Tag Archives: GMO

Two new films about GM in India, Lakshmi devi dasi

 May 2012 by

video: Bitter Seeds Trailer

GMWatch.org

1.”Bitter Seeds: The Plight of India’s Farmers”
2.”Bitter Seeds” at the San Francisco Film Festival
3.Telling suppressed stories: “Cotton For My Shroud”NOTE: You can see the trailer for “Bitter Seeds” here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QZtKB_KuASc
For films available in full online
http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-videosb/27-gm-in-india


1.”Bitter Seeds: The Plight of India’s Farmers”
by grtv
http://tv.globalresearch.ca/2012/04/bitter-seeds-plight-indias-farmers-trailer“Bitter Seeds” explores the future of how we grow things, weighing in on the worldwide debate over the changes created by industrial agriculture. Companies like the U.S.-based Monsanto claim that their genetically modified (GM) seeds offer the most effective solution to feeding the world’s growing population, but on the ground, many small-scale farmers are losing their land. Nowhere is the situation more desperate than in India, where an epidemic of farmer suicides has claimed over a quarter million lives. Every 30 minutes one farmer in India, deep in debt and unable to provide for his family, commits suicide.Following a U.S. complaint to the World Trade Organization, India had to open its doors to foreign seed companies. Within a few years, multinational corporations had taken over India’s seed market in a number of major crops. Now only GM seeds are available at the shops, requiring India’s farmers to pay an annual royalty. The GM seeds are much more expensive; they need additional fertilizers and insecticides and must be re-purchased every season. While large farms have prospered, the majority of farmers find it increasingly more difficult to make a living off their land.“Bitter Seeds” follows a season in a village at the epicenter of the crisis, from sowing to harvest. Like most of his neighbors, cotton-farmer Ram Krishna must borrow heavily in order to afford the mounting costs of modern farming. Required by a money-lender to put up his land as collateral, he gambles on everything he has.

When his crop is attacked by pests, Ram Krishna must do whatever he can to avoid losing the family land. Adding to his burden is another duty – his daughter has reached marrying age, and he must find the money for an expensive dowry. Ram Krishna has just become a candidate for joining the ranks of the farmers who commit suicide in despair.

Weaving in and out of Ram Krishna’s story is that of his neighbor’s daughter. Manjusha, a college student, is determined to become a journalist and tell the world about the farmers’ predicament. Her family opposes her plans, which go against village traditions. Manjusha’s ambition is also fueled by her personal history – her father was one of the suicide victims. When a newspaper reporter agrees to look at her writing, Manjusha takes on Ram Krishna’s plight as her first reporting project. Armed with a small camera from the production team, her video becomes part of the film.

The film follows the seeds salesmen from the remote village in the state of Maharashtra to their company’s headquarters. Interviews with seed industry executives (including Monsanto’s) and their critic, Vandana Shiva, flesh out the debate.

“Bitter Seeds” features compelling characters to tell a deeply moving story from the heart of the worldwide controversy about the future of farming.

“Films like this can change the world.” – Alice Waters

“A tragedy for our times, beautifully told, deeply disturbing.” – Michael Pollan

“Better than a Batman movie…with real villains making up their own lines.” — Peter Sellars


2.“Bitter Seeds” at the San Francisco Film Festival
http://www.sfbg.com/pixel_vision/2012/04/18/your-consideration-short-takes-sfiff-week-one

The gargantuan San Francisco Film Festival opens this week… SFIFF is still tops, and we’re here to guide you through it:

“Bitter Seeds” (Micha X. Peled, U.S., 2011) Just what we all needed: more incontrovertible evidence of the bald-faced evil of Monsanto. This documentary on destitute Indian cotton farmers follows an 18-year-old girl named Manjusha, a budding journalist who investigates the vast numbers of farmer suicides since the introduction (and market stranglehold) of “BT” cotton — which uses the corporation’s proprietary GMO technology — in the region of Vidarbha. Before BT took over in 2004, these cotton farmers relied on cheap heritage seed fertilized only by cow dung, but the largely illiterate population fell prey to Monsanto’s marketing blitz and false claims, purchasing biotech seed that resulted in pesticide reliance, failing crops, and spiraling debt. It’s a truly heartbreaking and infuriating story, but much of the action feels stagey and false. Should Indian formality be blamed? Considering the same fate befell Peled’s 2005 documentary China Blue, probably not. Still, eff Monsanto.
Sat/21, 3:45pm, FSC. Tues/24, 8:50pm, PFA. April 26, 6:15pm, Kabuki. (Devereaux)


