Reyes, one of our agriculture campaigners in India, shares her immediate thoughts on this 'first-of-its-kind' admission by Monsanto
This was my Saturday's lyrics to breakfast in sunny Bangalore: Monsanto has decided to tell the truth about something: its technology doesn't work!, reports The Hindu. I'm going to need a second cup of chai to digest this, Monsanto speaking honest!? Indian farmers and scientist have been seeing this in their Bt cotton fields for a few years: pests become resistant to Monsanto's genetically engineered toxins and thus farmers apply huge amounts of pesticides. Monsanto has always denied this, has the recent massive rejection of its Bt brinjal in India woken up its senses?
For years Monsanto has been shouting that the main - read only - benefit of Bt cotton in India (the only genetically engineered crop planted here) was the reduction in pesticide use. Well, it seems they have just admitted this is not true. Pink bollworm, a serious pest for cotton farmers in India, is now resistant to the toxin in Bt cotton. Meaning that this bug is now sort of a super-pest that farmers will have to work harder and harder to avoid.
What is Monsanto's solution to this? Maybe you have guessed it: use Monsanto's next weapon – same technology - Bt cotton 2.0. With double the amount of toxins (and almost double the price of non-Bt seeds). Hmmm? I need another cup of chai! This is looking too much like an arms-race, which due to rapid pest evolution of resistance could reach a battle of infinite proportions... followed closely by Monsanto's profits, of course. Indigestible! -my stomach shouts-, because along with Monsanto's profits from selling their special seeds I see also the struggle of debt and the threats to the livelihoods of the many farmers I've met.
Bt cotton troubles don't end here. A few weeks ago, a pro-GE scientist from the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) in Nagpur, Dr. Kranthi, spoke about other 'wonders' of Bt cotton. According to Dr. Kranthi, Bt cotton has increased, yes increased, the use of dangerous pesticides and now other ferocious pests, like mealybug (never seen before by Indian farmers), are destroying the harvests. Wonderful! Monsanto makes money and the farmers risk huge debts and family health from the massive use of pesticides. My breakfast is tasting very bitter this morning.
But I have also spoken to many Indian farmers that are not so desperate. Last November I spent a few weeks travelling around the cotton fields of Andhra Pradesh. In the mist of a lot of very worried Bt cotton farmers (drought, debts, mealybugs, loans at 50% interest rates, etc), I also met many more cheerful farmers -- the organic ones!
Organic farmers work with several NGOs and farmers associations to develop ways to fight pests without health risks and without money! Yes, without or with very little money. Chetna, one of these farmer associations, support farmers in Karimnagar and Adilabad (very poor areas in Andhra Pradesh) and work with them in making the whole farm, not just the crop, resistant to pests. India is so lucky too, the Neem tree, a wonder of anti-insecticide and many other medicinal properties, grows naturally in almost every farm... its fruits are free and very effective in protecting against pests. Chetna and the rests of the organisations promoting ecological cotton farming, know that the answer is not in a single bullet. The answer is biodiversity - growing a variety of different natural strains and using methods that deal with pests ecologically and with very little investment (and thus less debt for farmers) - like using the Neem tree fruits.
There is hope out there in the dry cotton fields thanks to the hard work of these organic farmers' associations and thanks to Indian biodiversity. My Indian breakfast dosa was a bit hard to swallow, but ended with a very sweet organic chutney!