Indian farmers produce record amounts of crops without GMOs

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For years, much of the news to come from India’s farming regions was dismal. The country was facing an agrarian crisis (due in part to GMOs), and thousands of farmers were committing suicide in the face of dwindling economic prospects. It now seems the farmers’ luck has started to turn a little.

Since the 1980s, many Indian farmers have purchased GM seeds (mostly cotton) from big biotech companies such as Monsanto, in the hope to increase the amount of crops produced while reducing the need for pesticides. Not only increase in productivity did not happen as expected, but some regions even reported significant declines. At a cost 3 to 8 times that of non-GM seeds, GM “bt cotton” seeds have been pinned as the reason for the rash of suicides among impoverished farmers.

This is why it came as a shock when one farmer in Bihar, India grew 22.4 tons of rice on one hectare of land in 2012, breaking the world record for crop yields. Around the same time, farmers in nearby villages produced unprecedented amounts of potatoes and wheat. How did they do it? They all swapped GM seeds for the System of Rice Intensification or SRI method. This method consists in transplanting very young plants into fields, placing them far apart from each other, and keeping the soil dry. As a result, the state of Bihar plans to invest $50 million in SRI next year.

Aside from not delivering productivity increases, the development of a new, successful agricultural technology is good news for Indian farmers needed and consumers:

  • Monsanto on track to win a Supreme Court case that would allow the company complete control over its seeds (i.e. including charging any price for them). So an increase in GM seeds price would not surprise anyone.
  • Critics across the globe have spoken out against the use of GMOs for years, citing possible ill health effects ranging from allergies to altered DNA in the people who eat them.

Experts mostly agree on suggesting that India transition to organic and eco-friendly farming methods in order to increase yields and reduce costs. And the Indian government just passed a bill last month requiring all packaged foods containing GMOs to be labeled.

That these new agricultural technologies also work for mono-crop agriculture (growing a single crop every year on the same land) remains to be seen. But we may be about to witness a major change where Western farmers may ultimately gain new insights into the most effective farming strategies from the East.


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Credit photo: jankie
La Vie En Green, food stamp

* Up for some thought-sharing on this topic?  

– There is already a valuable lesson learned and the West should at least look into SRI

– Another one is that India already passed a law requiring GMO labeling and we in the U.S., still have not.

. Do you think that given the lack of long term information about GMO human consumption and effects on human health, the precautionary principle should apply? That is: labeling all packaged products containing some?

. Even before that, would not it be safer to not authorize GMOs for human consumption until data becomes available?

. Do you want to know if what you buy contain GMOs? Why?

Let us know… 

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