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Bt cotton, pesticides, labour and health - A case study of smallholder farmers in the Makhathini Flats, Republic of South Africa

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Abstract

This paper describes some of the results of a detailed farm-level survey of 32 small-scale cotton farmers in the Makhathini Flats region of South Africa. The aim was to assess and measure some of the impacts (especially in terms of savings in pesticide and labour as well as benefits to human health) attributable to the use of insect-tolerant Bt cotton. The study reveals a direct cost benefit for Bt growers of SAR416 ($51) per hectare per season due to a reduction in the number of insecticide applications. Cost savings emerged in the form of lower requirements for pesticide, but also important were reduced requirements for water and labour. The reduction in the number of sprays was particularly beneficial to women who do some spraying and children who collect water and assist in spraying. The increasing adoption rate of Bt cotton appears to have a health benefit measured in terms of reported rates of accidental insecticide poisoning. These appear to be declining as the uptake of Bt cotton increases. However, the understanding of refugia and their management by local farmers are deficient and need improving. Finally, Bt cotton growers emerge as more resilient in absorbing price fluctuations.

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