Indian farmers commit suicide in GM wasteland

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

In the last ten years 200,000 farmers have committed suicide across India. Last year alone, 800 farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra killed themselves. Some estimate that in India a farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes. This horrifying trend, the largest suicide wave ever recorded, is a result of the desperate and growing poverty amongst India’s poor, which is happening regardless of – or arguably because of – the much-vaunted growth of the country’s economy.

Coverage by popular media cites vague and generic reasons for these suicides, such as ‘poverty’, ‘debt’ and ‘pest attacks’. What few point out, however, is the fact that these are a direct result of the biotechnology industry’s exploitation of India: over the last decade the country has been used as a massive testing ground for GM crops. One example is ‘Bt cotton’, manufactured by US corporation Monsanto and approved for commercial distribution in India in 2002.

Bt cotton – GM genocide

Between 2005-2007 there was a massive drive by Monsanto, together with the Indian government, to get farmers in India to plant Bt cotton instead of natural seeds. Farmers were promised that if they used Bt cotton seeds, they would see an unprecedented increase in yield. Not only this, but they were assured that the GM seeds were pest-proof, so there would be no need to purchase expensive pesticides.

Farmers were not told however that the crops would need more water than non-GM crops – and this did not stop Monsanto from selling the seeds to farmers in arid lands. In other areas, declining rain levels year on year have resulted in crops failing. The supposedly pest-resistant seeds have produced crops riddled with the pest that blights cotton-growers everywhere: the American Bollworm – in fact, pests never seen before have been discovered in the Bt cotton crops, and they have all developed a tolerance to its pest-resistant gene. Farmers are having to buy insecticide after all – from the very same Monsanto.

Another problem is that over several seasons, GM crops ruin the soil – and if they are planted for several successive years, can render it permanently infertile, preventing farmers from ever returning to growing cotton from natural seeds. Further, the seeds are made with ‘terminator technology’; they cannot reproduce and die after one season. Thus farmers are not able to harvest seeds for planting the following season, and have to buy new seeds from Monsanto every year.

The GM seeds cost up to 1,000% more than ordinary seeds, and although many farmers saw an initial boost in their yield, very quickly their crops began to fail for the reasons outlined above. Because the seeds are so expensive, small farmers are forced to borrow money to buy them, usually from local banks or money-lenders. The loans are prohibitively expensive and when the crops fail, farmers and their families find themselves at the mercy of money-lenders.

So, when farmers cannot harvest any cotton, and cannot repay their loans, they are swallowing the very insecticide that they have been promised they won’t need, dying an agonising death and leaving their families bereft. This problem is not new, and the fact that suicides are attributed to GM crops (and suicides are much more prevalent amongst cotton farmers than any others) has been known for the last five years at least. Of course, Monsanto denies any responsibility for the crisis and the Indian government, fast friend of imperialism, allows the corporation to continue to sell their seeds. In fact, it has been reported that non-GM cotton seeds have been banned from government seed banks, leaving farmers with no option but to purchase Bt cotton seeds every year.

This carries on despite the fact that over the last few years there have been big protests and rallies and seed-distributors have even been taken hostage. Many farmers have addressed their suicide notes to the government to make their reasons for killing themselves clear.

The G-word

Much is made of the fact that India’s economy is growing, and that in the last ten years it has become the world’s second largest producer of cotton after China. But what does this ‘growth’ mean for the majority of Indians?

It means only that more people are faced with grinding poverty than ever before, as the various mining, agricultural, finance and other corporations suck what they can from the land and the people. India is home to the world’s largest number of starving people, and some experts estimate that up to a staggering 87% of people in rural areas, and 65% in urban areas, live in poverty. The fact is that GDP does not measure the spread of wealth, nor people’s access to basic human necessities such as housing, food, health care and education.

Neeva Shanti