Monsanto in India

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The Indian Suicides

Farmers in India are finding that the "biotechnology revolution" is having a devastating effect on their crop lands and personal debt levels. "In 1998, the World Bank's structural adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Syngenta. The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds which needed fertilizers and pesticides and could not be saved" Says Vandana Shiva, leader of the movement to oust Monsanto from India in her 2004 article The Suicide Economy Of Corporate Globalisation. "As seed saving is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable traits, seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year. This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness. As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell kidneys or even commit suicide. More than 25,000 peasants in India have taken their lives since 1997 when the practice of seed saving was transformed under globalisation pressures and multinational seed corporations started to take control of the seed supply. Seed saving gives farmers life. Seed monopolies rob farmers of life" [1].

UPDATE: "Since 1997, 182,936 Indian farmers have taken their lives and the numbers continue to rise. According to a recent study by the National Crime Records Bureau, 46 Indian farmers kill themselves every day – that is roughly one suicide every 30 minutes – an alarming statistic in a country where agriculture is the economic mainstay".[2]

Yet even this number may be underestimated. According to P. Sainath, rural affairs editor of The Hindu, "the states where these [figures] are gathered leave out thousands from the definition of "farmer" and, thus, massage the numbers downward. For instance, women farmers are not normally accepted as farmers (by custom, land is almost never in their names). They do the bulk of work in agriculture - but are just "farmers' wives." This classification enables governments to exclude countless women farmer suicides. They will be recorded as suicide deaths - but not as "farmers' suicides." Likewise, many other groups, too, have been excluded from that list" The Largest Wave Of Suicides In History.

This has been called a genocide [3]. Says the Deccan Herald, "Bt cotton requiring more water than hybrid cotton, was knowingly promoted so as to allow the seed industry to make profits. What happens to the farmers as a result was nobody's concern. And never was.... Strange, the country has already jumped into the second phase of green revolution without first drawing a balance sheet of the first phase of the technology era. Such an approach will only worsen the crisis, and force more farmers to commit suicide or abandon their farms. As a result, India is sure to witness the worst environmental displacement the world has known and this will be in the field of agriculture." [4]

"Farmers across India are in distress and despair,' said Kishor Tiwari, a farmer rights activist, 'but Vidarbha is the epicentre of farm suicides'. Vidarbha cotton farmers’ yearly costs – for genetically modified seeds, pesticides, fertilisers, electricity, water and labour – continue to rise, while the price of cotton has been declining with decreased productivity and quality. Scant rainfall last year has exacerbated the crisis, giving rise to drought-like conditions, not favourable for the genetically modified seeds, which require twice the amount of water compared to traditional seeds. A dearth of irrigation facilities has made matters worse, farmers complain" [5].

Why do many Indian farmers continue to buy BT cotton when it has had such a unpredictable success/failure rate? Was it, as Monsanto claims, because of it's obvious success?

"University of Washington researcher Glenn Stone's multi-year study of Bt cotton adoption in the Warangal district of AP - one of the suicide-prone states the authors mention - showed such adoption was not based on farmers carefully assessing the technology before adopting it more widely but a "craze" reliant on advertising and a kind of herd mentality, where everybody copies everyone else leading to blind adoption. The hype around GM seeds, in fact, had added to the deskilling of the farmers - the undermining of cautious traditional assessment of performance" [6]. See also: [7]

Recently the pro-GM International Food Policy Research Institute has sought to downplay the connection between Indian Suicides and GM BT [8]. However they also note in their study that "What we cannot reject, however, is the potential role of Bt cotton varieties in the observed discrete increase in farmer suicides in certain states and years". For a fuller rebuttal see [9] (PDF). While there may be other factors involved besides GM crops, Monsanto has, predictably, refused to accept any responsibility for the suicides [10].

For more see Selling Suicide by Christian Aid. As in other parts of the world, GM farm fields and Monsanto property have been under attack in retaliation [11].

Use of Child and Slave Labor

Additionally, Monsanto and related companies use many thousands of children in its labor force in India, the reason is simple, they can pay them less and work them more - up to 13 hours a day.

"Farmers employ children, particularly girls, primarily in order to minimize costs. Earlier studies by these authors which examined reasons for child labour in this industry found that labour costs account for about 50% of total cultivation costs. Farmers endeavour to cut these labour costs by hiring children because the wages paid to children are far below both the market wages for adults in other agricultural field work and even further below official minimum wages. Farmers also hire children in preference to adults because farmers can squeeze out higher productivity from children per day: children will work longer hours, will work much more intensively and they are generally much easier to control than adult workers – whether through verbal or physical abuse or through inexpensive treats like chocolate or hair ribbons. Moreover, children cannot complain as effectively as adults do when they are exposed to poisonous pesticides, which are used in very high quantities in cottonseed cultivation. Moreover, children work in the context of partial adult unemployment – children work whilst their parents cannot" The Price of Childhood.

