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Bt Cotton dashes hopes of ryots

(Monday, Dec. 30, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- The Hindu, 12/29: MALLAPUR (MAHABUBNAGAR DT) It is a double shock for the cotton farmers of this small dusty village of the perennially drought-hit district. First it was drought that cut into their earnings and now it is the failure of Bt Cotton.

Influenced by the high-decibel campaign by Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech and with a lot of hope, Akki Ramulu raised the Bt Cotton hybrid buying the seed at Rs. 1,600 a packet (Bt Mech 162), about four times higher than the usual hybrid variety Bunny (Rs. 450) on an acre of his land. But after six months, he is a shattered man.

After months of hard work, he may just be able to get a quintal of cotton, against the promised yield of 10-12 quintals per acre.

The remaining crop is either stunted or shrivelled up and full of insects. He had spent Rs. 1,600 on seed, Rs. 4,000 on eight pesticide sprays and Rs. 1,200 on fertilizers. "I should not have believed them. I have learnt a bitter lesson. I will never raise this Bt Cotton,'' rued Ramulu.

Another farmer, Venkat Reddy, switched over to Bt from the regular Bunny and raised it on three acres, hoping to wipe out his debts. Victim of a confidence trick played by the seed dealer who promised to pay him Rs. 30,000 if the Bt crop failed, Reddy raised it, only to get dejected in four months time. Two cotton pickings later, he says there were not many buyers for Bt cotton, as the lint was less, seeds were more and the staple length was a clear 10 mm less than the Bunny variety.

"While the Bt cotton fetched Rs. 1,300 a quintal, the Bunny still commanded a price of Rs. 2,600,'' he said making rounds of the dealer, in vain.

Considering himself a progressive farmer, P. Ranga Reddy, went the whole hog, with liberal help directly from the "company'' representative.

Bt cotton was raised all over his 11 acres and he spent Rs. 1 lakhs on seed, pesticide sprays and fertilizers.

The Bt Cotton was much better here compared to the other farms but he is nowhere near recovering his cost.

Three factors might have helped him in minimising the loss direct supervision by the company man, a switchover from mirchi to cotton and heavy use of pesticides.

Farmers of nearby villages such as Fatimapur, Gudur, Reddypalem, Cheguru and Narsappagudem in Kothur mandal, who have raised Bt cotton on hundreds of acres are also on the verge of incurring huge losses.

But the question is who will pay the compensation for the loss, the company or the Government, which has approved its commercialisation. At a meeting at Fatimapur, organised by the Telangana Natural Resource Management Group (TNRMG) a network of 12 NGOs, cotton farmers from these villages and from Ranga Reddy and Adilabad poured out their anger at the crop failure, explained the way they were deceived and vowed not to go in for Bt Cotton in future.

"It is clear that the Bt Cotton has failed on all counts and the claims made by the company have been proved wrong. It has neither improved the yield through better plant protection nor reduced the pesticide usage.

In fact, the Bt cotton crop raised by P. Ranga Reddy of Mallapur showed that expensive pesticides like tracers, cypermethrin, confidor and avant were used defeating the very objective.

The returns were not as promised as the pod itself was small, seeds were more, lint and the staple length were less,'' said the farm scientists team, comprising K.V.R. Chowdary, Prasada Rao and S. Jeevananda Reddy, after the field visit.

"In the light of these ground realities,'' they demanded immediate withdrawal of the approval granted by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to Monsanto-Mahyco and payment of compensation to farmers.