3.Telling suppressed stories
SRAVASTI DATTA
The Hindu, April 18 2012
http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/metroplus/article3328007.ece

Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl’s “Cotton For My Shroud” is an honest and heart-wrenching account of the hapless condition of Vidarbha’s farmers

The husband-wife duo Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl, armed with a camera and “an iron soul”, set forth to Vidarbha to film the stories of farmer families who had lost their sons, brothers and husbands to suicides due to mounting debts, to render visible the issues of the marginalised small farmer and bring back into focus the forgotten stories of Vidarbha’s farmer suicides. Their film “Cotton for my Shroud” was screened last week at Suchitra Film Society. “Since 1995, a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide, most of whom were cotton farmers from Vidarbha in Maharashtra,” inform the filmmakers.

The couple began filming “Cotton For My Shroud” in 2006 when Vidarbha had recorded the highest number of suicides. They were supported in their endeavour by Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, an NGO actively involved in advocacy on farmers’ issues.

The suicide of a farmer wasn’t just another statistic for them, but a precious life lost due to faulty government paradigms. It took them almost five-and-a-half years to put the film together. “It was difficult to bury the ghosts and sweep the film under the carpet, as if nothing had ever goaded us to visit Vidarbha. We owed a lot to the people who had opened their hearts and hearths to two outsiders in their moment of grief. We could not betray their trust. As we previewed and digitised the footage, we re-lived the horror that had unfolded before our eyes in 2006,” write the former journalists in an email interview.

In “Cotton…”, the line “If one farmer kills himself, we can call it a suicide. But when a quarter of a million kill themselves, how can the government call it suicide? It is genocide,” reveals that justice delayed is no less a crime. “Torn between aggressive marketing of supposedly ‘better varieties’ of transgenic crops by the State and his traditional wisdom of low-cost and eco-friendly agriculture, the farmer is forced to buy BT cotton, which results in an unending cycle of debt.”

The couple hold the government, multinational corporations and even certain sections of the media responsible for the condition of the cotton farmers in Vidarbha. “The farmers felt betrayed by the government extension agencies that are supposed to guide the farmers, they feel violated by the multinational corporations that are poisoning their land with chemicals, and genetically modified cotton seeds that do not live up to the tall claims made by Monsanto. They have lost respect for the media too for they feel that most of the media has been bought over by powerful politicians and multinationals.”

“Cotton…” won the Rajat Kamal for the Best Investigative Film at the 59th National Film Awards. But the government-funded Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF), the couple inform, chose not to show it. They had even organised a special screening for parliamentarians at the Constitution Club, for which they had invited the parliamentary standing committees on agriculture and rural development.

“Only Basudev Acharya had attended the screening; the other MPs were too busy to watch it.” Nandan and Kavita faced many daunting challenges while filming “Cotton…”. “The shopkeepers and agents of Monsanto-Mahyco were hostile but could not do much to stop us. The police and the Guardian Minister of Yavatmaal district did their best to stop us from going to film the funeral of Dinesh Gugul at Village Mendoli. He was killed when the police opened fire at the farmers at the Cotton Mandi at Wani, on 6 December 2006. We argued with the police officers, but the seasoned, shrewd police-wallahs sent us to the Mandi where an angry mob of farmers charged at us and almost smashed our camera. We were asked to meet the Guardian Minister at the Circuit House. As soon as we entered the Circuit House, a curfew was clamped at Wani. We finally reached Mendoli, defying the curfew.”

The couple has contacted schools and colleges to screen the film and attempts are being made at translating “Cotton…” into other regional languages. “We are trying to raise some contributions for making the Marathi and Hindi versions of the film to take it to the villages where we filmed. There is a demand for Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Odiya versions as well.”

English Translation of P.Sainath’s “Farmer Suicides and the Way Forward”

P. Sainath in ‘Farmers Suicides and Way Forward’ held by Rytu Swarajya Vedhika and TV9 on 8th January, 2011 at Jubilee Hall, Hyderabad.

I congratulate the center for sustainable agriculture for taking up this initiative and I expect this from an organization like CSA but not from a media house. So , I particularly thank Tv9 for taking up this initiative. This programme will be held in jublee hall for the next 3 hours . But in these 3 hours nearly 6 farmers will commit suicide in India and one among them is from Andhra Pradesh. And also in these 3 hours nearly 60-90 farmers will attempt suicide. 12-15% of them are successful. In these 3 hours nearly 250 farmers quit agriculture forever. And that is our national figure. According to 1991 and 2001 census, every day 2000 farmers are quitting agriculture. ( all these figures are from NCRBA- national crime record bureau – the figures of union home ministry) the agrarian crisis aggravated but still all the state governments are in defensive and denial modethis is the first problem. Nearly 16 state governments had written to union agriculture ministry that there are no farmer suicides in their states. But the paradox is NCRB figures are a result of data collected from their police stations only. The data is collected from the individual police stations and then send to the DCRB(district crimes record bureau) and from there to state government. Andhra Pradesh government had reported 40 -45 farmers suicides during this year .The NCRB data is available only for the past 16years that is from 1995 to 2010 and it tells us that more than 31000 farmers have commited suicides only in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Maharashtra tops the list followed by Karnataka, then Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh. From this data we can see whether the trend in the suicides rates is increaing or decresing . If we look at the first 8 years data the from 1995 to 2002 the number of suicides were 12,716. From 2002 – 2010 the suicides are 18,403. The annual average has gone up by 400-500 deaths. Despite this the state government of A.P claims only 40 suicides in the year. This proves that the government is denying its own data which is also the case with other states. A.P at least claimed about 40 suicides but nearly 16 states reported that there were no farmer suicides at all , so in a way we should appreciate the A.P Government for reporting atleast 40 suicides. The total number of farmer suicides in India from 1995 onwards were more than 2,56,913. This is the data given by Chidambaram’s ministry. This data is not confidential or classified , you can check this data on the NCRB website. We were the ones who pressurised the Govt to publish the data. But this is not the complete data because many of them are not included such as : 1. women are not included as farmers since they don’t have land Patta( registration). ( the death of these women is counted under suicides but not under farmer suicides). This is the reason why women constitute only 10% of the total farmer suicides. You can check out these statistics in the district of Anantapur from A.P . 2. Tenant farmers are also excluded from farmer suicides as they don’t have any land pattas 3 Dalits and adivasis never had any pattas for their land so their deaths are also not counted under farmer suicides. Even after excluding all these people the number of farmer suicides comes down to 30,000 which is of serious concern for Andhra Pradesh. My appeal to all political parties is not to get in to a defensive mode because it is not about a political party but it is the issue of the farmers. But the governments must be held responsible; they must first start telling the truth. Going by their reports, if we calculate, in every 30 minutes a farmer commits suicide. But if you consider any other community like students, engineers and businessmen no other community has such alarming sucide deaths . Highest rate of suicides is in the farmer’s community. This is because farmers have a double burden. The farmer is under double burden because he is affected by price rise, commercialization of education, medical facilities and rising farm costs. Out of these 2,56,000 farmer suicides in the country, nearly 65% of them come from 5 states which are Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The highest number of farmer suicides are from cotton farmers but we boast that we have increased the cotton production by bringing in hybrids like Bt. Cotton. If this is the case, then why are the farmers committing suicides? I would like to discuss about the Vidarbha relief package as I had covered the story and the Prime Minister came only after The Hindu reported extensively on this issue. ‘If you look at the first page of the CAG report, it says that despite the failure of relief packages, the farmer suicides have increased’. To tackle this problem, we have to first recognize the major issues. Firstly, public investment in agriculture has decreased and currently the situation is negative. In the last budget of Shri. Vishwanath Pratap Singh in 1989, 14.5% of GDP was allocated to agriculture. In 2005 it came down to 5.9% (which includes irrigation, fertilizer, subsidies etc.). Our economy is growing at 9 % but the investments in agriculture have come down. I want the policy makers to take a pledge to allocate a minimum amount to agriculture, say around 15 to 20 % of GDP and to ensure that it does not go below that benchmark. Second problem is collapse of credit. If you look at Government data that is National Sample Survey of India, from 1991 to 2001, the indebtedness of farmers have grown by two times. (26% of farm households in 1991 to 48.6% in 2001). In Andhra Pradesh, 82% of farm households are indebted which is highest in the country. I also want to add a point about loan wavier and I congratulate the Government on waiving off 70,000 crores of farm loans given to 40 million farmers. This happened only once in the past 30 years. But if you look at your budget, the revenue forgone by the Government due to corporate subsidies (waive off) is around 88,263 crores. Tax exemptions on custom duty on diamonds and gold are around 49,000 crore per year. Total exemption for corporates is around 5,00,000 crores. For the first time after 30 years, by waiving off 70,000 crores for farmers, the Government is trying to boast that they have given 70,000 crores when every year they are giving away 5,00,000 crores to the rich like Ambanis, Birlas and Tatas. I want to share a incident. One of the poor regions in Maharashtra called Maratwada was in the news. It almost made it into the Guniess World Book of records because on one day 100 business men in one hour bought 150 Mercedes cars. To boast about Aurangabad, they bought 150 Mercedes Cars which were worth 66 crores. Of the 66 crores, 46 crores were sanctioned by SBI Aurangabad at 7%interest p.a. But on the contrary if you look at a farmer buying a tractor, he has to pay a 14% interest on his loan in the same bank. If a poor woman from a SHG takes the same loan, the rate of interest is 30%. The poorer you are, the more interest you pay. This is our logic of inequality and discrimination in our country. Thirdly, market based pricing that was introduced during Chandra Babu Naidu’s time in AP, the standard for the seeds ……………….when I went to Guntur, AP farmers asked me whether I would buy a medicine from a pharmacy which is only 60% reliable. Then I told them that I would not buy it. They told me that this was the case in seeds. Only 80% of the seeds would germinate. This has now dropped to 60% thanks to corporates like Monsanto and Cargil. This means that if you pay for 10,000 packets of seeds, you are getting only 6,000 packets effectively. In 1991, local seeds in Vidarbha costed around 90Rs./ Kg. and hybrid costs around 300Rs./Kg. Bt. Seeds in 2005 costs more than 4,000Rs. The cost of cultivation has grown disastrously. If you look at Vidarbha region(highest suicides amongst cotton farmers), inputs for one acre of unirrigated cotton farm costs around 3,000 to 4,000 Rs in the year 2003-2004 and the cost for an irrigated farmer was 8,000 Rs. Currently, input cost for unirrigated land is around 15,000 to 18,000Rs. and irrigated costs around 40,000Rs. Also their incomes have come down. The fourth factor is by bringing in expensive technologies, the Government is trying to boast that production has increased. But if you look at the official data given by Institute of Cotton Research and other advisory boards, per hectare yield in 2010 is around 483 kg (Bt. Cotton). In 2004, without Bt. Normal hybrid yield was 463 kg. So what is the difference? The input cost has risen by 500% but the production has increased only by 20 kg. The fifth factor is that soil fertility is dying because of extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides. There is a major crisis of decreasing yields in Punjab because of the soil fertility. Public Sector Agricultural Institutes are hijacked. They do not do the work of farmers anymore. But they do the work of the corporate world (eg. Monsanto), extensive research is carried out for seed and fertilizer companies. Look at the syndicate membership in the agricultural universities, there are no farmers and this is the case with all the states. There are many more things to discuss but due to time constraints, I would like to talk about the way forward. I met a couple of marginal farmers just two days back. They asked me a question. ‘Why do you people call us farmers? What is there in my hands that I am called a farmer? The market is not in my hands, the seeds are not in my hands as they are regulated by the corporates, fertilizers are not in my hands (In1991, DAP costed 180Rs, but now it costs more than 1000Rs.). Electricity is being privatized. In Maharashtra, management of dams has also been privatized. In Chattisgarh, 23 kms of a river has been privatized. What is there in our hands that we are called as farmers? Land is the only thing that we have but that is also being grabbed in the name of SEZ and Industrial parks. With what face do you call us farmers?’ They have asked me that question and I am asking you. I have covered this crisis for the last 13 years. I started my work from Anantapur, AP. Two things you should know is that maximum number of suicides are reported from cash crop farmers. Secondly even food crop farmers have started committing suicides and this frightens me. Majority of the cash crop farmers (ground nut, tea, coffee, sugarcane, vanilla, and cashew) but now even food crop farmers have started. I have been begging and would like to beg the leaders of India and AP. First commit yourself to agriculture and conduct a special session of the parliament on agrarian crisis. When parliament can have a full session on the Ambani brother’s dispute over the KG basin (the KG gas does not belong to Anil or Mukesh Ambani but belongs to the state of AP), why can’t we have a special session on agriculture crisis? Also conduct a special state assembly session to discuss this issue. Secondly declare agriculture as a public service like nursing, teaching, the people who produce the nation’s food are doing a public service. Minimum percentage of budget must be allocated for agriculture. Debt relief tribunal should be created. When the loans for farmers were waived off, two very wrong elements came up. Sharad Pawar said that to waive off the loan, the farmer must have less than 5 acres of land. But there was no distinction between unirrigated and irrigated farmer. Unirrigated farmer or rain fed farmer’s land holdings will be more because his productivity will be less. In the case of Vidarbha, the average land holding is 7 acres which means that 80% of the farmers were excluded from the loan waiver. But in his district, the average holding is less than 5acres. So 53% of the loan waiver benefitted 6 districts out of the 35 districts in Maharashtra. Only Kerala considered all factors including private money lending and a debt relief tribunal was created. National Farmers Commission report was tabled in the parliament in 2007 but even till today not even a single discussion was held on it. The report is untouched by the Union Agriculture Minister. It is a government report headed by an eminent scientist MS. Swaminathan. National Farmers Policy was also tabled in the parliament but no discussion was conducted till date. There should be a national debate on the present model of agriculture. In the present model, extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides has made our food poisonous. If we consider these 6-7 factors, a national debate on agrarian crisis can be initiated which will show us a direction for a better future. This is not a political crisis but a national crisis. It is a crisis of a class and a crisis of our conscience.

