India: GM cotton reduces poverty

Researchers prove the financial benefits of pest-resistant cotton

Cotton plants on a field. © David Nance / USDA
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The benefits of genetically modified seeds are discussed controversially in Germany and Europe. In India, on the other hand, genetically modified and therefore pest-resistant cotton appears to be a key factor in reducing poverty. This has been demonstrated by Göttingen scientists in a new study, which they report on in the journal "Nature Biotechnology".

It will then be possible to significantly increase the incomes of many rural households with the help of so-called Bt cotton. In the Bt cotton, a gene of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis was inserted. It produces a poison against predatory pests, which, however, is considered harmless to humans.

Less pesticides, bigger harvests

"In recent years, numerous independent studies have shown that insect-resistant plants with incorporated Bt genes significantly reduce the use of chemical pesticides while increasing crop yields, especially among smallholders in some developing countries, " said Professor Matin Qaim of the University of Göttingen,

Scientific publications have so far focused primarily on the immediate effects on the field. The study now presented by the research team also considers social and economic aspects. Bt cotton was commercialized in India in 2002 and grown in 2008 by more than five million smallholders.

Several representative surveys showed that small farmers using Bt cotton require an average of 41 percent less pesticides and 37 percent higher crop yields. Financially, this means an additional profit of $ 135 per hectare. display

A billion dollar profit

For the 7.6 million hectares of Bt cotton in India, there is a total of a million dollars in direct profit for the farmers. Indirect profit also takes into account the extra income for cotton workers dependent on cotton production as well as for workers in other sectors such as transport and trade.

It also feeds into the calculation of higher-income thrust for other local industries. Direct and indirect profits together amount to $ 1.87 billion a year in India, the researchers said. 60 percent of this income increase is attributable to households below the poverty line, for which the living situation improves significantly. Households of farm workers also benefit from the positive employment effects, especially for women.

(idw - University G ttingen, 30.09.2009 - DLO)