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Bt-Cotton in India: Remarkable Adoption and Benefits
Dr. T. M. Manjunath

India made its long-awaited entry into commercial agricultural biotechnology in March 2002 with the approval of three Bt-cotton hybrids for commercial cultivation. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India granted the approval, at its 32nd meeting held in New Delhi. The transgenic hybrids were developed by MAHYCO (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company Limited) in collaboration with Monsanto. These contained Monsanto’s lepidopteron specific Bt gene, cry1Ac with Event MON 531 (Bollgard®) which offers protection against all the major species of Indian bollworms - Helicoverpa armigera (Old world bollworm), Pectinophora gossypiella (Pink bollworm), Earias vittella (Spottedbollworm) and E. insulana (Spiny bollworm). These bollworms, especially H. armigera, have been responsible for heavy yield losses and frustrating the cotton growers for more than three decades. Annual losses caused by bollworms alone are estimated at about US$ 300 million despite repeated spraying of insecticides (6 to 20 times for each crop). It is estimated that insecticides valued at $700 million are used on all crops annually in India of which about 50% is sprayed on cotton crop alone, especially to control bollworms. This reflects the economic importance of bollworms. Therefore, the introduction of Bt-cotton, designed to control bollworms, has brought a great deal of hope, curiosity and expectations.

The approval of Bt-cotton or Bollgard® (Bollgard® is the registered brand name for Monsanto’s Bt-cotton) in India was preceded by about 500 field trials carried out in different agro-climatic regions between 1998 and 2001 to assess its efficacy against bollworms and the concomitant agronomic benefits. Experimental data on the bio-safety (such as toxicity, allergenicity, effect on non-target beneficial organisms, pollen flow etc.) of Bt-cotton were generated by several public funded research institutions as per the direction of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India. The approval by GEAC was based on the reports of such scientific studies, which indicated Bt-cotton to be safe and beneficial

India makes rapid progress:

Only three Bt-cotton hybrids were approved in the first year (i.e., 2002) and these were marketed by Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech Limited (MMB), a joint venture of Mahyco and Monsanto. Realizing the potential of Bt-cotton, more Indian seed companies have shown interest in this technology and by 2007-end about 22 companies have become sub-licensees of MMB. Besides, an improved version of Bt-cotton (Bollgard® II), stacked with two Bt genes, namely cry 1Ac and cry 2Ab2 with Event 15985, also developed by MMB, was approved by GEAC in 2006. Two more versions of Bt-cotton, one developed by J. K. Agri Genetics Ltd., incorporated with cry 1Ac with Event I (different from MMB’s), and another version developed by Nath Seeds stacked with two genes, cry 1Ab and cry 1Ac with Event GFM, were also approved in 2006. Thus, as of now, three genes (cry 1Ac, cry 2Ab2 and cry 1Ab) and four events have been approved for Bt-cotton in India. These have been incorporated into various hybrids developed for different agro-climatic regions by various seed companies. By December 2007, GEAC has approved altogether 131 Bt-cotton hybrids (with different genetic background) developed by 24 companies.

Rapid adoption:

Bt-cotton was first planted in India in 2002. Following its success, the area under this crop and the number of farmers who adopted this technology increased significantly from year to year as shown in the table below:

Area under Bt-cotton in India, 2002 to 2007

Total cotton area
in hectares

Bt-cotton area
in hectares

Bt-cotton area
in acres

% area occupied by
No. of Bt-farmers

Thus, in about 6 years, the area under Bt-cotton has increased by more than 210 times to record 6.2 m ha and the number of Bt-farmers by 190 times to reach 3.8 m in 2007. Further, Bt-cotton has occupied 66% of the 9.4 m ha of the total cotton area in India in 2007.

Bt-cotton has so far been commercialized in 9 countries – the USA (first introduced in 1996), Mexico (1996), Australia (1996), China (1997), Argentina (1998), South Africa (1998), Colombia (2002), India (2002) and Brazil (2005). In 2007, it occupied globally 15 m ha which comprised 43% of the total cotton area of 35 m ha. With 6.2 million hectares under Bt-cotton, India occupied, the first position in terms of area occupied followed by China with 3.8 m ha.

Significant benefits:

A number of studies carried out on Bt-cotton both before and after commercialization have clearly shown the following benefits: a) Higher cotton yield owing to effective control of bollworms, b) drastic reduction in the application of chemical insecticides for bollworm control, c) higher profit to farmers and d) conservation of biological control agents and other beneficial organisms. The results of five studies conducted by public institutions and published recently are summarized in the table below to exemplify the benefits.

