Most scholarship on the closely-watched case of genetically modified Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton in India has focused on short-term impacts and has also ignored other major changes in India’s cotton agriculture. This Perspective combines several data sources over a 20-year span to provide long-term comparisons of Bt adoption with yields and other inputs at both countrywide and state-specific scales. Bt cotton adoption is shown to be a poor indicator of yield trends but a strong indicator of initial reductions in pesticide use. Yield increases correspond to changes in fertilizer and other inputs. Bt cotton has continued to control one major cotton pest, but with Bt resistance in another pest and surging populations of non-target pests, farmers now spend more on pesticides today than before the introduction of Bt. Indications are that the situation will continue to deteriorate.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Bt cotton, pink bollworm, and the political economy of sociobiological obsolescence: insights from Telangana, India
Agriculture and Human Values Open Access 07 February 2022
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 per month
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 digital issues and online access to articles
$119.00 per year
only $9.92 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Get just this article for as long as you need it
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Charles, D. Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food (Perseus Books Group, 2001).
Stone, G. D. Both sides now: fallacies in the genetic-modification wars, implications for developing countries, and anthropological perspectives. Curr. Anthropol. 43, 611–630 (2002).
Glover, D. The corporate shaping of GM crops as a technology for the poor. J. Peasant Stud. 37, 67–90 (2010).
Lambrecht, B. India gives Monsanto an unstable lab for genetics in farming. St. Louis Post-Dispatch (22 November 1998).
Gruère, G. P. & Sengupta, D. Bt cotton and farmer suicides: an evidence-based assessment. J. Dev. Stud. 47, 316–337 (2011).
Gutierrez, A., Ponti, L., Herren, H., Baumgartner, J. & Kenmore, P. Deconstructing Indian cotton: weather, yields, and suicides. Environ. Sci. 27, 12 (2015).
Two narratives about Bt cotton: technological triumph or abject failure? Economic & Political Weekly Engage https://www.epw.in/node/150121/pdf (2017).
Hicks, D. J. Epistemological depth in a GM crops controversy. Stud. Hist. Philos. Sci. A 50, 1–12 (2015).
Stone, G. D. Biotechnology, schismogenesis, and the demise of uncertainty. Wash. Univ. J. Law & Policy 47, 29–49 (2015).
Stone, G. D. Constructing facts: Bt cotton narratives in India. Econ. Political Wkly 47, 62–70 (2012).
Prasad, C. S. Suicide deaths and quality of Indian cotton: perspectives from history and technology and Khadi movement. Econ. Political Wkly 34, 12–21 (1999).
Kranthi, K. R. Fertilizers gave high yields; Bt only provided cover. Cotton Statistics & News 39, 1–6 (2016).
Karp, J. Deadly crop: difficult times drive India’s cotton farmers to desperate actions. Wall Street Journal (18 February 1998).
Tabashnik, B. E. & Carrière, Y. Global patterns of resistance to Bt crops highlighting pink bollworm in the United States, China, and India. J. Econ. Entomol. 112, 2513–2523 (2019).
Suresh, A., Ramasundaram, P., Samuel, J. & Wankhade, S. Impact of technology and policy on growth and instability of agricultural production: the case of cotton in India. Indian J. Agr. Sci. 83, 939–948 (2013).
Mayee, C. D. & Choudary, B. Adoption and uptake pathways of Bt cotton in India (Indian Society for Cotton Improvement, 2013).
Sahai, S. A disaster called Bt cotton. Times of India (1 December 2005).
Kuruganti, K. Bt cotton and the myth of enhanced yields. Econ. Political Wkly 44, 29–33 (2009).
Shiva, V. Toxic genes and toxic papers: IFPRI covering up the link between Bt cotton and farmers suicides. Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology http://www.whale.to/b/shiva1.pdf (2008).
Gammell, C. Prince of Wales resumes GM crops debate. The Telegraph (25 October 2008).
Herring, R. J. Persistent narratives: why is the “failure of Bt cotton in India” story still with us? AgBioForum 12, 14–22 (2009).
Choudhary, B. & Gaur, K. Bt Cotton in India: A Country Profile (ISAAA, 2010).
Choudhary, B. & Gaur, K. Biotech Cotton in India, 2002 to 2014 (ISAAA, 2015).
Qaim, M. in Handbook on Agriculture, Biotechnology and Development (eds Smyth, S. J. et al.) 126–138 (Edward Elgar, 2014).
Subramanian, A. & Qaim, M. Village-wide effects of agricultural biotechnology: the case of Bt cotton in India. World Dev. 37, 256–267 (2009).
Smale, M. Rough terrain for research: studying early adopters of biotech crops. AgBioForum 15, 114–124 (2012).
Morse, S., Bennett, R. & Ismael, Y. Isolating the ‘farmer’ effect as a component of the advantage of growing genetically modified varieties in developing countries: a Bt cotton case study from Jalgaon, India. J. Agr. Sci. 145, 491–500 (2007).
Crost, B., Shankar, B., Bennett, R. & Morse, S. Bias from farmer self-selection in genetically modified crop productivity estimates: evidence from Indian data. J. Agr. Econ. 58, 24–36 (2007).
Kathage, J. & Qaim, M. Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in India. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 11652–11656 (2012).
Stone, G. D. Field versus farm in Warangal: Bt cotton, higher yields, and larger questions. World Dev. 39, 387–398 (2011).
Mal, P., A. V., M., Bauer, S. & Ahmed, M. N. Technical efficiency and environmental impact of Bt cotton and non-Bt cotton in North India. AgBioForum 14, 164–170 (2011).
Narayanamoorthy, A. & Kalamkar, S. S. Is Bt cotton cultivation economically viable for Indian farmers? An empirical analysis. Econ. Political Wkly 41, 2716–2724 (2006).
Jadad, A. R. & Enkin, M. W. Randomized Controlled Trials 2nd edn (Blackwell, 2007).
Krishna, V. V. & Qaim, M. Bt cotton and sustainability of pesticide reductions in India. Agr. Syst. 107, 47–55 (2012).
Gruere, G. P. & Sun, Y. Measuring the contribution of Bt cotton adoption to India’s cotton yields leap (International Food Policy Research Institute, 2012).
Herring, R. Reconstructing facts in Bt cotton: why scepticism fails. Econ. Political Wkly 48, 63–66 (2013).
Jayaraman, K. S. Illicit GM cotton sparks corporate fury. Nature 413, 555 (2001).
Shah, E. Local and global elites join hands: development and diffusion of Bt cotton technology in Gujarat. Econ. Political Wkly 40, 4629–4639 (2005).
Stone, G. D. in Biodiversity and the Law: Intellectual Property, Biotechnology and Traditional Knowledge (Ed. McManis, C.) 207–238 (Earthscan, 2007).
Lalitha, N., Ramaswami, B. & Viswanathan, P. K. in Biotechnology and Agricultural Development: Transgenic Cotton, Rural Institutions and Resource-poor Farmers (Ed. Tripp, R.) 135–167 (Routledge, 2009).
Ramaswami, B., Pray, C. E. & Lalitha, N. The spread of illegal transgenic cotton varieties in India: biosafety regulation, monopoly, and enforcement. World Dev. 40, 177–188 (2012).
Kumar, D. et al. Gujarat’s Agricultural Growth Story: Exploding Some Myths (Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy, 2010).
Qaim, M., Subramanian, A., Naik, G. & Zilberman, D. Adoption of Bt cotton and impact variability: insights from India. Rev. Agr. Econ. 28, 48 (2006).
Sadashivappa, P. & Qaim, M. Bt cotton in India: development of benefits and the role of government seed price interventions. AgBioForum 12, 172–183 (2009).
Stone, G. D. & Flachs, A. The ox fall down: path breaking and technology treadmills in Indian cotton agriculture. J Peasant Stud. 45, 1272–1296 (2017).
Vandeman, A. M. Management in a bottle: pesticides and the deskilling of agriculture. Rev. Radical Pol. Econ. 27, 49–55 (1995).
Kouser, S. & Qaim, M. Impact of Bt cotton on pesticide poisoning in smallholder agriculture: a panel data analysis. Ecol. Econ. 70, 2105–2113 (2011).
Kukanur, V. S., Singh, T. V. K., Kranthi, K. R. & Andow, D. A. Cry1Ac resistance allele frequency in field populations of Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner) collected in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, India. Crop Prot. 107, 34–40 (2018).
Dhurua, S. & Gujar, G. T. Field-evolved resistance to Bt toxin Cry1Ac in the pink bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders) (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae), from India. Pest Manage. Sci. 67, 898–903 (2011).
Zhang, H. et al. Diverse genetic basis of field-evolved resistance to Bt cotton in cotton bollworm from China. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 10275–10280 (2012).
Buradikatti, K. Pink bollworm a nightmare for Bt cotton growers. The Hindu (5 December 2015).
Gustafson, S. 2018 Farm Bill: protecting the U. S. cotton industry poses risks for developing countries. International Food Policy Research Institute (31 January 2018).
Klümper, W. & Qaim, M. A meta-analysis of the impacts of genetically modified crops. PLoS ONE 9, e111629 (2014).
James, C. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014. ISAAA Brief No. 49 (ISAAA, 2014).
Kranthi, K. R. Cotton Production Systems — Need for a Change in India (Cotton Association of India, 2014).
Srivastava, S. K. & Kolady, D. Agricultural biotechnology and crop productivity: macro-level evidences on contribution of Bt cotton in India. Curr. Sci. 110, 311–319 (2016).
G.D.S.’s research in India has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Extended Data Fig. 1 Countrywide cotton yield and Bt adoption.
This depicts the same data as in Fig. 2 but with Ministry of Textiles yield estimates indicated by the double line.
Extended Data Fig. 2 Gujarat cotton yields and Bt adoption.
This depicts the same data as in Fig. 3 but with Ministry of Textiles yield estimates indicated by the double line.
Extended Data Fig. 3 State-specific cotton yields and Bt adoption.
This depicts the same data as in Fig. 4 but with Ministry of Textiles yield estimates indicated by the double line. Note that the vertical scale for Tamil Nadu has changed slightly to accommodate the MT estimates.
Extended Data Fig. 4 Countrywide cotton yields and fertilizer use.
This depicts the same data as in Fig. 5 but with Ministry of Textiles yield estimates indicated by the double line.
Extended Data Fig. 5
This depicts the same data as in Fig. 6 but with Ministry of Textiles yield estimates indicated by the double line. Note that the vertical scale for Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka has changed slightly to accommodate the MT estimates.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Kranthi, K.R., Stone, G.D. Long-term impacts of Bt cotton in India. Nat. Plants 6, 188–196 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-020-0615-5
This article is cited by
A study on the mechanical properties of pineapple, bamboo, and cotton woven fabrics
Biomass Conversion and Biorefinery (2023)
Degrowing alternative agriculture: institutions and aspirations as sustainability metrics for small farmers in Bosnia and India
Sustainability Science (2022)
Inheritance and molecular tagging of genes introgressed from Gossypium arboreum to G. hirsutum for leafhopper tolerance
Journal of Genetics (2022)
Creation of borer pests resistance genetically engineering peach (Prunus persica L.) plants by constitutively overexpressing the cry1Ab gene
Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture (PCTOC) (2022)
Bt cotton, pink bollworm, and the political economy of sociobiological obsolescence: insights from Telangana, India
Agriculture and Human Values (2022)