As part of the MEC’s efforts to monitor Bt Cotton in five states this season1, a visit has been made to Tamil Nadu, which has recently completed its sowing season of cotton. The following is a brief field visit report from Salem district in Tamil Nadu (October 28th and 29th, 2005) regarding germination failure of Bt Cotton seed. The visit was made by Ms Kavitha Kuruganti of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Mr Sekhar and Mr Sakthivel of Pasumai Tayagam.
The situation seen on the ground seems to be a repetition of the story of Bt Cotton hybrids of Nuziveedu Seeds in Andhra Pradesh, where the story of Bt Cotton this season began with germination failure. However, while in Andhra Pradesh, farmers agitated for compensation and obtained it in some places, the story of germination failure in Tamil Nadu has not been highlighted much except for some local media reports.
In the Attur division of Salem district, which is known for its cotton production, interviews with seed dealers, government officials and farmers confirmed that there has been a germination failure on around 35% of Bt Cotton area, of lack of germination of upto 50% - 75% of seeds sown. While this failure of germination is being attributed to excessive rainfall, deeper discussions with farmers and field visits revealed a different picture. Once again, one is reminded of the case of Andhra Pradesh, where lack of germination was blamed on lack of rains, but later, the company had to admit that it was seed failure and pay up compensation [of either replacing seed or providing seed cost back to the farmers, along with re-sowing expenses].
In this area, Bt Cotton hybrids of Rasi Seeds like RCH2 Bt, RCH 20 Bt etc., are being grown on around 6000 hectares [in addition to Mahyco varieties like MECH 184 Bt etc.], out of a total area of 9000 hectares of cotton, as per the ADA’s office in Attur. The regular cotton includes popular varieties like Suvin, LRA 5166 etc.
The various facts that emerged out of discussions with farmers and dealers (including a dealer in Namakkal district) include:
the Rasi hybrids exhibited the highest degree of problem in terms of germination failure; there were a few cases of germination failure with Mahyco hybrids too
there are farmers who had to sow upto three times this season, to address the problem of lack of germination
based on preliminary discussions with farmers, it appears that farmers have ended up purchasing two dabbas (containers) of Bt Cotton per acre to address the germination problem – this means an expense of nearly 3500 rupees on just seed cost! Even after re-sowing, there has not always been full germination.
Visits to the fields and discussions with farmers, especially ones who had sown Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton clearly shows that with the same soil conditions [adjacent plots] and rainfall conditions, Bt Cotton seed has failed to germinate, while non-Bt Cotton varieties have shown 100% germination. Incidentally, the non-Bt cotton varieties in question like LRA varieties are available at Rs. 70/- a kilo, with the seed rate being around 2 kilos per acre – contrast this with the fact that Bt Cotton seed was available for Rs. 1725/- per 450 gms, on an average.
As per media reports and discussions in Namakkal town, the problem of germination failure is reported from Namakkal and Perambalur districts also
From the visit, the following issues emerge:
Is it acceptable that germination rates promised are the same for seed that is sold for 70 rupees [OP varieties], for around 450 rupees [for hybrids] and for around 1800 rupees [for approved Bt Cotton hybrids]. After the farmer spends so much for a so-called frontier technology, should s/he be promised only 75% germination like the other seeds?
There are clearly no scientific mechanisms present which assess the correct reasons for germination failure on the ground. Comparable data between Bt Cotton farmers and non-Bt Cotton farmers in terms of sowing date, soil quality, germination percentage etc., could be drawn and conclusions arrived at. Particular batches/lots of seed can also be further analysed. The government of Tamil Nadu is choosing to ignore the problem of germination failure instead of pro-actively putting into place monitoring mechanisms that protect farmers’ interests.
No refuge is being maintained by Bt Cotton farmers – non-Bt seeds kept in tact, in their small polythene pouches. Refuge is being considered a “waste” of resources [money and land] and farmers complain that there is more pest attack on refuge which then spreads to the Bt Cotton part of the plot. There is no one to explain to them that this is indeed the somewhat ludicrous concept behind refuge – that you raise and grow (susceptible) pests on the refuge! Which farmer would like to do this, especially if they do not understand the ‘scientific reasoning’ behind it?
Gap-filling in the places visited is being done with Bt Cotton seeds only [unlike in other states where non-Bt loose seed is being used for gap filling in case of germination failure]. Since such approved Bt Cotton seeds are not loosely available, farmers have to buy a new dabba [container].
Companies seemed to have made a lot of sales and money due to the germination problem – where a farmer would have bought one dabba, two have been bought. Instead of liability being fixed, the problem is actually a bonus for the companies, where it is being conveniently blamed on excessive rains.
The monitoring by the TN government through its agriculture department is only looking at pest incidence, as per the formats seen in the ADA’s office and discussions. It is obvious that it is important to look at other issues too, including aggressive marketing, germination percentage, other problems like soil quality deterioration, human health problems etc.
The sample size, the scope and periodicity for monitoring Bt Cotton by the department is questionable – only 4-5 farmers for each block in a division are being monitored on a monthly basis.
Stress intolerance of Bt Cotton is clear once again, even if we assume that excess rains were part of the cause. How can non-Bt Cotton germinate so well, sown on the same date and same land, when Bt Cotton fails to?
The GEAC and the state governments should investigate into the fears expressed in various quarters to try and match the seed production permissions given to the companies and the actual supply of seed made by them to first rule out the possibility of Bt Cotton seeds being adulterated to meet the market demand for the seed. Then, a more systematic scientific investigation of comparing on the ground Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton in terms of germination should be taken up to arrive at a true picture.
The MEC, including Pasumai Tayagam in this case, is going to come up with a small and quick survey on the situation where we would compare similar plots of Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton [similar soil, rainfall and sowing period] to further showcase our point that this is related to Bt Cotton seed failure and not excess rains.
1 The Monitoring and Evaluation Committee [MEC] to monitor Bt Cotton across the country was set up by Adivasi Ekta Sangathan, AKRSP, CEAD, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Grameen Vikas Trust, Greenpeace India, Jan Saahas, Kheti Virasat Mission, Krishnadevaraya Rythu Sankshema Sangam, Krushi, MARI, Navajyothi, Pasumai Tayagam, Prasun, Rashtriya Satyagrah Dal, Sampark, Sarvodaya Youth Organisation, SECURE, VASPS and YUVA.