The Success of GM Crops in India

by Greg Pollowitz

Here’s the latest from Bjørn Lomborg, celebrating the success of GM crops in India and debunking the idea that such crops are tied to increased suicides among India’s small farmers:

Too often, we let emotion crowd out the facts of a news story. We base our opinions on the most attention-generating headlines, and deeply held convictions are shaped by only a few highly publicized stories. Recently, I was at a major New England university discussing the state of the world when we touched on nutrition. I made the point that the Green Revolution from the 1970s was a technological solution which has reaped huge benefits for both mankind and the environment.

First a bit of history: Spearheaded by Norman Borlaug, the Green Revolution found ways to make the yield of staple crops much higher, so we could grow much more food on the same agricultural land. The Green Revolution made food cheaper, and allowed countries like India to shift from imminent starvation to surplus food production. Higher yields also reaped environmental benefits, as there was less need to cut down forests and intrude on nature. For his work, Borlaug earned the nickname “The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives” and was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize.

And yet, at this discussion, a college professor remarked that is was debatable whether the Green Revolution had been an overall good for India, since “there are so many suicides.”

The Indian farmer suicides the professor alluded to tie into the controversy around genetically modified (GM) crops. While not part of the original Green Revolution, the advent of GM crops became possible because of the legacy of agricultural technological innovation. In recent years these stories have generated numerous headlines and follow a now-familiar pattern.

Opponents claim that the proliferation of GM crops like Bt cotton has placed enormous financial strain on India’s smallholder farmers, driving them to suicide. A popular proponent of this narrative is Vandana Shiva, a prominent Indian environmentalist. Shiva and others argue that “corporate seeds” were foisted upon Indian farmers during India’s liberalization in the 1990s. Whereas farmers had once saved seeds from season to season, the need to buy new seeds every year, plus the additional costs of fertilizers and pesticides, drove impoverished Indian farmers into a spiral of debt. This eventually has led to an epidemic in which a quarter million of them have taken their own lives since the mid-1990s.

No one wants to trivialize the tragedy of families who have lost loved ones, but this narrative doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Several academics have undertaken studies to get to the heart of the suicide “epidemic,” and their findings paint a far different picture.

The rest here.