Prominent environmentalists categorised genetically modified agriculture in India as a failure which will worsen the agrarian crisis.
In 2017, India had the four greatest acreages of genetically modified (GM) crops in the world, following the US, Brazil and Argentina.
According to The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India had 11.6 million hectares of agricultural land, growing GM crops, primarily Monsanto bollgard (Bt) cotton. In comparison, China had 3 million hectares.
According to Aruna Rodrigues, petitioner before the Supreme Court, seeking a moratorium on genetically modified crops, all-India Bt cotton yields have stagnated below 500 kg/hectare over a 14-year period from 2005-2018.
“In 2017, 31 countries were ranked above India in cotton yields and of these, only 10 grew genetically modified cotton,” she said, speaking at a panel discussion on agricultural trends in Bengaluru on Tuesday.
Vandana Shiva, activist and opponent of genetically modified crops and Monsanto, the American giant which supplies such crops worldwide, said India was once fertile, but was systematically reduced through the introduction of western agricultural methods, from the green revolution of the 1960s to the current era of GM crops.
“This has exacerbated farmer suicides through the costs involved,” she said.
The costs of cultivation have indeed been high, with the price of growing a hectare of Bt cotton being almost four times higher than growing regular cotton.
“In 2000, the introductory cost of a packet of Bt cotton was Rs 1,800 and it is estimated that the Indian farmer may have paid an additional Rs 14,000 crore procuring such seeds from 2003 to 2018,” Rodrigues said.
“Net profit for cotton farmers was Rs 5,971 per hectare in 2003 when they were growing natural cotton. Now, with Bt cotton, net losses amounted to Rs 6,286 in 2015,” she added.
'Modified brinjal can't be sold in India'
Although genetically modified brinjal (eggplant) is not sanctioned for sale in the country, activists said farmers are growing Bt brinjal in several places, which has resulted in the widespread contamination of natural varieties of brinjal through outcrossing.
Insects on decline
Environmentalists also pointed to the effect GM plants - traditionally modified to repel pests - will have on the general insect population. A February 2019 study said that plummeting insect number may lead to the extinction of 40% of the insect population.