[Answered]Discuss whether the introduction of Bt cotton has benefitted Indian farmers or not. Do you think genetically modified crops can help farmers’ cause?

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual Introduction.

Body. Discuss various benefits and issues regarding use of Bt cotton for Indian farmers. Mention how genetically modified crops can help farmers’ cause and various issues with the same.

Conclusion. Way forward.

Genetically Modified Bt cotton was introduced in Indian market in 2002. Bt cotton covers over 95% of the area under cotton, with the seeds produced entirely by the private sector. It has played an important role in increasing India’s cotton production. However, Bt cotton is criticised for negatively impacting livelihoods of poor farmers and favouring private seed industry more.

How Bt cotton has benefitted Indian farmers?

  1. Increased yields: A number of studies revealed that farmers have benefited from adopting Bt cotton technology through increased yields and reduced pesticide costs. Substantial yield increases are attributed to decreased pest damages. A study conducted by the Council for Social Development on Bt cotton, states that Bt cotton has enhanced yield of cotton by 4.95%.
  2. More net profit: In spite of higher costs of Bt cotton seed, reduced pesticide use and reduced costs associated with pesticide, led to less expenditures on seed. This has provided farmers with more profit through less overall spending.
  3. Increased quality of life: Bt cotton has improved quality of life due to increased income and better health due to less pesticide exposure. The higher returns, in turn, have enabled farmers to spend more on health, education, nutritious food and social needs, which has improved their standard of living.
  4. Women employment: Bt cotton has provided more work to women. More cotton seed fluff needs to be picked during the harvest and cotton picking which is traditionally a woman’s job in India. Many farmer’s wives also process some of the cotton to cotton thread.

Concerns regarding Bt cotton:

  1. No benefit to small farmers: The large farmers benefit most from Bt cotton. A study by August University said that income for large farmers in India has increased by 300 %. Poor and small farmers find it difficult to obtain the correct information and education, to have access to adequate infrastructure and to affordable credit for Bt cotton.
  2. Lobbying: Indian government had set maximum retail prices for Bt seeds. This price is said to be the outcome of a strong political lobbying process rather than the result of objective analyses of a reasonable price level. The impact of the price controls on aggregate technology adoption is relatively small on poor farmers.
  3. Costly seed: Bt cotton is a hybrid and thus for every cultivation its seed has to be bought by farmers. Due to the lack of affordable credit, most farmers have to borrow from non-official and uncontrolled money lenders, sometimes resulting in exorbitant interest rates. This has led to reduced profits especially for poor who find it tough to repay.
  4. Unsuitable expansion: The expansion of the cotton area to regions less suitable to cotton has an adverse effect on farmers. The cotton harvest is doomed to fail in these areas, regardless of whether the crop is Bt cotton or conventional cotton. India had no social security system in the event of disappointing harvests that resulted in financial hardship for farmers.

Genetically modified crops can help farmers’ cause:

Arguments in favour Arguments against
Increased crop yields: It is said that GM seeds will increase the yields of farmers that adopt the technology. This means more income to farmers. Costly seeds: GM crops are grown in laboratories and are costly to produce. Thus GM seeds would be costly especially to poor farmers and would not help them much.
Less use of pesticides: As adoption of GM seeds increases, the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides (and the costs associated with their application) will decrease. Monoculture practices: Use of genetically modified crops will hurt the environment and soil health, because of monoculture practices. This will reduce agricultural productivity of soil and yield will be reduced.
Soil health: Mechanical weeding is one of the causes of top-soil erosion. Weeds rob nutrients from crops. GM crops are able to tolerate exposure to herbicides. Thus, GM crops promote no-till or conservation tillage. With less or no tilling, there would be less soil erosion and more yield. Development of resistant weeds and insects: Use of GM seeds might create superweeds or superbugs that, over time, become resistant to GM seeds and crops and to other herbicides and pesticides. A recent study documented a decreased susceptibility in pests to the use of Bt as a sprayed pesticide.
Climate adaptation: Some GM crops can help protect harvests in water-limited conditions and drought-stricken areas. This would benefit many farmers in climate change and will help to grow crops in drought-like conditions. Harm to soil friendly organisms: Other possible harm of GM seeds and crops is harm to other beneficial organisms. A study performed at Cornell University indicated that a gene contained within Bt corn can be harmful to the larvae of a monarch butterfly.

GM crops although have many benefits as was seen in the success of Bt cotton. But it may not help small farmers, unless seed prices are made affordable. It is expected that more GM crops engineered for agriculture will be developed in the near future, but its adoption needs careful thought.

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