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Tragic toll of GMOs in India

1.'Bitter Seeds' documentary reveals tragic toll of GMOs in India
2.Bt cotton proves 'deadly' for farmers

NOTE: See the trailer for 'Bitter Seeds' here
1.'Bitter Seeds' documentary reveals tragic toll of GMOs in India
Claire Thompson
Grist, 8 May 2012

When home-front battles over GMO labeling, beekeeping, and the Farm Bill get heated, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that Big Ag’s influence extends far beyond our own borders. Micha Peled’s documentary "Bitter Seeds" is a stark reminder of that fact. The final film in Peled’s globalization trilogy, ”Bitter Seeds" exposes the havoc Monsanto has wreaked on rural farming communities in India, and serves as a fierce rebuttal to the claim that genetically modified seeds can save the developing world.

The film follows a plucky 18-year-old girl named Manjusha, whose father was one of the quarter-million farmers who have committed suicide in India in the last 16 years. As Grist and others have reported, the motivations for these suicides follow a familiar pattern: Farmers become trapped in a cycle of debt trying to make a living growing Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bt cotton. They always live close to the edge, but one season’s ruined crop can dash hopes of ever paying back their loans, much less enabling their families to get ahead. Manjusha’s father, like many other suicide victims, killed himself by drinking the pesticide he spreads on his crops.

Why is Monsanto seen as responsible for these farmers’ desperation? The company began selling Bt cotton in India in 2004, after a U.S. challenge at the WTO forced India to adopt seed patenting, effectively allowing Monsanto to monopolize the market. Bt cotton seeds were and still are advertised heavily to illiterate Indian farmers, who have bought the company’s promises of high yields and the material wealth they bring. What the farmers didn’t know until it was too late is those seeds require an expensive regimen of pesticides, and must be fertilized and watered according to precise timetables. And since these farmers lack irrigation systems, and must instead depend on not-always-predictable rainfall, it’s incredibly difficult to control the success or failure of any year’s crops. As farmers bought the Bt cotton in droves, the conventional seed they’d been using which needed only cow dung as fertilizer disappeared in as little as one season. Now, in communities like Manjusha's, it's virtually impossible to buy anything but Monsanto's seed.

To pay for seeds, pesticides, and fertilizer, farmers must take out loans, but most banks refuse to deal with them, so instead they turn to moneylenders, who charge exorbitant interest rates. Many farmers have nothing to offer as collateral besides their land. If a crop fails and they can’t pay back the loans, they lose everything.

The film offers a glimmer of hope in Manjusha, an aspiring journalist in a world where farmers’ daughters aren’t exactly encouraged to pursue independent careers. Scenes of her first earnest attempts at reporting are intimate and touching (“I had other questions to ask, but I forgot”), and her commitment to telling the story of her family’s and her community’s struggle always shines through her nervousness. This appealing heroine makes a story of global manipulation more personal, and thus more devastating.

Piece by piece, "Bitter Seeds" lays out the bleak situation in India, using interviews with all players, from condescending seed sales reps and callous Monsanto execs, to activist Vandana Shiva, to farmers, their families, and village old-timers who remember when life as an Indian cotton farmer was not so bitter.

Proponents hail GMO crops as a triumph of science over nature that could provide a solution to world hunger. But this film reveals a society of farmers whose way of life, and very lives, are threatened. If GMOs have any benefits, it would be hard to convince me that they outweigh the human costs portrayed in "Bitter Seeds".
2.Bt cotton proves 'deadly' for farmers
S. Harpal Singh
The Hindu, 5 May 2012

*Twenty-three suicides reported in Adilabad district since November 2011

In a scenario dominated by Bt cotton, only those farmers in Adilabad seem to be safe and happy who have practically given up cotton cultivation. Many farmers, especially those with smaller holdings, are finding the economics of Bt cotton to be really deadly.

Some 23 suicides by cotton farmers have been reported in the district since November last year. In a majority of these instances, the farmers were caught in debt traps.

Take the case of farmer Umak Namdev of Mangrud in Bela mandal whose cumulative debts incurred during the last few years mounted to over Rs. 3 lakh. The money was spent as investment in the 11 acres of his field, seven of which were taken on lease, and towards family maintenance.

Leased lands

“Having found the four acres of land insufficient to provide for the entire family, we started tilling leased out lands since the last three years. The only way to offset the loss incurred in successive years was to cultivate more of the leased land,” revealed Vinod, younger son of Namdev of the circumstances that saw the cotton farmer ending up being caught in the vicious circle.

“In order to clear the bank crop loan of Rs. 70,000, my father had recently taken a private loan for the same amount at 10 per cent per month rate of interest. Though there is still some time to go before the banks start issuing crop loans, the pressure of debts was unbearable for him,” said elder son Devendra as he provided an insight into the economics fostered by Bt cotton.

“Bt cotton will leave the farmer in a shambles even if one indicator in the gamut fails. The farmer needs weather conditions and market to be in his favour in order to end the season in some profit,” opined Thakre Mangesh, president of local youth association. Like many of his ilk, Namdev found himself being forced to take up sowing thrice during kharif last year. His helplessness was compounded by costly inputs, failed yield and plummeting cotton price. “The ones who lease out the land are a happy lot earning between Rs.10,000 and Rs.15,000 per acre. The income of a ‘successful' tenant farmer will be far less,” Mangesh says.