India’s cotton yield was 225 kg per hectare in 1990–91. It fell to 190 kg per hectare in 2000-01, a bad monsoon year. Bt cotton cultivation began in 2002, and its acreage shot up from 0.29 million hectares in 2002 to 9.4 million hectares in 2011-12. By this time, the Bt variety accounted for 90% of cotton acreage. The result? Cotton yield rose to 362 kg per hectare in 2005-06, and then increased further with fluctuations to 510 kg per hectare in 2010-11.
In a decade, the yield more than doubled. The truth is clear. Bt cotton has raised yields hugely. Greenpeaceand other activists lack the honesty to admit they were wrong. Instead, they desperately search for studies showing poor Bt cotton results in some conditions or areas. These may show, for instance, that Bt cotton fared much less well in Vidarbha than Gujarat. So what? How does that change the truth that Bt cotton has been a boon overall? When Bt cotton was introduced in India, activists claimed it had low yields and would be uneconomic.
Once the crop started spreading in India, activists produced fresh field studies purporting to show that Bt cotton had actually reduced yield and ruined farmers. At that time, I asked farmer leader Sharad Joshi of the Shetkari Sanghatana for his views. He said, “Let the activists stick to ecological issues. Why are they talking about yields? The farmer knows better than any scientist or activist what his farm yields. Let him decide.” But, I said, the activists say illiterate farmers might be misled by seed companies. So why not look at yield studies by scientists? Joshi replied, “The illiterate farmer is no fool. If he finds that a new variety yields more, he will expand his acreage regardless of what any activist or scientist says.