Cotton Growers of Punjab Seek Compensation and Support

Punjab farmers grow mainly Bt Cotton, the destruction has once again sparked off Genetically Modified (GM) controversy
Cotton Growers of Punjab Seek Compensation and Support

In view of large extent of damage of Cotton crop by notorious pest Whitefly, the Punjab government sought the intervention of Cotton Corporation of India (CCI). Recently Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal met Union textile minister Santosh Gangwar and requested to begin support operations. Consequently, the Corporation, which works under the Ministry of Textile, kept its 330 purchase centres across the country ready for procurement whenever required.

BK Mishra, CMD, CCI says, “We have directed the local office to begin 20 centres in Punjab. CCI intervenes only if the price falls below the benchmark MSP. We are looking at the price movement closely.”

The farmers demanded compensation and Punjab government offered the help both in terms of financial assistance and getting the Central agency into action for procurement. The state government had sought intervention of the Centre through Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) for procurement at Minimum Support Price (MSP).

Centre and Role of CCI

The Centre took considerable time break the silence over its assistance to cotton farmers who lost their crops due to the pest attack. Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh says, “The government would be doing everything to help distressed farmers and ensure such a situation does not recur. A team visited Whitefly affected cotton areas of Punjab and interacted with scientists and farmer representatives.”

The Centre’s decision to provide assistance to cotton farmers would obviously be based on the report of the central team that visited the state to assess the extent of damage.

‘Blame it on GM’

Meanwhile, Vandana Shiva, noted social and environment activist, blames the tragedy on Genetically Modified (GM) varieties. In an article, she writes, “Most of the 3,00,000 farmers suicides have taken place in the cotton belt which is now predominantly a Bt cotton belt. GMO Bt cotton was supposed to be a pest control technology that would replace pesticides. However, Bt cotton has proven to be a pest creating technology, with epidemics of pests that never affected cotton in India before Bt cotton was introduced, illegally in 1998, and with GEAC approval in 2002.”

“Whitefly which never attacked cotton is now supposed to have devoured 2/3 of the Punjab Bt cotton crop. 15 cotton farmers in the fertile belt of Punjab have committed suicide in recent days,” she adds.

“Punjab, yet again has been duped by seed companies and their promises of higher yields and now suffers the consequences. A cancer train leaves Punjab with cancer victims for treatment in a charitable hospital in Bhatinda. Cancer deaths and farmers suicide are both a result of dependence on poisons, which are not working. Ecological pest control through biodiversity is the only sustainable solution,” Shiva argues.

Echoing similar views, Devendra Sharma, noted agriculture expert, cites the example of Nidana village in Haryana’s Jind district. He says, “A biological method of crop protection perfected by women farmers in Nidana village in Haryana’s Jind district. Hundreds of acres of cotton spread over nearly 18 villages in and around Nidana have not been affected at all by Whitefly. Here, farmers do not spray chemical pesticides; instead, they have been using benign insects to control pests.”

“While a large number of villages are inviting these women for workshops and learning exercises, PAU’s agricultural scientists are not willing to learn from them. Probably, they are ashamed of learning from poor farmers. Sooner or later, however, Punjab’s cotton farmers will have to adopt the Nidana technique to get off the pesticide treadmill,” he adds.

Refuting the allegations Biotechnology industry body ABLE-AG says it is wrong to blame Bt cotton seeds for outbreak of whitefly attack as there is no relation between the two. “Bt technology in cotton provides resistance against specific types of insects namely Bollworms while whitefly is a different category of insects called sucking pests. The recent outbreak of whitefly attack has no relation with Bt technology in cotton,” says ABLE-AG Executive Director Shivendra Bajaj.

“Effort should be made to investigate real reasons of Whitefly outbreak rather than making false claims,” he adds.

The Way Forward

The Central and the state government need to bail out cotton growers in distress. For long-term solution, alongside proactive monitoring by farmers and manufacturers, it is recommended by the experts that government should pass the Pesticide Management Bill 2008 that is pending in Parliament. The bill seeks to regulate manufacture, inspection, testing and distribution of pesticides alongside levying heavy penalties for violations. Setting up more state-owned laboratories and increase in the number of samples collected by pesticide inspectors at the field level would help the farmers. Adoption of GAP would also help the farmers to minimise the losses in case of such pest attack and it would definitely enhance yield and income in normal conditions. It is also high time to evaluate the experiments with GMOs and put effective curb on spurious inputs. Strict and effective measures with adequate compensation can only help, otherwise farmers will keep falling into debt, vulnerability and suicides. 

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BK Jha is the Special Correspondent of Rural & Marketing. Prior to this he has been associated with The Hindustan Times, Political and Business Daily along with many other media organisations.
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