I am Ravichandran, a farmer from Poongulam village in Nannilam Taluk, Tamil Nadu. I have been farming since 1986. I grow rice, cotton, pulses and sugarcane on 50 acres – I have taken 40 acres on lease and the remaining land is my own.
I have been growing cotton since 1986 and Bt Cotton since 2004. Before Bt Cotton, I cultivated non-Bt, open-pollinated varieties and non-Bt hybrids. I am scared to think of the time when I was growing non-Bt cotton.
In those days, cotton farmers had to spray several rounds of various insecticides. We were fighting an aimless and a never-ending war against the bollworms. All that changed with then-government giving an approval for the cultivation of Bt Cotton, the only genetically-modified (GM) crop approved for cultivation in India to date, in 2002.
The false and mischievous propaganda by anti-GM activists (whom I prefer to call anti-development activists) failed to cut ice with Indian farmers. Since 2002, there has been a phenomenal increase in the area under cotton cultivation and the number of farmers growing Bt Cotton.
Today, nearly 90-95 per cent of the cotton grown in India is Bt Cotton. This itself shows the robustness of the technology and demonstrates how our farmers accept and adopt a beneficial technology. Indian farmers may be poor and may not have formal education, but they are wise. They are wise enough to understand which technology is good and which isn’t working for them. If the technology impresses them, they will whole-heartedly roll out the red carpet for it. If they are not convinced, they will reject the technology and show it the exit gate even if it is provided free of cost.
Any new technology before being introduced to the farmers must undergo rigorous tests and meet all the regulatory requirements. Once that is done, the technology should be made available to the farmers. Let our farmers have access to the technology. Let our farmers exercise their prudence. Let them accept or reject a technology based on its merits. We can’t allow propaganda to interfere with our basic right to choose technology. We know what is best for us. Vetoing the scientifically-proven technologies benefiting the farmers is the greatest injustice to the entire farming community. When every section of the society reaps the benefits of science and technology, why deny us the opportunity?
Successive governments in the past have dragged their feet on commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal and GM Mustard, which have cleared all the regulatory tests and procedures. Yet, they are kept in cold storage, not due to the lack of scientific merit, but for reasons beyond science. It is a shame that policy-makers meekly submit to anti-science activists instead of listening to scientists and addressing the needs of farmers. Even if we make fervent appeal to the policy-makers to allow us to access the technology, our feeble voice is lost in the shrill campaign led by anti-development activists who shed crocodile tears for farmers.
These activists work 24×7 to spread myths and put needless fear in the minds of the people. They had launched a similar campaign against Bt Cotton, alleging that thousands of goats had died because they grazed on a Bt Cotton field. Ask any Bt Cotton farmer if that’s true, and you will get your answer.
It was also alleged that the soil on which Bt Cotton was grown became unfit for cultivation because the crop killed the earthworms. One could ask if those making these allegations ever checked the soil for earthworm count.
The Bt genes are taken out from soil-based bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, which is also used by my organic farmer friends in a spray formulation that controls bollworm. If this bacteria is harmful to other soil-enriching organisms, how did it co-exist with them for millions of years?
When we were growing non-Bt cotton, we used to spray various insecticides at least twice a week to control bollworms. Not only were such insecticides harmful to humans, they also killed honey bees, spiders, ladybird beetles, besides causing pollution. Over the years, the bollworms had developed resistance to these chemicals.
I understand that farmers in Maharashtra are planning to stage a Gandhi-style civil disobedience agitation on 10 June so that they can be allowed to grow better crops.
Should they be penalised for expressing their deep anguish? I appeal to the government that instead of looking at the matter through the lens of the anti-development activists, it must approach it scientifically.
Although I don’t endorse defiance of law, I feel the government needs to respect the sentiments of the farmers and give precedence to science and not buckle under pressure from anti-development activists.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set the ambitious goal of doubling farmers’ income by 2022. This can be achieved not just by increasing the Minimum Support Price, but also by reducing cost and increasing yield through the intervention of beneficial technology. In this respect, genetic engineering is one of the most robust technologies that can help farmers increase their income.
Independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said – “Everything else can wait, but not agriculture”. I hope we, the farmers, are not kept waiting indefinitely.
India must remember Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s slogan of ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan (victory to our soldiers, victory to our farmers, victory to science)’ and not forget the farmers as it aims to position itself as an economic powerhouse.
The author is a Tamil Nadu-based farmer. Views are personal.