Cotton is the world's most commercially important fibre, taking up 36 million hectares in 70 countries. It is also the world's most heavily pesticide-sprayed field crop. Despite being planted on only three percent of the world's arable land, cotton accounts for 25 percent of global pesticide and herbicide use - about 350 million pounds a year.
Cotton is such a pesticide-dependent crop that a group of farmers in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, who were beset by the American bollworm in 1997, spent virtually their last money on chemicals to control the insects. When the pesticides failed, at least 110 despondent farmers committed suicide by drinking the pesticides.
Nearly 25% of the world's pesticides are used on cotton - in the United States nearly 50%. But despite this massive bombardment with chemicals, yields are declining in much of the world. In the United States, cotton growers in Texas and other states gave up vast acreage of cotton when pesticides became to costly and ineffective. With chemical dependence, shrinking yields, and decreasing income from crops, the agricultural picture for cotton is a grim one.