28th January 2020 : The Hindu Editorials Notes : Mains Sure Shot
- Note – Today’s article ‘A case of whole-hearted biotechnology adoption’ is a counter view of the article published on 23rd January on cotton farmers and biotechnology.
- Add the counter view to your notes along with the additional points.
The counter points:
- The first point made in the article was that GM cotton covers 95% of the area under cotton and that there are no choices for farmers. But today’s article says that Indian farmers have voted for seeds with biotechnologies by planting hybrid cotton biotech seeds on over 90% of the country’s cotton acreage. So they want seeds and technologies that provide optimal yield, income and convenience in cultivation.
- That is the reason, according to the article, that today they choose from over 800 hybrid Bt cotton seed brands from over 40 Indian and global seed companies, with five approved ‘in-the-seed’ insect protection Bt cotton technologies and non-Bt varietal cotton seeds. Farmers have not shown any preference for planting non-Bt cotton seeds including the quantity supplied along with the Bt cotton seed by seed companies as per regulatory guidelines.
- The article also says that unlike the claim made by the article of 23rd January that GM cotton seeds have made the farmers dependent on loans and distress, biotech cotton seeds have Ripple-effect benefits.
- This can be said by the several key studies by third-party economists and sociologists have established that 85% of hybrid Bt cotton seed farmers and farm labourers invested in better education for children; 77% reported better intake of nutritious food; 75% reported better health of their family members; 64% invested on the health of livestock; female workers on Bt cotton fields earned an average 55% higher income; and 42.4 crore additional days of rural employment have been generated, thereby doubling cotton production.
- Cotton Corporation of India data show that the highest production of 398 lakh bales of cotton in India was achieved in 2013-14, valued at around ₹72,000 crore. Additional incomes were generated from cotton seeds oil (1.3 million tons) and cotton seed oilmeal (11 million tons) worth ₹13,000 crore and ₹22,000 crore, respectively. The Bt cotton seed market is about ₹3,000 crore, making it hardly 2.5% of the total value generated.
- The article also says that the use of Bt cotton seeds have reduced the use of pesticides. The fact is that technology has not only increased yields but also greatly reduced pesticide use. Biotechnology in cotton, post its introduction in 2002, has led to transformational changes in India’s cotton cultivation. These have helped increase cotton yields by over 1.8 times — from 241 kg/hectare in 2002-2003 to 541 kg/hectare in 2018-2019. A BKS-CSD study shows that the significant increase in farmer incomes from higher yields and reduced pesticide use has generated additional farm income of over ₹42,300 crore. India is moving to first place as the largest producer of cotton in the world.
- India also produces hybrid cotton seed because of the availability of labour to carry out the hand pollination at reasonable cost; this is not available in the U.S., Brazil, Australia and China. Hybrid cotton has delivered not only higher yields but also provided resistance to some pests and diseases.
- The article also claimed that Indian farmers need to buy seeds repeatedly. The fact is that not just biotech cotton, but all hybrid seeds lose their benefits if replanted, creating reduced and erratic yields. New seeds help farmers sustain high yields year on year.
The opportunities for further growth:
- India’s farmers face numerous uncertainties and crop management challenges, affecting farm yield and incomes; knowledge of cultivation and correct agronomic practices can make a significant impact.
- There is an opportunity to increase yields further by introducing more advanced GM traits. There is a need for new technology introduction.
- The article’s third point mentioned in last day’s article was about the availability of low cost manual labour. The fact is that one of the major challenges lies in securing labour to conduct field operations. Today, labour accounts for over 58% of a farmer’s cost of cultivation per acre. In a fast-evolving global market, India’s farmers instead need the best technologies to remain competitive.
- The next claim was about varieties offering farmers increased benefits than hybrid cotton seeds. The fact is that Indian farmers who were using varieties for years switched to hybrids in the mid-1980s mainly because of the enormous benefits. Cotton Advisory Board data show that India’s cotton yields which were at 169 kg/hectare in 1980-81 increased to 278 kg/hectare in 2000-01 and then 542 kg/ hectare in 2016-17.
- The previous article’s argument that High Density Planting (HDP) took place in various countries after introduction of biotech cotton is inaccurate because planting rates are determined by several agronomic and environmental conditions and not based on biotech versus non-biotech. There is also no change in the seed rate in any of the countries in which biotech cotton has been adopted. HDP has done well in India because of the better quality of germplasm.
- In the case of biotech cotton in India, it is the farmers who adopted the technology wholeheartedly because they saw a solution in it to some of their biggest on-field pest challenges. The choice made by the Indian farmers to plant hybrid cotton seeds on over 90% of cotton acreage, and see increased cotton production is a testament to the value created by better seeds, technologies and farming practices — when compared with the alternative of low tech seed and insecticide sprays.
- Bt cotton was released in varieties by some public institutions but it did not get much traction. There is always a debate about the use of hybrids versus varieties in any crop. The writer appears to be giving too much power to the seed industry in terms of influencing the farmer to prefer hybrids over varieties. This has not happened in the case of rice, mustard, many oilseeds, and pulses in which the farmers grow varietal crops in 90-100% of the area. The lesson is that the farmer adopts technologies which are beneficial to him and does not go by the recommendations of the industry or any other persons.
- Seeds with biotechnologies have helped conserve biodiversity: with higher production from the same area, the expansion of agricultural land into forest areas has been slowed.
- It is natural for a new technology to be debated but the final say should be of the outcome.