To make Bt cotton resistant to cotton bollworms, genes from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have been inserted into the plant. Almost all of the world’s cotton growing regions use heavy chemical pesticides to control cotton worms, an insect pest that causes significant crop damage.
There have been many countries that have adopted Bt cotton in the last 15 years. There is strong evidence that this technology reduces pesticide use, reduces crop damage, and increases farm income. In terms of developing countries, studies on Bt cotton’s impacts in China and India are among the most comprehensive.
A study was also conducted in South Africa, Argentina, and Mexico to examine any effects. It is generally agreed that the key findings are the same across countries, but the actual effects vary depending on the agroecological and institutional factors. Bt cotton is the subject of existing research that focuses on agronomic and economic impacts.
Fewer studies have also examined the possibility of farmers becoming acutely poisoned from pesticides as a result of decreased exposure. This aspect of these effects was not monetized, which is necessary to make them comparable to other costs and benefits. A natural science perspective has been used to analyze the environmental consequences of Bt crops, such as those on species diversity and soil and water quality, however, no economic impact analysis has been performed.
There is a research gap in this area. We all know that chemical pesticides carry significant environmental and health risks. In developing countries, pesticide regulations are laxer and spraying is often carried out manually without protective clothing. Therefore, the reduction of chemical pesticides through Bt may have health and environmental benefits. The evaluation and monetization of such benefits will enhance the research direction. Additionally, it can contribute to the public and policy debate over GM crops, which is often more focused on environmental and health risks.
Among the health benefits is a reduction in pesticide poisoning among farmers. Enhanced biocontrol services were observed through increased numbers of arthropod predators, providing environmental benefits. Additionally, improved soil and groundwater quality was reported due to less pesticide contamination.
By creating a scenario similar to real market conditions and easy for farmers to understand, the likelihood of reliable responses can be increased. During the survey, researchers asked farmers to choose between a hypothetical pesticide that has the same effectiveness against bollworms, but differing health and environmental characteristics.
Researchers in the Philippines, Cuyno et al. (2001), used a similar approach to evaluate farmers’ attitudes towards integrated pest management. For a contingent valuation exercise, Cuyno et al. (2001) directly questioned farmers about their WTP for pesticide formulations. As well as analyzing farmers’ preferences for different health and environmental attributes, the researchers examined WTP aggregates for a “safe” pesticide.
The cotton industry in Pakistan is facing a major problem, as mentioned. Pesticide toxicity is correlated with poisoning incidents, as well as pesticide quantities used. It is therefore justified to consider this as a health attribute of pesticide formulations. Regarding the environmental attributes of pesticides, researchers distinguished between effects on farmland biodiversity and levels of contamination in soils and groundwater on the one hand. Specifically, researchers looked at the loss of beneficial insects, which serve as important biocontrol agents.
Research has shown that intensive pesticide use suppresses beneficial insect diversity. In the general sense, farmland diversity can be compared to ecosystem functions and services through its correlation with the diversity of ecosystems. Soil pollution is a more general indicator of pesticide impacts on the agroecosystems. Product toxicity also plays a role in this.
Comprehensive evaluations must also consider negative consequences, such as possible environmental risks. It has also been shown that high concentrations of Bt proteins can also harm beneficial insects and soil organisms that are not targeted. According to a recent meta-analysis, chemical pesticides have a much greater negative environmental impact than Bt crops. Bt cotton can contribute to sustainable development as it is associated with substantial health and environmental benefits.
There are other ways to reduce chemical pesticide use in cotton, but Bt technology appears to be more accessible than more knowledge-intensive alternatives, as evidenced by its rapid adoption. However, rapid adoption must not be misinterpreted so as to eliminate the need for extension services. Currently, the Bt pesticide’s reduction in Pakistan is lower than in India and China.
Farmers who have access to better information may see their yields rise even further. Additionally, extension services should encourage Bt resistance management and the use of integrated pest management techniques, protecting pest control also in the medium and long term.