Bt Cotton Invades the Third World

Bt Cotton Invades the Third World


Today, transnational companies are increasingly influencing the cotton sector in West African countries. And with the World Bank package, Monsanto comes to plant its Bt cotton seeds.

Bt cotton has been promoted as the most successful transgenic crop, especially in Third World countries, however there is much evidence that despite the promises made by biotech companies, the reality is very different, not only because the behavior of the cultivation is not optimal, but because Bt cotton promotes an agricultural model that enslaves farmers to a technological package composed of patented seeds and high use of agricultural inputs and with a production destined for export.

Cotton cultivation, due to the way it is carried out, presents several pest problems, which are controlled with pesticides, which has caused serious health problems in cotton workers. As an alternative, the so-called Bt cotton has been developed. This is a cotton that has been introduced to the gene of a bacterium, Bacillus thuringensis that produces toxins that are lethal to various taxonomic groups of insects.

The introduction of these new varieties does not solve the pest problem, since these are the result of bad agricultural practices: intensive monocultures, without rotation, without breaks, etc.

As with other genetically modified crops, transnational genetically modified seeds charge farmers additional fees for the cost of their technology. These prices vary from country to country. For example. Bollgard seeds have an additional fee in the US of US $ 79 per hectare. That price in Australia is US $ 98, in India US $ 60, in South Africa US $ 60 and in Argentina US $ 78. The Bullgard II in the United States has technology fees of US $ 99 per hectare. The companies that produce Bt cotton are: Monsanto (Bollgard and Bollgard II), Dow Agroscience (Widestrike), Sygenta (VIP cotton). On the other hand, William Dunavant Jr., the director of Dunavant, the world's largest cotton lint trader, believes that Bt cotton is reducing the quality of American cotton.

Monsanto, the main producer of Bt corn seeds, wants to sell its seeds even in countries that do not have a tradition as cotton producers, such as Ecuador, where it has already expressed its intention to start field trials. If Monsanto's claim to fill the Third World with its transgenic seeds materializes, the countries that adopt it will have to compete with cotton from the United States, a heavily subsidized crop. According to the Farm Service Agency, between 1996 and 2000, cotton growers received 5.5 billion dollars from the Government as emergency assistance to agriculture. On the other hand, the USDA subsidizes the sector through marketing loan programs. These programs allow farmers to repay the loan to the government for a lower amount than received if the market price falls. There is another subsidy for domestic exporters and processors to keep cotton competitive in the world market.

A report by the Environmental Working Group called "Bumper Crop" reveals that in 1999 cotton farmers received more subsidies than any other producer in the United States.

The 2002 Farm Bill extended cotton support programs for another five years. Payments to farmers are included, regardless of the world market price of cotton, "counter-cyclical" payments if the price of cotton falls below a certain reference price, and marketing loans are maintained. The United States produces 36% of cotton exports, and in 2002 its farmers received a subsidy of $ 3.6 billion.

In June this year, the WTO dispute settlement court ruled against US cotton subsidies in a lawsuit filed by Brazil. The Bush administration responded that the best way to address the distortions in world agricultural trade was through negotiation, not litigation, and that the United States will appeal. Four West African countries: Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad launched the so-called "cotton initiative" at the last Ministerial conference in Cancun, demanding that the United States and other countries eliminate subsidies on this crop.

Meanwhile, third world farmers will have to compete with a subsidized cotton, produced from seeds that ties them to a cycle of debt and dependency.

Some examples of how this crop has been introduced in three refineries in the Third World and their results are discussed below.


West African countries have traditionally produced cotton for their dynamic domestic market, which gave rise to a thriving textile industry. French and English colonialism destroyed this local industry. These imperial countries saw in African cotton a way to break their dependence on American cotton.

The French Textile Development Company (CFDT) controlled the cotton industry in its colonies. Through French agricultural research institutions, they introduced production packages that included improved seeds, pesticides, and other inputs. With independence, the CFDT disappeared and a state cotton company was formed in each country.

Today, cotton is one of the most important items in the economy of these countries. For example, in Benin it represents 75% of exports. In Mali 50% and in Burkina Faso 60%.

Today, transnational companies are increasingly influencing the cotton sector in West African countries. And with the World Bank package, Monsanto comes to plant its Bt cotton seeds.

Bt cotton introduced in West African countries has information incorporated into its genome to produce toxins against pests that do not represent the main threats to cotton crops in this region. Bt cotton controls the tobacco button worm (Heliothis virescencens) and the pink cotton weevil (Pectinophora gossypella), but does not control other important pests in the region such as the cotton weevil (Helioverpa zea and Helioverpa armiera). That is why farmers using Bt seeds have to continue to use insecticides to control these pests. Bt cotton also does not control sucking insects such as aphids, which can cause significant losses in cotton crops.

In all three African countries, there are government programs to reduce the use of insecticides, using only novel methods of crop management. In some cases, very good progress has been made in pest control, but for example in Mali the program has had to be abruptly cut by impositions from the World Bank.

The countries that have accepted Bt cotton in the region are: Senegal (Monsanto's Bollgard) and Sodefitex field trials. Burkina Faso (VIP cotton from Syngenta) and field tests for INERA, SOFITEX and UNPCB)

It is planned to introduce Bt cotton in: Benin, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Mali. (Note: in Nigeria they want to introduce cassava with resistance to the cassava and maize mosaic virus to produce vitamin A, you loved IITA varieties).

Farmers' organizations in West Africa are fighting against the introduction of transgenic varieties in their fields. They see these new seeds as neocolonial attempts to control their agriculture.

At a meeting held in Burkina Faso and funded by USAID, Ms. Pamela Bridgwater of the US Department of African Affairs said she was charged with promoting GM crops in that country and in other countries in West Africa. And that the objective was to increase agricultural production in that region where more than 9 million people depend on cotton production, and where the poorest countries in the world are located. As a reason for that meeting, anti-GM groups said that "relying on GM crops is only a short-term solution. In the long term, it will only bring us more dependence on multinational corporations"


Several studies carried out in India on the results of the adoption of Bt cotton show its failures in this country. For example, it has been reported that Bt cotton seeds did not germinate due to droughts in Madhya Pradesh; which are susceptible to root rot in Maharashtra where 30,000 ha were damaged. Bt cotton; or that they were affected by the leaf virus and that pests that are not controlled by the Bt toxin increased. Furthermore, that Bt cotton was attacked by pests that it should control. Further. Bt cotton was priced lower in the market because it produced smaller buds than normal.

Farmers who planted conventional cotton obtained 6,663 more rupees / ha than those who used Bt cotton. Conventional crops were productive for two months longer than Bt crops, which increased their crop yield (6.9 quintals per acre vs. 4.5 quintals per acre).

Two years after Bt cotton was introduced in Andhra Pradesh (AP) - India, the AP Coalition for the Defense of Diversity, made an analysis of whether the propaganda made by the biotech industry to promote its seeds was true. The industry assertions are:

Bt crops significantly reduce the use of insecticides
Production costs are going to be significantly reduced
Farmers' Profits Will Increase

The study was done with about 164 farmers. The two researchers in charge of the study, Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari, monitored the fields almost daily during the cotton growing period.Although the 2003 2004 season had the ideal climate for cotton production to be optimal, the researchers found that:

There was no dramatic reduction between conventional crops and Bt crops in terms of insecticide reduction (the total pesticide reduction was only 12% in Bt varieties)
The cost of the Bt crop was higher (Bt seeds cost 230% more than conventional ones, and the total investment of Bt crops was 8% higher)
Since growers had to pay a higher price for Bt seeds, farmers using conventional seeds reported higher profits than those using Bt seeds (Bt cotton growers had a net profit of 9% lower than other growers)

They also found that between small and medium farmers, there were no significant differences in terms of yield between those who used Bt seeds with other cotton producers.

For the AP Coalition for the Defense of Diversity, the great propaganda that has been created around Bt cotton seeds by the industry is worrying, which is in direct contrast to their research.

Despite these negative experiences, the Government of India has approved another variety of Bt cotton for cultivation in the central and southern region of India. 12 new varieties of Bt cotton have been approved for commercial cultivation and for seed production, and new experimental bosses have been allowed in the north of the country.

In from a panel established by the Gujarat government (under the Directorate of Agriculture - Oilseeds section), which concluded that Bt cotton cannot be grown and should be banned.


In December 2003, the Indonesian Minister of Agriculture announced that Monsanto has left southern Salawasi. The company said that the cottonseed business was no longer a profitable business, after two years of starting its work in that region of Indonesia, where it worked for two years through its subsidiary PT Monagro Kimia.

As elsewhere, the company said that with these seeds farmers would use less pesticides. The reality was very different. The first year, the government decided to monitor the behavior of these crops before deciding whether to allow their use commercially. That year there was a drought that caused an explosion of plague populations in hundreds of Ha. Of Bt cotton, but not in crops that used other varieties.

That is, instead of using less pesticides, farmers who adopted Bt seeds had to use more insecticides in different mixes. On the other hand, Bt cotton seeds had resistance to pests that were not a significant problem in Indonesia.

The yield of Bt cotton was also not very low. For this reason, many farmers burned their crops, as well as their contracts with Monsanto.

Monsanto spoke that the yields would be between 4 to 7 tons per Ha. But the average was 1.1 tons per ha., And 74% of the total planted areas produced less than 1 Ton per Ha. In some cases the yields were 70 to 120 g per hectare. 70% of the farmers could not pay their debts after the first year, which involved the farmers in a cycle of debt.

The Branita Sandhini company, a subsidiary of Monsanto's subsidiary in Indonesia, sold the seeds with a packet of fertilizers with credit schemes and was responsible for purchasing the harvest. After the farmers had bought the seeds and signed contracts with the company, the company unilaterally raised the prices of the seeds (from Rs 40,000 / kg to Rs 80.00 / ko). Additionally, initially the company bought cotton at 2,600 rupees / kg. But then it lowered the price to Rs 2,200 / kg.

Despite this, the government granted the seed marketing permit for another year, with similar results.

Two years later, the company leaves the region without taking responsibility for the damage it has caused to the economy of small cotton producers.

Broken Promises. Lim Li Ching. ISIS. 2004
DID BT COTTON FAIL A.P. AGAIN IN 2003-2004 ?. Results of a growing season. AP Coalition for the Defense of Diversity.
GM cotton set to invade West Africa. Time to act. GRAIN. June 2004.
West Africa Leader have "come a long way" in unsderstanding agbiotech. June 2004.


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