Edited by Stuart J. Smyth, Peter W.B. Phillips and David Castle
Chapter 9: Agricultural biotechnology in India: impacts and controversies
India's agricultural research system had embarked upon modern biotechnology early on, with sizeable investments made by strong public and private sector research organizations. India was also one of the first countries in Asia to commercialize a genetically modified (GM) crop, namely insect-resistant cotton with inbuilt toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Bt cotton was first commercialized in India in 2002, and was rapidly adopted by cotton farmers in the following years. By 2012, over 7 million farmers had adopted Bt cotton on 27 million acres (James, 2012). Today, India has the largest area under Bt cotton worldwide. Since the technology's introduction, national cotton production has increased tremendously, mostly as a result of higher yields (Rao and Dev, 2010; Cotton Corporation of India, 2012). This sounds like a big success story for Bt cotton. Indeed, several peer-reviewed studies that analysed impacts confirmed sizeable benefits for adopting farmers (Morse et al., 2005; Bennett et al., 2006; Qaim et al., 2006; Subramanian and Qaim, 2010). Nevertheless, public attitudes remain sceptical about the merits of Bt cotton technology. Anti-biotech interest groups reports have highlighted incidents such as failures of this technology in farmers' fields, exploitation of smallholder farmers through seed companies, and disruption of traditional cultivation practices (Sahai and Rahman, 2003; Shiva et al., 2011). There have also been repeated claims of a causal link between Bt cotton and farmer suicides observed in cotton belts of India (Coalition for a GM-Free India, 2012).
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