Cash Crop

The use of genetically-modified (GM) cotton has given farmers in India an economic boost, researchers say. Owners of small cotton farms who adopted the new technology have seen higher profits and living standards.

GM crops are now common around the world, but critics still argue that the economic benefits to small farms are tenuous. One of the most popular GM plants is Bt cotton, which has been genetically tweaked to fend off a pest called the cotton bollworm. Previous studies have suggested that the technology helps improve yields, but the data often cover only a short period of time and don’t address economic benefits.

In a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers analyzed the effects of Bt cotton adoption on households managing small farms in India from 2002 to 2008.  Using Bt cotton boosted yields by 24 percent compared to conventional cotton, and profits per acre jumped by 50 percent. In later years, households that used Bt cotton spent 18 percent more, suggesting that they were enjoying a better standard of living.

The effects may not last forever: the pests could eventually develop resistance to the engineered cotton’s defenses. But for now, “[t]he results show that Bt cotton adoption has caused sizeable socioeconomic benefits for smallholder farm households in India,” the authors write.Roberta Kwok | 2 July 2012

Source: Kathage, J. and M. Qaim. 2012. Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in India. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi: 10.1073/pnas.1203647109.

Image © ithinksky |


1 Comment

  • Claire Cummings July 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    There is another side to this story. Anyone can apply better pest controls, fertilizer, improved varieties of seeds and show, for a short term, how farmers might benefit. Without knowing the size of the sample studied, or the reason it was done – usually by industry to promote its products, the results should be viewed with caution. I do not doubt farmers incomes can be boosted. But the plain “conclusion” that GM (as opposed to what?) boosts farmer income is suspect, since there is much evidence that GM seeds and chemicals also put farmers into deep debt and that causes thousands of suicides for Indian farmers. GM cotton in India has also been shown to have short lived agronomic benefits. (For an opposing view see the film Bitter Seeds.)

    This boosting of a commercial technology, without providing the wider ecological and social context, is not an appropriate topic for Conservation.


Leave a Comment