News / Science & Technology

Farmers Benefit from Insect-killing Cotton

A Bt cotton field in the state of Maharashtra in India. (Matin Qaim)
A Bt cotton field in the state of Maharashtra in India. (Matin Qaim)
Growing cotton that is genetically modified to kill insects improves the livelihoods of small-scale farmers more than conventional varieties, according to a new study.

Researchers found farmers raising “Bt” cotton, which is modified to produce an insect-killing protein, had 24 percent higher yields, and 50 percent higher profits, than farmers growing conventional cotton.

Critics say the benefits may not last long, as other insects become bigger problems in farmers’ fields.

The debate has global implications for small-scale farmers in the developing world.

Millions of Indian farmers raise cotton on a hectare or two of land and subsist in poverty on $1 or $2 a day.

Fighting the cotton bollworm

Before Bt cotton arrived in India in 2002, farmers relied on chemical insecticides to control an insect pest called the bollworm.
A smallholder farmer in his Bt cotton field in southern India. A new study shows Bt technology contributes to higher crop yields and profits. (Matin Qaim)A smallholder farmer in his Bt cotton field in southern India. A new study shows Bt technology contributes to higher crop yields and profits. (Matin Qaim)
x
A smallholder farmer in his Bt cotton field in southern India. A new study shows Bt technology contributes to higher crop yields and profits. (Matin Qaim)
A smallholder farmer in his Bt cotton field in southern India. A new study shows Bt technology contributes to higher crop yields and profits. (Matin Qaim)

“The types of chemical insecticides that farmers use against the bollworm are among the most toxic ones,” says agricultural economist and study co-author Matin Qaim at Germany’s University of Goettingen. “And they spray quite a bit.”

Bollworms also threaten U.S. cotton crops. So biotech and seed company Monsanto genetically modified cotton plants to produce their own insecticide, a bacterial protein called Bt.

While organic farmers have sprayed Bt on crops for decades, many cotton growers worldwide are now using the genetically-modified, insect-resistant Bt cotton variety of the plant.

Three-quarters of U.S. cotton and 90 percent of Indian cotton are now Bt.

Less control, higher price

But biotechnology critics say farmers are giving up too much control over their seed supply to multinational corporations and becoming increasingly dependent on corporate-controlled technologies.

Bt seeds are more expensive than conventional seeds. Opponents say farmers buying them are going deeper and deeper into debt, driving some to suicide.

But Qaim says his new study shows the opposite.

Improved standard of living

The study examines 533 cotton-growing families between 2002 and 2008.

Compared with conventional farmers, Bt cotton growers are “increasing their effective yields because of lower crop damage,” Qaim says. “And that leads to higher family incomes and that leads to higher living standards, [which] leads to escape from poverty.”

Bt farmers had 18 percent higher family expenditures, suggesting an increase in their standard of living.

“Most of the public believes that GM crops developed by big companies…would worsen the situation of small farms and poor households,” he says. “And I think it is time to reconsider those types of prejudices.”

Limited benefit?

Research by Washington University anthropologist Glenn Stone has also found increased yields among farmers raising Bt cotton.

However, he says, “It’s frequently the case that new agricultural technologies have positive impacts at first. But, what we really have to be concerned about is how sustainable impacts are going to be.”

Stone says other pests besides the bollworm are now becoming bigger threats, requiring more insecticides.

That may undermine the advantages of Bt cotton - and continue the debate over the risks and benefits of genetically modified crops.

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More