Serious disrespect of their workers in other countries signal a pattern for Monsanto.

"Argentina's tax agency has raided a Monsanto Co. contractor and found what it calls slave-like conditions among workers in its cornfields. The AFIP tax agency says Rural Power SA hired all its farmhands illegally, prevented them from leaving the fields and withheld their salaries. They had to de-tassel corn 14 hours a day and buy their food at inflated prices from the company store. AFIP says it will hold the American agro-giant responsible for its contractor's slave-like labor conditions."Argentina says Monsanto contractor abuses workers

Further, according to Courthouse News Service,

"Monsanto, Philip Morris and other U.S. tobacco giants knowingly poisoned Argentinean tobacco farmers with pesticides, causing 'devastating birth defects' in their children, dozens of workers claim in court.... The farmers claim the tobacco companies asked them to use herbicides, pesticides and other toxic products made and distributed by Monsanto, and assured them the products were safe. They say the defendants 'wrongfully caused the parental and infant plaintiffs to be exposed to those chemicals and substances which they both knew, or should have known, would cause the infant offspring of the parental plaintiffs to be born with devastating birth defects.' Birth defects cited in the 55-page complaint include cerebral palsy, psychomotor retardation, epilepsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, metabolic disorders, congenital heart defects, Down syndrome, missing fingers and blindness.... They claim that Monsanto and the tobacco companies, 'motivated by a desire for unwarranted economic gain and profit,' ignored health risks associated with pesticides."Monsanto and Big Tobacco Blamed for Birth Defects

The High Cost of High Price

"Monsanto has patent rights over BT gene and it has sublicensed its gene to other companies. Monsanto collects huge amounts of money as a royalty from these companies.... Compared to non-BT hybrids, the gap between procurement price [price paid to farmers] and marketing prices of BT hybrids and unofficial BT hybrids is huge. Marketing prices are 12.1 times more in case of official BT.... Though companies obtain huge earnings from selling seed, they do not seem to be making any rational calculation about the cost of cultivation when fixing the procurement price to be paid to their seed farmers. With the current procurement prices of the companies, seed farmers are forced to minimize wages to the labourers" [12].

Ironically, Monsanto itself admits, "Farmer suicide has numerous causes with most experts agreeing that indebtedness is one of the main factors. Farmers unable to repay loans and facing spiraling interest often see suicide as the only solution" [13]. What they don't say is that while high interest loans from loan sharks to buy the seeds contribute to the problem they are responsible for the exorbitant costs of their seeds in the first place. In fact some Municipalities in India have gone to court in an effort to try to force Monsanto to lower the price of their seed. Monsanto is fighting it contending that the GM trait is worth the extra cost. The government, however, said that the cost was much higher than that charged to other, less poor countries [14].

"One of the big headaches in Vidarbha is the state propagandised and favoured the promotion of Bt Cotton. Firstly, Bt Cotton technologies are themselves suspect in a number of ways. However, promoting them in a dry and un-irrigated area like Vidarbha was murderous. It was stupid, it was killing. The Bt Cotton packet was costing Rs 1800 to 1850 for a packet of 450 grams. On each packet of Rs 1850, Monsanto was making a royalty of Rs 1250. Coming back the MNC's, their role in the crisis has been devastating. One, they have been able to corrupt and lobby government policy very significantly changing it in their favour and against the farmers" ‘The relief package is a bureaucratic sham’

"The price difference is staggering: £10 for 100 grams of GM seed, compared with less than £10 for 1,000 times more traditional seeds. But GM salesmen and government officials had promised farmers that these were 'magic seeds' - with better crops that would be free from parasites and insects. Indeed, in a bid to promote the uptake of GM seeds, traditional varieties were banned from many government seed banks" [15].

The Organic Center has produced a report on the price differences between organic and GM crops. "In recent years the price of genetically engineered corn, soybean, and cotton seed has risen sharply. Seed expenditures per acre are now cutting into net farm income, and transferring earnings that used to stay on the farm to the seed industry.... Surprisingly, the biotech seed price premium is much larger than the organic seed price premium, despite the major differences in the value embedded in each" [1]

There are increasing reports of failed Bt crops in India and elsewhere, see BT Cotton in Andhra Pradesh - A Three Year Assessment [16]. See also How GM Crops Destroy the Third World and A fading cotton bumper crop


Articles from India's Vandana Shiva [17] and Devinder Sharma on the subject [18]

Popular Movement to Oust Monsanto from India: India Cheers While Monsanto Burns [19]


References

  1. The Magnitude and Impacts of the Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premiums The Organic Center, December, 2009

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