Tuesday, May 12, 2009
From Seeds of Suicide to Seeds of Hope: Why Are Indian Farmers Committing Suicide and How Can We Stop This Tragedy?
By Vandana Shiva. www.navdanya.org
Posted April 28, 2009
article source: www.huffingtonpost.com
In a land where reincarnation is a commonly held belief, where the balance sheet of life is sorted out over lifetimes, where resilience and recovery has been the characteristic of the "kisan," the peasant cultivation, why are Indian farmers committing suicide on a mass scale?
200,000 farmers have ended their lives since 1997.
Farmers' suicides are the most tragic and dramatic symptom of the crisis of survival faced by Indian peasants.
Rapid increase in indebtedness is at the root of farmers' taking their lives. Debt is a reflection of a negative economy. Two factors have transformed agriculture from a positive economy into a negative economy for peasants: the rising of costs of production and the falling prices of farm commodities. Both these factors are rooted in the policies of trade liberalization and corporate globalization.
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 need fertilizers and pesticides and cannot be saved.
Corporations prevent seed savings through patents and by engineering seeds with non-renewable traits. As a result, poor peasants have to buy new seeds for every planting season and what was traditionally a free resource, available by putting aside a small portion of the crop, becomes a commodity. This new expense increases poverty and leads to indebtness.
The shift from saved seed to corporate monopoly of the seed supply also represents a shift from biodiversity to monoculture in agriculture. The district of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh used to grow diverse legumes, millets, and oilseeds. Now the imposition of cotton monocultures has led to the loss of the wealth of farmer's breeding and nature's evolution.
Monocultures and uniformity increase the risk of crop failure, as diverse seeds adapted to diverse to eco-systems are replaced by the rushed introduction of uniform and often untested seeds into the market. When Monsanto first introduced Bt Cotton in 2002, the farmers lost 1 billion rupees due to crop failure. Instead of 1,500 kilos per acre as promised by the company, the harvest was as low as 200 kilos per acre. Instead of incomes of 10,000 rupees an acre, farmers ran into losses of 6,400 rupees an acre. In the state of Bihar, when farm-saved corn seed was displaced by Monsanto's hybrid corn, the entire crop failed, creating 4 billion rupees in losses and increased poverty for desperately poor farmers. Poor peasants of the South cannot survive seed monopolies. The crisis of suicides shows how the survival of small farmers is incompatible with the seed monopolies of global corporations.
The second pressure Indian farmers are facing is the dramatic fall in prices of farm produce as a result of the WTO's free trade policies. The WTO rules for trade in agriculture are, in essence, rules for dumping. They have allowed wealthy countries to increase agribusiness subsidies while preventing other countries from protecting their farmers from artificially cheap imported produce. Four hundred billion dollars in subsidies combined with the forced removal of import restriction is a ready-made recipe for farmer suicide. Global wheat prices have dropped from $216 a ton in 1995 to $133 a ton in 2001; cotton prices from $98.2 a ton in 1995 to $49.1 a ton in 2001; Soya bean prices from $273 a ton in 1995 to $178 a ton. This reduction is due not to a change in productivity, but to an increase in subsidies and an increase in market monopolies controlled by a handful of agribusiness corporations.
The region in India with the highest level of farmers suicides is the Vidharbha region in Maharashtra -- 4000 suicides per year, 10 per day. This is also the region with the highest acreage of Monsanto's GMO Bt cotton. Monsanto's GM seeds create a suicide economy by transforming seed from a renewable resource to a non-renewable input which must be bought every year at high prices. Cotton seed used to cost Rs 7/kg. Bt-cotton seeds were sold at Rs 17,000/kg. Indigenous cotton varieties can be intercropped with food crops. Bt-cotton can only be grown as a monoculture. Indigenous cotton is rain fed. Bt-cotton needs irrigation. Indigenous varieties are pest resistant. Bt-cotton, even though promoted as resistant to the boll worm, has created new pests, and to control these new pests, farmers are using 13 times more pesticides then they were using prior to introduction of Bt-cotton. And finally, Monsanto sells its GMO seeds on fraudulent claims of yields of 1500/kg/year when farmers harvest 300-400 kg/year on an average. High costs and unreliable output make for a debt trap, and a suicide economy.
While Monsanto pushes the costs of cultivation up, agribusiness subsidies drive down the price farmers get for their produce.
Cotton producers in the US are given a subsidy of $4 billion annually. This has artificially brought down cotton prices, allowing the US to capture world markets previously accessible to poor African countries such as Burkina Faso, Benin, and Mali. This subsidy of $230 per acre in the US is untenable for the African farmers. African cotton farmers are losing $250 million every year. That is why small African countries walked out of the Cancun negotiations, leading to the collapse of the WTO ministerial.
The rigged prices of globally traded agriculture commodities steal from poor peasants of the South. A study carried out by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) shows that due to falling farm prices, Indian peasants are losing $26 billion annually. This is a burden their poverty does not allow them t bear. As debts increase -- unpayable from farm proceeds -- farmers are compelled to sell a kidney or even commit suicide. Seed saving gives farmers life. Seed monopolies rob farmers of life.
Farmers suicides in the state of Chattisgarh have recently been before in the news. 1593 farmers committed suicide in Chattisgarh in 2007. Before 2000 no farmers suicides are reported in the state.
Chattisgarh is the Centre of Diversity of the indice varieties of rice. More than 200,000 rices used to grow in India. This is where eminent rice scientists Dr. Richaria did his collections and showed that tribals had bred many rices with higher yields than the green Revolution varieties.
Today the rice farming of Chattisgarh is under assault. When indigenous rice is replaced with green Revolution varieties, irrigation becomes necessary. Under globalization pressures, rice is anyway a lower priority than exotic vegetables. The farmers are sold hybrid seeds, the seeds need heavy inputs of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as intensive irrigation. And crop failure is frequent. This pushes farmers into debt and suicide.
Chattisgarh is also a prime target for growing of Jatropha for biofuel. Tribals farms are being forcefully appropriated for Jatropha plantations, aggravating the food and livelihood crisis in Chattisgarh. The diesel demand of the automobile industry is given a priority above the food needs of the poor.
The suicide economy of industrialized, globalised agriculture is suicidal at 3 levels - it is suicidal for farmers, it is suicidal for the poor who are derived food, and it is suicidal at the level of the human species as we destroy the natural capital of seed, biodiversity, soil and water on which our biological survival depends.
The suicide economy is not an inevitability. Navdanya has started a Seeds of Hope campaign to stop farmers suicides. The transition from seeds of suicide to seeds of hope includes :
· a shift from GMO and non renewable seeds to organic, open pollinated seed varieties which farmers can save and share.
· a shift from chemical farming to organic farming.
· a shift from unfair trade based on false prices to fair trade based on real and just prices.
The farmers who have made this shift are earning 10 times more than the farmers growing Monsanto's Bt-cotton.
Harvest of suicide
By Vandana Shiva
May 02, 2009
Rising production costs and falling prices for their products is a recipe for indebtedness, and debt is the main cause of farmers’ suicides. This is why the suicides are most prevalent in the cotton belt on which the seed industries’ claim is rapidly becoming a stranglehold
An epidemic of farmers’ suicides has spread across four Indian states — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Punjab — over the last decade. According to official data, more than 160,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997.
These suicides are most frequent where farmers grow cotton, and appear directly linked to the presence of seed monopolies. For the supply of cotton seeds in India has increasingly slipped out of the hands of farmers and into the hands of global seed producers like Monsanto. These giant corporations have begun to control local seed companies through buyouts, joint ventures, and licensing arrangements, leading to seed monopolies.
When this happens, seed is transformed from being a common good into being the “intellectual property” of companies such as Monsanto, for which the corporation can claim limitless profits through royalty payments. For farmers, this means deeper debt.
Seed is also transformed in this way from being a renewable regenerative resource into a non-renewable resource and commodity. Seed scarcity is directly caused by seed monopolies, which have as their ultimate weapon a “terminator” seed that is engineered for sterility. This means that farmers can’t renew their own supply but must return to the monopolist for new seed each planting season. For farmers, this means higher costs; for seed corporations, higher profits.
The creation of seed monopolies is based on the deregulation of seed corporations, including giving them oversight over bio-safety. With the coming of globalisation, seed companies were allowed to sell seeds for which the companies had certified their safety. In the case of genetically engineered seed, these companies are again seeking self-regulation for bio-safety.
State regulation does continue to exist where seeds are concerned, but nowadays it is aimed at farmers, who are being pushed into dependency on patented, corporate seed. Such compulsory licensing is a big cause of the global destruction of biodiversity. The creation of seed monopolies, and with them crushing debts to a new species of moneylender — the agents of the seed and chemical companies — has taken a high human toll as well.
The farm suicides first started in the district of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. Peasants in Warangal used to grow millets, pulses, and oilseeds. Overnight, Warangal was converted to a cotton-growing district based on non-renewable hybrids that require irrigation and are prone to pest attacks. Small peasants without capital were trapped in a vicious cycle of debt. Some saw only one way out.
This was a period when Monsanto and its Indian partner, Mahyco, were also carrying out illegal field experiments with genetically engineered Bt cotton. All imports and field trials of genetically engineered organisms in India are governed by a provision of the Environment Protection Act called the “Rules for the Manufacture Use, Import, Export, and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms, Genetically Engineered Organisms, or Cells”.
We at the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology used the law to stop Monsanto’s commercialisation of Bt cotton in 1999, which is why approval was not granted for commercial sales until 2002.
Rising production costs and falling prices for their products is a recipe for indebtedness, and debt is the main cause of farmers’ suicides. This is why the suicides are most prevalent in the cotton belt on which the seed industries’ claim is rapidly becoming a stranglehold.
