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GM cotton improves diet quality for small-scale Indian farmers

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Calorie consumption and dietary quality among small-scale farmers in significantly improved over a 7-year-period due to cultivation of genetically modified (GM) cotton, according to new research.

The study published in the journal PLOS ONE was conducted by Matin Qaim and Shahzad Kouser from the University of Goettingen, Germany.

The researchers used data from a survey of over 500 randomly selected small farm households conducted from 2002-2008, and found that growing GM cotton crops increased farm yields and incomes, enabling these farming households to afford more and better food.

Calorie consumption and dietary quality improved significantly in households that grew GM cotton compared to those that did not.

In 2002, the proportion of GM-cotton growing farms was small, but by 2008 almost 99 per cent of the farmers surveyed had adopted this technology. Food insecurity was reduced by 15-20 per cent as a result, the study found.

Bt cotton was first commercialised in India in 2002.

Researchers carried out a panel survey of Indian cotton farm households in four rounds between 2002 and 2008. They used a multistage sampling procedure. Four states were selected, namely Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.

These four states cover a wide variety of different cotton-growing situations, and they produce 60 per cent of all cotton in central and southern India, the study said.

In these four states, researchers randomly selected 10 cotton-growing districts and 58 villages, using a combination of census data and agricultural production statistics. Within each village, they randomly selected farm households from complete lists of cotton producers.

The researchers concluded that although GM crops alone may not solve the hunger problem, they may be an important component in a broader food security strategy.

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