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 Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid