Environmental Science Europe – Published 17 June 2015



Andrew Paul Gutierrez12*, Luigi Ponti23, Hans R Herren4, Johann Baumgärtner24 and Peter E Kenmore2

Author Affiliations

1 College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley, 94720-3114, CA, USA

2 Center for the Analysis of Sustainable Agricultural Systems (CASAS NGO), Kensington, CA, USA

3 Agenzia nazionale per le nuove tecnologie, l’energia e lo sviluppo economico sostenibile (ENEA), Centro Ricerche Casaccia, Via Anguillarese 301, Rome, 00123, Italy

4 The Millennium Institute, Washington, DC, USA

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Environmental Sciences Europe 2015, 27:12  doi:10.1186/s12302-015-0043-8

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Received: 31 October 2014
Accepted: 22 April 2015
Published: 17 June 2015

© 2015 Gutierrez et al.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited.



Cotton with coevolving pests has been grown in India more than 5000 years. Hybrid cotton was introduced in the 1970s with increases in fertilizer and in insecticide use against pink bollworm that caused outbreaks of bollworm. Hybrid Bt cotton, introduced in 2002 to control bollworm and other lepidopteran pests, is grown on more than 90 % of the cotton area. Despite initial declines, year 2013 insecticide use is at 2000 levels, yields plateaued nationally, and farmer suicides increased in some areas. Biological modeling of the pre-1970s cotton/pink bollworm system was used to examine the need for Bt cotton, conditions for its economic viability, and linkage to farmer suicides.


Yields in rainfed cotton depend on timing, distribution, and quantity of monsoon rains. Pink bollworm causes damage in irrigated cotton, but not in rainfed cotton unless infested from irrigated fields. Use of Bt cotton seed and insecticide in rainfed cotton is questionable.


Bt cotton may be economic in irrigated cotton, whereas costs of Bt seed and insecticide increase the risk of farmer bankruptcy in low-yield rainfed cotton. Inability to use saved seed and inadequate agronomic information trap cotton farmers on biotechnology and insecticide treadmills. Annual suicide rates in rainfed areas are inversely related to farm size and yield, and directly related to increases in Bt cotton adoption (i.e., costs). High-density short-season cottons could increase yields and reduce input costs in irrigated and rainfed cotton. Policy makers need holistic analysis before new technologies are implemented in agricultural development.


Ecological disruption; Bt cotton; Weather; Yields; Suicides; Bio-economics; Physiologically based demographic models; GIS; Climate change

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