Hybrid cotton has helped farmers says Pawar, activists say no

Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar told the Lok Sabha yesterday that the use of high quality hybrid cotton seeds had helped farmers make big gains due to reduced use of pesticides.

At a time when India is passing through an agrarian crisis, this statement could have come as a glimmer of hope, except that Pawar's own ministry seemed to think that the reverse was happening.

According to the agriculture ministry's reports, ICAR findings as recently as January 2012 proved that Bt cotton production in the last five years had declined whereas use of insecticide and pesticides had increased.

Activists said the information given by Pawar was misleading.

Vidarbha cotton farmers' advocacy group Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti (VJAS) activist Kishore Tiwari said the false hype created was part of a propaganda to create an environment for allowing genetically modified seeds in the country.

Pawar had told the Lok Sabha, ''With the use of high quality hybrid cotton seeds, Indian farmers experienced the biggest gain in the form of reduced insecticide usage from 46 per cent in 2001 to less than 26 per cent after 2006 and 21 per cent during the last two years - 2009 and 2010. Introduction of Bt cotton hybrids has helped in production increase rom 156 lakh bales (170 kg lint per bale) in 2001 to an estimated 356 lakh bales in 2011…The Bt cotton hybrids approved till date do not require any herbicide in addition to those required by their non Bt counterparts for enhancing the results.''

However, according to the agriculture ministry's report dated 9 January 2012, ''Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers. In fact cost of cotton cultivation has jumped from Rs7 million per hectare to Rs12 million due to rising costs of pesticides. Total Bt cotton production in the last five years has reduced.''