Farmers, brands turn to organic in India

A report by the United Kingdom-based Soil Association reveals how more sustainable cotton production is now successfully replacing genetically modified (GM) cotton production in India.

Entitled “Failed promises: the rise and fall of GM cotton in India,” the report reveals how GM cotton grew to almost obliterate all other cotton production in the country, and how this rapidly led to failure, with disastrous, even lethal, results for some of the world’s poorest farmers.

Mahyco Monsanto (India) Ltd. introduced GM cotton to India in 2002. The initially promising performance of GM cotton proved short-lived, as crops experienced severe pest attacks. Production costs rose threefold due to the more expensive pesticides needed to control problem insects and widespread crop failure. This resulted in huge debts for small-scale cotton growers, who represent most of India’s cotton producers. A spate of suicides followed.

The report makes clear that the problems caused by pests were entirely predictable. GM cotton is engineered to ward off pests, but nature is quick to get around this. Just four years after GM cotton’s introduction to India, the pink bollworm, the pest the plants were designed to resist, became immune to GM cotton in Western India. In many areas, other pests took advantage of the disrupted ecological balance caused by GM cotton, leading to massive crop losses. In 2015 in Punjab, whitefly destroyed two-thirds of the cotton crop.

According to the report, GM cottonseed dominated the Indian market, threatening organic production. However, that is now changing. Both government support and local initiatives are providing projects to improve the availability of good quality organic seed and government-supported chemical-free zones, where multiple smallholder farmers are adopting farm management approaches to maximize the benefits of sustainable farming practices. //