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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid