India's Transgenic Cotton Is Not The Super-Crop That Was Promised

Dwindling production, rising costs, new diseases: ten years after genetically-modified cotton was introduced in India with high hopes of boosting the economy, farmers are deeply disappointed with its results and wondering if it was all worth it.

A woman from the Ahir tribe at Chapredi village with cotton husks (Meena Kadri)
A woman from the Ahir tribe at Chapredi village with cotton husks (Meena Kadri)
Julien Bouissou

NEW DELHI - Ten years after its debut, genetically modified cotton is a huge disappointment. Plants are vulnerable to new diseases, yields are far lower than expected.

The Andhra Pradesh state government recently announced that the 2011 harvest was much lower than the 2010 crop. And for the first time, the Maharashtra government and a court from the neighboring state of Madhya Pradesh, successfully sued German seed company Crop Science for 850,000 euros on behalf of more than 1,000 farmers for selling them seeds that did not deliver the promised yield.

The German company is denying responsibility and is blaming "bad production control and weather conditions." It is thinking of appealing to get the sentence repealed.

Since gentically-modified (GMO) cotton was introduced in India in 2002, crops have doubled and the country has become the world's No. 2 cotton producer. But the "White Revolution," as it was called, is now generating more suspicion than enthusiasm. Anti-GMO activists believe that the big harvests of the first years were due to better climate and irrigation systems. For the last six years, the average production has stagnated while transgenic cotton cultures have more than quadrupled.

In 2009, GMO giant Monsanto admitted for the first time that its "Bollgard" cotton variety had lost its resistance against worms in the Gujarat fields, in western India. Two years later, the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) director, Keshav Raj Kranthi, warned against GM cotton's growing vulnerability to bacteria.

Calls for a moratorium

"Productivity in northern India should decrease as the production capacity of the seeds is getting smaller. The latest hyrbid seeds have also contracted the ‘leaf curl virus' and are more vulnerable to parasites, whereas non-genetically modified seeds used to be more resistant" a May 2011 CICR report explains. Kranthi adds that transgenic seeds consume more water and nutrients, which lead to soil exhaustion. Fertilizers are needed to maximize production.

All these fertilizers, GMO seeds and insecticides are expensive: farmers have to take out loans from local moneylenders, or directly from their seed and fertilizer suppliers. A minor drop in the cotton rate or bad weather conditions can lead to tragedy. In 2006, in the Vidarbha region, thousands of farmers committed suicide by swallowing pesticide because they couldn't pay off their debts.

GMO cotton is a new technology that needs specific know-how to be put to the best use. Each one of the 780 varieties of transgenic cotton needs a different type of soil and different fertilizers. Local grains also have to be planted in just the right proportions to avoid bacteria and insects from developing resistance to transgenic seeds.

"Small farmers don't have the slightest idea about what they buy and how to grow GMO seeds. Their traditional know-how is about to disappear," worries Sridhar Radhakrishnan from the Coalition for GMO-Free India.

In case of bad crops, there is no legal action that the farmers can take to get compensation. "If anything goes wrong or if the farmers have difficulties, the states need to create laws to force companies to give them financial compensation," Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar said recently in Parliament.

Ten years after transgenic cotton was introduced, local Indian seeds have practically disappeared. The GMO seeds market represents 280 million euros. Companies promise to create new sorts of seeds that are more resistant and consumer less water. Meanwhile, anti-GMO activists demand an immediate moratorium on the culture of transgenic cotton in India.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Meena Kadri

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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