is certainly possible that the truth is much larger and complex than these
individual accounts of farmers. Establishing correlations, much less causation,
in agriculture is a daunting task. Individual accounts of farmers in these two
villages need to be seen against the larger social reality.
years after its arrival, Bt cotton varieties occupy 92 per cent of the total
cotton area in Maharashtra. Shouldn't the choices of millions of farmers speak
far more loudly about their own self-interest than the interviews with select
growers? And, as almost all the cotton area in Maharashtra is rain-fed, this
fact should also give pause to those who believe that Bt cotton varieties can
never work in dry land agriculture.
It is little surprise; therefore, that academic research has largely confirmed
substantial yield and income gains from Bt cotton varieties. The recent issue
of Nature, a prestigious international weekly journal on science, has reported
significant benefits of Bt cotton to Indian farmers. Citing a study in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it says that data collected
from 533 farm households during 2002-08 shows that Bt cotton raised the yield
by 24 per cent. This translated to a 50 per cent increase in profits, and
during 2006-08, families that adopted Bt cotton spent 18 per cent more money
than conventional farming households, suggesting an increase in living
Although articles critical of Bt cotton can be read as indictments of big
business and big media, what they do is offer a fable of their own, couched of
course, in the voices of farmers. In this narrative, farmers are always victims
of senseless technologies pushed on to them by greedy corporations. This is
sought to be obscured from public record by a campaign of ceaseless propaganda
that includes big media houses as willing participants.
Critics' concern about private monopolies and planted media coverage is
understandable. However, this should not prevent recognition of the popularity
of Bt cotton varieties. None of this is to say that there are no problems with
the technology. However, denying farmers the capacity to make a reasoned choice
demeans them and is a poor foundation for policy prescription. Banning cotton
exports has demonstrably hurt millions of farmers. Yet, while the supposed
adverse impact of Bt cotton finds repeated mention in urban discourse, stopping
farmers from accessing markets and getting higher prices is par for the course
and hardly attracts comment.
This article was
originally published in the Economic Times dated 27th September,
2012, written by Milind Murugkar.