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

Photogallery Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid