Naturalising transgenics: Official seeds, loose seeds and risk in the decision matrix of Gujarati cotton farmers
Cotton farmers in Gujarat, western India, faced a novel decision matrix when Delhi gave provisional approval, in March 2002, to Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech Ltd. to release three Bt-cotton varieties. These varieties represented India's first legally commercialised transgenics: official seeds. Unofficial transgenic seeds were also available to farmers both as unpackaged, unbranded 'loose seeds' - mostly F2 progeny of a popular but banned transgenic variety - and as packaged, branded local gray-market Bt cultivars not approved by government. This essay utilises original field research to analyse the reasoning frame of farmers in choosing which seeds to plant. It finds that Bt cotton varieties were valued by farmers for reduction of pest damage, pesticide cost and thus improvement of yields and income. Second, choices among Bt varieties are complex, riding on seed-cost differentials between official and stealth cultivars and variable fit of varieties to local agronomic conditions. Third, some farmers chose non-Bt cultivars, for various reasons, including preference for organic cultivation - though some considered Bt cotton compatible with organic agriculture. Cotton farmers in Gujarat have in effect naturalised transgenic varieties, slotting them into familiar strategies to hedge risks.
Volume (Year): 43 (2007)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
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