Results of studies carried out by neutral agencies on the performance Of Bt-cotton in India

Publication / Parameters

et al., 2006
Gandhi &
(IIMA), 2006
Qaim, 2006 ICAR, 2006 Ramgopal
Univ.) 2006

Period studied

2002 & 2003
Yield increase
45 - 63%
Reduction in chemical sprays
3 to 1


Increased profit
Average profit / hectare

The results reveal that a) increase in cotton yield ranged from 30.9 to 63%, b) reduction in chemical sprays was from 39 to 55% and c) increase in profit to farmers ranged from 50 to 110% equivalent to about US$ 250 (Rs.10, 000) per hectare over the non-Bt cotton.

It is reported that the average cotton yields in India which was 308kg/ha in 2002, prior to introduction of Bt-cotton, increased to 560kg/ha in 2007 (at least 50% of increase is attributed to Bt technology). Similarly, the national cotton production increased from mere 15.8 million bales in 2002 to 31.0 m bales in 2007. Exports of raw cotton, which was 0.9 m bales in 2005, increased to 4.7 m bales in 2006 and touched 4.8 m bales in 2007. Further, Bt-cotton contributed US$840 million or more to National farm economy.

Thus, there have been social and economic benefits and intangible environmental benefits. The ever-increasing demand for Bt-cotton seeds is a clear reflection of farmers’ confidence in this technology and its benefits.

Proven safety:

The biosafety studies carried out by several teams of experts in public research institutions, as a part of the regulatory requirements, have shown Bt-cotton to be safe to non-target beneficial organisms including human beings, animals, and birds and to environment. Bt-proteins produced in Bt-cotton are Lepidopteron specific and, therefore, can bring about mortality of only those insects like bollworms belonging to this order, and have no adverse effect on other insects or organisms belonging to other groups. Despite, several wild allegations are made by certain NGOs from time to time about the safety of Bt-cotton without being substantiated by scientific data. In fact, in the 12 years of its commercial cultivation on millions of hectares globally, and for the last 6 years in India, there is no scientific evidence to show Bt-cotton has caused any untoward incidents anywhere in the world.

Discussion and conclusion:

Bt-cotton, being a new technology, has attracted a great deal of interest and controversy right from 1998 when its first regulatory trials were initiated in India. All kinds of allegations were made and doubts raised with regard to its safety and benefits by certain NGOs and they continue to do so even after they have been proved wrong. Unfortunately, what did such opponents not realize is the fact that Bt-cotton has undergone and passed all the biosafety tests prescribed by the regulatory authorities in India, and other countries, prior to its approval? Despite the continued opposition by a small section, the Indian cotton farmers have accepted this technology in a big way and derived social and economic benefits. This clearly shows that farmers cannot be misled and they know what is best for them. The ever-increasing demand for Bt-cotton seeds is a testimony to the proven merits of this technology.

Position of FBAE:

FBAE is convinced about the commercial success of Bt cotton in India and elsewhere based on all scientific and empirical evidences from the field. It is also convinced of its safety record and unequivocally supports the promotion of Bt cotton technology for the economic benefit of growers and the environment. FBAE reserves the right to alter its position in future depending on new evidences and changing circumstances.


Bennett, R. et al., 2006. Farm-level economic performance of genetically modified cotton in Maharashtra, India. Review of Agricultural Economics, 28: 59-71.

Gandhi, V. and Namboodiri, N.V., 2006. The adoption and economics of Bt-cotton in India: Preliminary results from a study. Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, India. Working paper No. 2006-09-04, pages 1-27, Sept. 2006.

ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research), 2006. Frontline demonstrations of cotton - 2005-06. Mini Mission II, Technology Mission on cotton. ICAR, New Delhi.

James, C. 2007. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2007. ISAAA Briefs No. 37, 225 pp. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY.

-Manjunath, T. M. 2007. Q & A on Bt-Cotton in India. Answers to More than 70 Questions on All Aspects. All India Crop Biotechnology Association, New Delhi, 78 pp.

Ramgopal, N., 2006. Economics of Bt-cotton vis-à-vis traditional cotton varieties – Study in Andhra Pradesh, Agro-Economic Research Centre, Andhra University, Andhra Pradesh.

Qaim, M. 2006. Adoption of Bt cotton and impact variability: Insights from India. Review of Agricultural Economics, 28: 59-71.