Glenn D. Stone, Ph.D., professor of anthropology and of environmental studies, both in Arts & Sciences, at Washington University in St. Louis, has completed the first detailed anthropological fieldwork on these crops and the way they impact ?and are impacted by ?local culture.
The study, published in the February 2007 issue of Current Anthropology, focuses on cotton production in the Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh, India, one of the nation's key cotton-growing areas. There, Stone found several factors affecting farmers' ability to adjust to new developments by practical methods. Among them are the speed of change, the overwhelming number of choices in the seed market and the desire for novelty ?all of which lead to lack of proper seed testing by farmers.
"There is a rapidity of change that the farmers just can't keep up with," Stone says. "They aren't able to digest new technologies as they come along. In Warangal, the pattern of change is dizzying. From 2003 to 2005, more than 125 different brands of cottonseed had been sold. But the seeds come and go. In 2005, there were 78 kinds being sold, but only 24 of those were around in 2003."
Bt cottonseed, genetically modified to produce its own insecticide, was introduced in India in 2002. Between 2003 and 2005, the market share of Bt seed ?created through collaboration between Monsanto Co. and several Indian companies ?rose to 62 percent from 12 percent. Stone's research reveals that the increase resulted not from traditional farming methods of testing seed for efficacy, but from a pattern of "social learning" ?farmers relying on word of mouth to choose seeds.
"Very few farmers were doing experimental testing, they were just using it because their neighbors were," Stone says.