How Bt Cotton Transformed Cotton Farming In India

How Bt Cotton Transformed Cotton Farming In India

by Ashok Chowgule - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 11:39 AM IST
How Bt Cotton Transformed Cotton Farming In India

How has the cotton industry of India fared since 2002, especially since it was the year Bt Cotton cultivation started?

Bt Cotton in India started to be grown since 2002.  The data for the industry since is as follows:

How Bt Cotton Transformed Cotton Farming In India

(Approximate figures, to give a broad picture.)

What do these figures tell us? They tell us what can be achieved with an intelligent use of technology in agriculture. They tell us that the farmer is an intelligent person and knows what is best for him. They tell us that farm production can be increased in a sustainable way. They tell us that agriculture can be an important sector in a country like India.

Let me explain the above with the following specific points:

With Bt technology yield per hectare has increased quite significantly. Even if we break down the area between rain fed and irrigated land, the increases in the two cases have been nearly the same.

The increase in yield encouraged the farmers to bring more area under cultivation, since cotton growing also became profitable.  The farmers have recognised the benefits of the technology, and hence adopted it in a massive way.

Clearly, the increase in yield will be translated in an increase in gross income.

The increase in yield will mean a reduction in cost of production per kg of cotton.  This reduction is, of course, moderated to some extent by the increase in the cost of the seeds.

The reduction in the use of pesticides is huge.  Bt cotton enables a near complete elimination of the type that deals with bollworm.  This constituted 70% (by volume) of the total pesticides that was applied earlier.  In terms of per kg of cotton, the reduction would be more than 80%.

Per kg of cotton, there is a reduction of fertiliser to the extent of the increase in the yield.  There is no need to apply any more fertiliser per hectare as compared to when non-Bt cotton was being produced.  Some farmers are using more per hectare, and they need to be informed that this is not necessary

Where irrigation is available, the absolute use of water per hectare would increase by 15% to 20%.  Since the yield has increased by 75%, the per kg use of water is significantly less.

The increase in the productivity of labour will be more than the increase in the yield, because there would be a 70% reduction in labour for spraying the pesticides.  This provides an opportunity to increase the wages, without increasing the total labour cost, leading to increase well-being in the rural areas.

In 2002, India had a world production share of 12%.  It is now around 25%, making India the largest producer of the crop in the world.  This indicates how intelligent use of technology can increase the economic presence of India in the world.

From zero exports to exporting nearly 25% of the production, the cotton farmer has been able to establish the industry as a significant positive contributor to the balance of payment position.

The increase in production, with the reduction in cost, would have had a moderating impact of the prices.  It would be safe to say that the sale price of cotton would be less today, than in 2002, factoring for the inflation that has happened since then.

There would be a substantial increase in net income per hectare of land, considering the increase in income, and the reduction in cost.

Increase in cotton production also has an effect of an increase in cotton seeds.  This will also reflect in the price of cotton.

The increase in cotton seed oil has, at least partially, met the increased demand for the vegetable oils due to higher income levels.  The nutrition value of cotton seed oil is better than some of the other vegetable oils.

The cotton seed cake is good animal feed.  It increases the fat content of the milk, particularly in case of buffalo milk.

With better management of the farms, the yield can be increased to 700kg, which is the world average.  (World best is around 900kg.)  There is a potential to increase the production of cotton in India by another 30%.  One can imagine what would be the economic benefit to the farmer and the country when this happens.

The increase in consumption would have created employment opportunities in the ginning industry and well as the transport industry.

The increase in domestic consumption of cotton would reflect an increase in yarn spun to the same extent.  How much is the increase in production of cloth would depend upon the increase in yarn exports.  But it would be safe to say that there would be an increase in cloth production.  There would have been a significant increase in the investment in textile machinery.

Some of the increase in the cloth production would go to exports, and the balance to production of garment.

The increase in garment production would mean an increase in garment exports.  This increase, along with the increase in cotton exports, would mean that the cotton industry has made a positive contribution to the balance of payments.

It is for the above reasons, the success of Bt cotton in India needs to be celebrated.  All this has happened with normal government support, in terms of technical assistance and outreach programmes.  With further improvement in the infrastructure, particular roads and electricity, it will not only improve the agriculture incomes, but also improve the quality of the life of the people.

Given the length of time that the cotton has been grown, the fears regarding the adverse effect on health have been proved to be without any valid grounds.  The contention of the scientists of the safety of the technology has been vindicated.  There is now no ground to doubt the reliability of the testing procedure that is already in place.  It needs to be mentioned here that in all the countries in the world where the GMO technology has been adopted, there are no cases which would show that the health of the people, and the animals, is adversely affected due to the technology.

The preliminary quantity data of the benefits of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh shows that the yield has increased by an amount similar to the experience of cotton in India.  The pesticides consumption has also come down similar to what has been observed in case of cotton in India.  Hence, many of the above points could well be made for this crop as well.

The best part of GMO technology, at least in these cases, is that it is scale neutral.  The small farmer gets as much benefit as the large farmer.  And all this has been done with lesser inputs than using non-GMO technology.

This forward economic march of the nation should not be allowed to be thwarted.  It is necessary for the government to base their decisions on what science has to say, and what has already been proven.  While the nay-sayers are well within their rights to put forward their views, they should be requested to either base their arguments on the basis of robust science, or they should be requested NOT to clothe their political arguments in science.

In the adoption, or otherwise, of the GMO technology, the opinion of the farmer should receive as much respect as that of the other stakeholders.  And given the whole-hearted adoption by the farmer, they have clearly given their vote to adopt the technology.  There are some farmers who believe, with quite a bit of passion, on organic farming.  While they are free to practice that method, they cannot insist that the GMO technology should not be adopted.  There is a niche market for the organic products, where the consumer is willing to pay a higher price.  But a large section of the population wishes to get agriculture produce at reasonable prices.

With the appropriate technology that is already available, India’s agriculture sector has a potential to play an important part of the economy of the country.  The cotton farmers have shown the way.

Ashok Chowgule is the Working President (External) of Vishwa Hindu Parishad. He is indebted to Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel, and many others whom these great souls have influenced, for understanding the essence of Hinduism. It is in this understanding that this note was prepared.

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