At the start, the technology for engineering Bt genes into cotton was aimed primarily at controlling pests. However, new pests have emerged in Bt cotton, leading to higher use of pesticides. In the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra, which has the highest number of suicides, the area under Bt cotton has increased from 0.2 million hectares in 2004 to 2.88 million hectares in 2007. The cost of pesticides for farmers has increased 13-fold in the same period.
A pest control technology that fails to control pests might be good for seed corporations that are also agri-chemical corporations. For farmers, it translates into suicide.
Technologies are tools. When the tool fails, it needs to be replaced. Bt cotton technology has failed to control pests or secure farmers lives and livelihoods. It is time to replace GM technology with ecological farming. It is time to stop the killing. —DT-PS
Vandana Shiva is an Indian feminist and environmental activist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology
‘Superweed’ explosion threatens Monsanto heartlands
By Clea CAULCUTT
Sunday 19 April 2009
Superweeds” are plaguing high-tech Monsanto crops in southern US states, driving farmers to use more herbicides, return to conventional crops or even abandon their
The gospel of high-tech genetically modified (GM) crops is not sounding quite so sweet in the land of the converted. A new pest, the evil pigweed, is hitting headlines and chomping its way across Sun Belt states, threatening to transform cotton and soybean plots into weed battlefields.
In late 2004, “superweeds” that resisted Monsanto’s iconic “Roundup” herbicide, popped up in GM crops in the county of Macon, Georgia. Monsanto, the US multinational biotech corporation, is the world’s leading producer of Roundup, as well as genetically engineered seeds. Company figures show that nine out of 10 US farmers produce Roundup Ready seeds for their soybean crops.
Superweeds have since alarmingly appeared in other parts of Georgia, as well as South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, according to media reports. Roundup contains the active ingredient glyphosate, which is the most used herbicide in the USA.
How has this happened? Farmers over-relied on Monsanto’s revolutionary and controversial combination of a single “round up” herbicide and a high-tech seed with a built-in resistance to glyphosate, scientists say.
Today, 100,000 acres in Georgia are severely infested with pigweed and 29 counties have now confirmed resistance to glyphosate, according to weed specialist Stanley Culpepper from the University of Georgia.
“Farmers are taking this threat very seriously. It took us two years to make them understand how serious it was. But once they understood, they started taking a very aggressive approach to the weed,” Culpepper told FRANCE 24.
“Just to illustrate how aggressive we are, last year we hand-weeded 45% of our severely infested fields,” said Culpepper, adding that the fight involved “spending a lot of money.”
In 2007, 10,000 acres of land were abandoned in Macon country, the epicentre of the superweed explosion, North Carolina State University’s Alan York told local media.
The perfect weed
Had Monsanto wanted to design a deadlier weed, they probably could not have done better. Resistant pigweed is the most feared superweed, alongside horseweed, ragweed and waterhemp.
“Palmer pigweed is the one pest you don’t want, it is so dominating,” says Culpepper. Pigweed can produce 10,000 seeds at a time, is drought-resistant, and has very diverse genetics. It can grow to three metres high and easily smother young cotton plants.
Today, farmers are struggling to find an effective herbicide they can safely use over cotton plants.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Monsanto’s technical development manager, Rick Cole, said he believed superweeds were manageable. “The problem of weeds that have developed a resistance to Roundup crops is real and [Monsanto] doesn’t deny that, however the problem is manageable,” he said.
Cole encourages farmers to alternate crops and use different makes of herbicides.
Indeed, according to Monsanto press releases, company sales representatives are encouraging farmers to mix glyphosate and older herbicides such as 2,4-D, a herbicide which was banned in Sweden, Denmark and Norway over its links to cancer, reproductive harm and mental impairment. 2,4-D is also well-known for being a component of Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide which was used in chemical warfare in Vietnam in the 1960s.
FRANCE 24 report: French scientist Eric Seralini says research shows Roundup herbicide is highly toxic to human beings.
Questioned on the environmental impact and toxicity of such mixtures, Monsanto’s public affairs director, Janice Person, said that “they didn’t recommend any mixtures that were not approved by the EPA,” she said, referring to the US federal Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the UK-based Soil Association, which campaigns for and certifies organic food, Monsanto was well aware of the risk of superweeds as early as 2001 and took out a patent on mixtures of glyphosate and herbicide targeting glyphosate-resistant weeds.
“The patent will enable the company to profit from a problem that its products had created in the first place,” says a 2002 Soil Association report.
Returning to conventional crops
In the face of the weed explosion in cotton and soybean crops, some farmers are even considering moving back to non-GM seeds. “It’s good for us to go back, people have overdone the Roundup seeds,” Alan Rowland, a soybean seed producer based in Dudley, Missouri, told FRANCE 24. He used to sell 80% Monsanto “Roundup Ready” soybeans and now has gone back to traditional crops, in a market overwhelmingly dominated by Monsanto.
According to a number of agricultural specialists, farmers are considering moving back to conventional crops. But it’s all down to economics, they say. GM crops are becoming expensive, growers say.
While farmers and specialists are reluctant to blame Monsanto, Rowland says he’s started to “see people rebelling against the higher costs.”