevitable technological failures…African governments must think twice before burdening smallholders with bigger debts, onerous crop management techniques and the risk of crop failures.”
GM Cotton in India
October 2015: Whitefly destroys 2/3rd of Punjab’s cotton crop, 15 farmers commit suicide Pests attack farmer’s GM Bt insect-resistant cotton crops in the Punjab. This problem of secondary pests moving into GM cotton fields is continuing to play out all over India. Pesticide use has gone up in every cotton growing state in India except one. It’s the smallest and poorest farmers who pay the price
June 2015: Deconstructing Indian cotton: weather, yields, and suicides (Gutierrez et al., Environmental Sciences Europe (2015) 27:12) Bt cotton may be economic in irrigated cotton, whereas costs of Bt seed and insecticide increase the risk of farmer bankruptcy in low-yield rainfed cotton. Inability to use saved seed and inadequate agronomic information trap cotton farmers on biotechnology and insecticide treadmills. Annual suicide rates in rainfed areas are inversely related to farm size and yield, and directly related to increases in Bt cotton adoption (i.e., costs). High-density short-season cottons could increase yields and reduce input costs in irrigated and rainfed cotton. Policy makers need holistic analysis before new technologies are implemented in agricultural development.
Cotton is an important cash crop in India. It is grown on 12 million hectares, making India the second largest producer of cotton in the world, behind China. Insect-resistant GM (Bt) cotton is the only GM crop currently grown in India. It was introduced in India by Monsanto in 2002, under the trade name Bollgard, in a joint venture with the Indian seed company Mahyco.
Monsanto promised Indian farmers that Bt cotton would:
- Reduce the amount of pesticides farmers need to buy to control pests,
- Increase harvests and farm income by reducing crop losses due to pest attacks.
In the first few years after Bt cotton was commercialized in India, some farmers saw the benefits of reduced pesticide use and fewer crop losses, but this pattern quickly and dramatically changed.
For details, read CBAN’s factsheet: Genetically Engineered Cotton, February 2013
And check CBAN’s Report: “Will GM Crops Feed the World?” October 2014
Websites of some organizations working on GM issues in India
- Centre for Sustainable Agriculture: www.csa-india.org
- Coalition for a GM Free India: www.indiagminfo.org
- Gene Campaign: www.genecampaign.org
- Navdanya: www.navdanya.org
- South Against Genetic Engineering: www.sagemysore.wordpress.com
- Deccan Development Society: www.ddsindia.com
More Resources on GM Cotton in India
- Coalition for a GM Free India (CGMFI), 2012. 10 Years of Bt Cotton: False Hype and Failed Promises, Cotton farmers’ crisis continues with crop failure and suicides. Available at: http://indiagminfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Bt-Cotton-False-Hype-and-Failed-Promises-Final.pdf
- Navdanya, Navdanya International, the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture, with the Centre for Food Safety. 2011. The GMO emperor has no clothes: A Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs- False Promises, Failed Technologies. www.navdanya.org/attachments/Latest_Publications5.pdf
- Standing Committee on Agriculture, 2012. Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects and Effects. New Delhi, India: Ministry of Agriculture. Fifteenth Lok Sabha. Thirty Seventh Report. Available at: 184.108.40.206/lsscommittee/Agriculture/GM_Report.pdf
- Michael X. Peled, 2012. Bitter Seeds (documentary). Teddy Bear Films.
- Sakkhari, Kiran and A Qayum. What farmers reaped growing Bt cotton – Profit or Problem? South Against Genetic Engineering and Deccan Development Society.
- Field questions: Food, Farming and Biotechnology (blog), by Glenn Stone. http://fieldquestions.com
- Screen the film Bitter Seeds in your community, ask CBAN how to obtain the screening copy and materials.
- Buy organic cotton where possible. Organic farming prohibits the use of GM seeds and organic cotton provides an alternative market for farmers.
Press Release, February 25, 2013: Global Growth of GM Crops Overblown: ISAAA yearly report misleads, says CBAN
February 25, 2013: The Africa Centre for Biosafety calls the ISAAA report “mischievous and erroneous” – overestimated the spread of GM crops in South Africa by a staggering 400%.