For this septuagenarian farmer, practicing organic farming is a way of life. At 76, Maniklal Mantri, starts work at 8 in the morning traveling around 12 km on his gearless-two-wheeler to reach his farm, a borrowed tract of land near his village in Utkhed located at Morshi Taluka of Amravati District in Maharashtra. Although farmer suicides in Amravati district have dropped to 159 in 2013 as compared to 270 in 2006, suicide of cotton farmers is common in the Vidarbha region – and Maniklal’s reticence to discuss the issue is perplexing. “Technology has made people lazy. Organic farming is a laborious task and hence it drives people away. Nobody wants to collect gomutra (cow urine) and use it to control bollworms. People care less about soil fertility and environmental degradation,” he says. Maniklal, who claims to have trained over 15,000 farmers on organic agriculture, crestfallenly notes that not more than a handful of them practice it.
Bt Cotton Market: India is overwhelmingly a Bt Cotton country today. According to the Central Institute of Cotton Research annual report of 2013, with the commercial release of Bt hybrids in 2002, around 92 per cent of the total cotton area of 117.73 lakh hectares are under Bt as of last year. India continued to maintain the largest area under cotton and is the second largest producer of cotton next to China with 34 per cent of world area and 21 per cent of world production. India produced around 356 lakh bales in 2013 as compared to mere 179 lakh bales in 2003-04. As per the estimates of the Cotton Advisory Board, Ministry of Textiles, the area under cotton production has seen a steady rise since 2003-04, increasing from 76.30 lakh hectares to 118 lakh hectares in 2012-13 (Table 1a,b & c). According to the Textile Exchange Farm and Fibre report, 2012, India is the world’s biggest producer of organic cotton and accounts for 74 per cent of the world’s organic cotton produce.
A German research institute of organic agriculture, Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau (FiBL) notes that the large scale Bt Cotton adaption across India and the non-GM seed unavailability poses a threat hindering the growth of organic cultivation.
Farm scenario: When the farmers who complain of dwindling productivity with the Bt varieties were posed a question as to why they do not practice organic farming, they replied, “we do not have information about organic farming and indigenous seeds are not available in the local seed market.” Some are unaware of the subsidies given for organic farming. The government schemes and policies promoting organic farming have not reached them. “Farmers are not given a choice. Desi seeds are out of the market and are not sold in the seed distribution centres. Organic cultivation is a sustainable way of life and it should be encouraged,” Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture opines. In a study conducted in Vidharbha region by our reporter, the profits accrued to farmers cultivating organic cotton were found to be more than that of farmers cultivating Bt Cotton.
Table 2 clearly shows that the cost of the cultivation in the case of organic cultivation is lesser and profits higher with better yield. The yield of the farmer using Bt Cotton seed in the rainfed areas is reduced by half compared to organic cultivation. Also, while Bt Cotton farmers are running into losses, organic farmers are making a profit of Rs 25,350 for the same period.
A Monsanto (US based agricultural biotechnology corporation that stock Bt Cotton seeds) official, however, claims that the variation in yield could be because the farmers have not maintained the best practices. “Even a change in the plant population size (number of plants in a given area), excessive use of fertilizer and other aspects can affect the yield. If the organic variety is yielding higher profits, nobody is stopping the farmers from practicing it,” Srikant P, regional sales manager of Monsanto (Solapur region) said.
Govardan Gulaxe, a Bt Cotton farmer, is keen to make good profits through organic farming; but, he said, lack of resourceful support from the government makes him hesitant to practice it. “Somebody in the government needs to guide me. Otherwise, it is difficult for me to believe.” With dwindling profits, Gulaxe said, people in the village have resorted to selling land and he assists them in selling it for a marginal profit. In contrast, Dr. M V Venugopalan, Principal Scientist at Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur says, the demand for the organic seeds has to come from the farming communities and only then can they produce more varieties and sell in the market. “We cannot simply produce organic seeds when there are no buyers. It is more of a local issue and farming communities have to work in groups and believe in the concept of organic farming during the transition phase of three years. Only then can we produce more such seeds,” Venugopalan said.
Mantri, who is a great follower of Gandhian principles calls for farmers to care for the environment and practice organic farming. “The process might be laborious, but organic cultivation supports sustainable farm practices and helps in reducing contamination of the earth and increases the quality of our health.” The state of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have seen a sharp rise in the area under Bt Cotton cultivation since 2003-04 followed by Maharashtra and Gujarat in the Central region. In fact, Andhra’s whopping 170 per cent increase under Bt Cotton draws attention to the fact that failure of Bt Cotton may spell doom for many.