Greenpeace has launched a new report which says that farming organic cotton in India is more profitable than growing genetically engineered varieties of cotton because of the higher input costs of GM and a greater potential for debt accumulation. Greenpeace says this difference is magnified during periods of drought. In its report titled "Picking Cotton – The choice between organic and genetically-engineered cotton for farmers in South India" Greenpeace has conducted a comparative study among cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh, southern India. It claims that farmers cultivating rain-fed cotton through organic practices earned 200% more net income than similar farmers who grew Genetically Engineered cotton [Bt cotton] in 2009/10.
Other results of the survey claim that the cost of cultivation is almost twice as expensive for Bt cotton farmers than for organic cotton farmers, both in 2008/09 and 2009/10. “The higher expense includes higher costs of seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and interests for loans. Higher loan costs are a direct consequence of higher cost of inputs for cultivation for Bt cotton farmers,” the report reads.
It also says that during the period under study, farmers in Andrah Pradesh growing Bt cotton continue to use a large amount and variety of chemical pesticides, especially insecticides. “We recorded in total 26 different chemical pesticides used by Bt farmers,” said Greenpeace. The report also says that cotton yields do not differ significantly between Bt and organic cotton farmers, although in the favourable rainfall year, 2008/09, Bt cotton reached slightly higher yields than organic cotton. “But the small yield increase in Bt and chemically-intensive cotton farms does not translate into income benefit for the Bt farmer, due to high cultivation costs,” says the report.
The report contradicts other recent findings which have indicated the success of Bt cotton in reducing pesticide use. Agronomists that support the use of GM seeds also highlight the importance of utilising multiple methodologies to deal with pest control and the consequent improvement of profitability as opposed to one single solution.
In the US, for example, broad toxic pesticide use has been almost completely eliminated in some regions where GM cotton is grown and where secondary insect pests have been controlled with a variety of other techniques.
Greenpeace says the objective of the study was not to undertake a technical analysis of the performance of the genetically-engineered Bt trait isolated from its surrounding circumstances, but more an analysis of what happens when farmers grow Bt cotton under the conditions faced by the majority of farmers in India (and other developing countries) - i.e. smallholding farms, rain-fed and poor.