Farmers adopt new agricultural technologies because they see benefits like increase in yield, reduction in input costs or overall increase in ease of farming. For example, in India, several reports from researchers both outside India and within various states have documented that the adoption of insect-protected cotton has increased from a few thousand hectares in 2002, when the technology was first approved in India, to 11 million hectares (over 90 percent of the total area where cotton is grown) in 2013 (ISAAA, 2014); this rapid adoption was led by an overall increase in profitability due to higher yields and reduction in pesticide costs (Kathage and Qaim, 2012; Mayee and Chaudhary, 2013).
Kathage and Qaim studied the effects of Bt cotton adoption from 2002 through 2008 and showed that adoption of Bt cotton has increased yields and profits by 24 percent and 50 percent, respectively and the impacts of Bt cotton have been stable over time. Mayee and Chaudhary (2013) recently published their report on the socioeconomic benefits of adoption of Bt cotton in three states — Punjab, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh — from 2002 to 2011, and their results showed doubling of yields in all three states in both rain-fed and irrigated conditions. Mayee and Chaudhary also concluded that “Bt technology has decreased pesticide usages, increased cotton productivity and increased farmers’ income and contributed significantly to poverty alleviation.” I also personally heard from cotton farmers in India, when I stayed there in 2010-11, that Bt cotton had significantly improved their lives and they would like to see additional innovative agricultural technologies to help them produce more with fewer inputs.
While I was unable to find any actual data to support your statement that yields of cotton and wheat have increased only because more seeds are planted, it should be noted that while yields of cotton have increased significantly in the last ten years in India, yields of other crops have not decreased but have shown low to moderate increases. I totally agree with you that yield comparisons have to be done by planting fields with a given GM and conventional crop with similar agricultural practices; only then can one make the claim that there is an increase in yield. Please note that the Indian regulations for approval of GM crops require such data to be generated for every new GM event, and that the developer provided the authorities with these data. Meanwhile, farmers base their decision on what to plant every year on the overall potential profits from the crop being planted, so the sustained increase in acreage of cotton in India suggests that most farmers in India are reaping the benefits of Bt cotton.
Please note that while India does have the largest numbers of organic farmers in the world, only 1 million hectares of India’s 179.9 million hectares of agricultural land is used for organic agriculture. Also, the only genetically modified crop that is grown in India is cotton, and, as discussed above, over 90 percent of the farmers grow genetically modified cotton because of higher yields and reduced pesticide use. While I found no comparative studies on organic versus conventional farming in India, a few studies done in the United States and Canada that compared yields for organically grown crops and conventional agriculture showed that yields in conventional agriculture fields were generally higher, sometimes by as much as 25 percent, in most crops (Seufert et al., 2012; Kirchmann et al., 2008; and this blog post by Steve Savage, which evaluated the USDA data). Personally, I strongly believe that farmers should have the right to choose and plant what is most beneficial to them.
- ISAAA Brief No. 46, 2014. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM crops.
- Kathage and Qaim, 2012. Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt cotton in India. PNAS 109, no. 29: 11652-11656.
- Mayee and Chaudhary, 2013; http://www.isaaa.org/india/media/ISCI_FullReport_Small.pdf
- Seufert, V., Ramankutty, N. & Foley, J.A. (2012). “Comparing the Yields of Conventional with Organic Agriculture.” Nature 485: 229-232.
- Kirchmann, H., Bergstron, L.; Katterer T.; Andren O.; Andersson R. (2008) “Can Organic Crop Production Feed the World?” In Organic Crop Production – Ambitions and Limitations. Kirchmann and Bergstrom (eds.). Springer. 39-72.
- Savage, S. “US Organic Farming: Digging into the Numbers.” Sustaina blog.