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Indian Farmers Produce Record Amounts of Crops, Without GMOs

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Organic Transitions page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Genetic Engineering page.

For years, much of the news to come from India's farming regions was dismal. The country was facing an agrarian crisis, and thousands of farmers were committing suicide in the face of dwindling economic prospects. Now it seems the farmers' luck has turned. The UK newspaper The Guardian recently ran a feature on the "rice revolution" in India, where people have been producing record amounts of rice as well as wheat, potatoes, and other crops. What's more, they've done it without the help of expensive genetically modified (GM) seeds, instead using a technique called System of Rice Intensification (SRI).

What's the Deal?

Since the 1980s, many Indian farmers have purchased GM seeds (mostly seeds for Bacillus thuringiensis, or bt cotton) from big biotech companies such as Monsanto. These seeds supposedly increase the amount of crops produced while reducing the need for pesticides. But for many farmers, GM seeds can be more trouble than they're worth, and some media outlets have cited the rising cost of GM seeds as the reason for the rash of suicides among impoverished farmers. The New York Times reported that the seeds cost between 700 and 2,000 rupees, or $38 per packet, which is about three to eight times the cost of non-GM seeds. What's more, some regions where farmers use bt cotton have actually reported significant declines in productivity. That's why it came as somewhat of 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'd all swapped GM seeds for the SRI method, which involves transplanting very young plants into fields, placing them far apart from each other, and keeping the soil dry. Next year, the state of Bihar plans to invest $50 million in SRI.
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