Organic vs. GMO – There’s No Comparison

16/11/2010 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

The cotton industry has weathered many storms this year, literally.  The crop killing hailstorms in Texas, devastating floods in Pakistan and record low tempartures in China, all played a role in the record high cotton prices we’ve been seeing in the headlines.

India, which is the world’s third largest supplier of conventional cotton and is responsible for supplying 51% of the world’s organic cotton,  is facing a dilemma of their own.  Several Indian farmers, specifically in the  Karnataka, Raichur, Nanjangud, Haveri and Hubli regions, may soon fall off the organic cotton map due to shortages of non-Bt cotton seeds and contamination of traditional seeds.

The non-availability of conventional seeds is often due to the contamination of the parent line with the genetically modified variety because of cross-pollination, which is difficult to check or monitor.  Traditional cotton seeds are regularily sent for testing and the results confirm that the seeds are contaminated.  Officials in the Department of Agriculture have confirmed the near absence of the traditional variety of cotton seeds in the market.  These issues have been discussed with National Seeds Corporation Ltd., which can grow the traditional variety of cotton seeds but the process would take at least two years.  The fact is, no farmer could afford to wait for two years which means that in all likelihood organic cotton growers will have no choice but to shift to Bt seeds.

Initially the introduction of Bt cotton seeds brought hope to Indian Farmers.  There was widespread propaganda in India that genetically engineered (GE) cotton crops would provide the solution to poverty and hunger eradication.  On the contrary, recent global analyses have concluded that eco farming – using low-cost, locally available and agro-ecological technologies – is effectively having the same outcome.  The study, completed by Greenpeace, is a comparative analysis of two contrasting methods of agriculture:  Bt cotton cropping that relies primarily on chemically intensive agriculture vs. ecological farming in the example of organic cotton farmers.  The goal of this study was to document the realities of farming in the Indian cotton regions and the focus of the analysis is the economic livelihood of the cotton farmers themselves.

Organic cotton is in high demand in the textile industry across the world.  India was one of the first country’s to have an organic farming policy in place and was at the forefront of promoting organic cotton which fetched a higher  premium than Bt cotton in the market and earned farmers substantially more (Rs. 900) per quintal (100 kg).

Policy makers need to ensure that farmers have a say on what seed, crops and varieties they choose to plant.  They need to safeguard the interest of farmers by developing indigenous technology.   Bt cotton appeared to be a Godsend when first introduced in 2002, but the realities of this ‘wonder crop’ have now set in and it’s become clear that it is robbing Indian farmers of their hopes, dreams, potential as well as generations of seed saving  and farming practices that can’t afford to be forgotten.

Entry filed under: Cotton, Environment, Sustainability. Tags: , , , , .

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