In­dia In­creas­ingly Choos­ing Or­ganic Over Fail­ing Ge­net­i­cally Mod­i­fied Cot­ton

Trillions - - In this Issue -

Not long ago, ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) cot­ton was about the only kind of cot­ton grow­ing in In­dia. After spec­tac­u­lar fail­ures on mul­ti­ple lev­els, it is now be­ing re­placed by far more sus­tain­able non-gm cot­ton vari­ants.

This is a story that Mon­santo and its col­lab­o­ra­tors would pre­fer that the pub­lic never hears about. It shows just how risky a move to GM crops can be and how they al­most de­stroyed one of In­dia’s major agri­cul­tural in­dus­tries.

Even worse for Mon­santo, it shows how farm­ers can crawl back from hav­ing signed up with the GMO seed and re­lated pes­ti­cide in­dus­try and rise again.

In 2002, feel­ing that global suc­cess was go­ing to be easy after many years of lu­cra­tive GM cot­ton sales in North Amer­ica, Mon­santo took its prod­uct line to In­dia. It did so via Mahyco Mon­santo (In­dia) Ltd. The line was in­tro­duced in much the same way as all of Mon­santo’s other GM prod­ucts. The pitch was that the plants al­ready had the pes­ti­cide built into them, a pes­ti­cide that was al­ways present and would keep fight­ing the bugs it was de­signed to fight. There would be no need to ap­ply ad­di­tional pes­ti­cides (in this case), sav­ing time and all the re­lated ad­di­tional costs. High yields were prac­ti­cally guar­an­teed.

What the farm­ers didn’t re­al­ize, how­ever, was that they were vir­tu­ally sign­ing their lives away to the prod­uct (since the seeds were patented) and once they were “in,” it would be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to opt out of the sys­tem, even if they wanted to change.

In In­dia, where the weather is con­ducive to the spread of many kinds of pests, this seemed like a gift from the heav­ens. Mon­santo pushed the prod­uct with a major ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign, paid for celebrity en­dorse­ments and even hired dancers to pro­mote it. The com­bi­na­tion of farm­ers be­liev­ing in this al­most mag­i­cal crop (based on the pitch) and Mon­santo’s ag­gres­sive sales tech­niques was a rous­ing suc­cess, at least from a mar­ket-pen­e­tra­tion stand­point. As of to­day, about 90% of In­dia’s 11.8 mil­lion hectares of cot­ton fields are GM fields, even after the dis­as­ters that have hap­pened be­tween then and now.

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