Source: http://agrariancrisis.in/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/120108-Sainath.pdf

Giving Away the Family Silver

“It was the sheer scale of the proposed land lease that shocked Pakistanis to attention. One million acres of Pakistani land were offered to any takers. It was immediately snapped up. The government promptly offered another six million acres.”

Giving Away the Family Silver

By Najma Sadeque 26 OCTOBER 2009

Photo: AFP

A Pakistani woman harvests wheat. Photo: AFP

It was the sheer scale of the proposed land lease that shocked Pakistanis to attention. One million acres of Pakistani land were offered to any takers. It was immediately snapped up. The government promptly offered another six million acres.

All this did not happen overnight as the government would have us believe. As it turns out, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani has been fishing: he had made the offer to the Saudis on a visit in June last year, seeking $6 billion in financial and oil aid in return for hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land.

The constant economic jugglery by successive governments has left us with little to repay our burgeoning debt, except perhaps land. But this information was neither shared with the Pakistani public nor discussed in parliament. It seems politicians in Pakistan believe they have carte blanche to take decisions without consulting their constituencies just because they have been elected.

At a 2008 roadshow for Pakistan’s agricultural and dairy sectors in the Gulf region, the vice-chairman and co-founder of the UAE-based Emirates Investment Group, Raza Jafar, openly stated that they had spent some two years researching the agricultural and dairy industries, and exploring the opportunities available. “We have come to the conclusion that agriculture was to represent one of our next major forays in investment.” The government is expecting a Saudi delegation to arrive any day now.

It was the Musharraf government that opened the doors to corporate farming with offers of minimum blocs of 1,000 acres – with no upper ceiling – and decade-long tax holidays. But except for Monsanto, the US-based chemical multinational that now poses as a seed company, entering the country eight years ago to serve agriculture with chemical-dependent genetically modified seeds, there were no takers in the post 9/11 years.

The present government has improved on the Musharraf offer to include 99-year leases and unrestricted repatriation of all profits and produce, and a 100,000-strong security force at a cost of $2 billion to protect these investments (see “Luring Investors”). The media in the Gulf has reported that the Emirates Investment Group and Abraaj Capital of Dubai, among other state and private investors, have already obtained 324,000 hectares (800,621 acres) of Pakistani farmland. Over the past year, Arab investors have been busy acquiring land.

Since the 1970s, the Saudis have been trying to become self-sufficient in wheat – they consume 2.6 million tonnes of wheat a year. But despite the most effective technologies, there is only so much a country can do, especially when water is in such short supply. Nearly 85% of Saudi Arabia’s water was sunk into cereal and dairy farming. But farming proved to be a no-growth area, and finally, Saudi Arabia gave up and started looking for water elsewhere – with the land to go with it.

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Exporting our future: Will the produce from Pakistan’s fields go abroad? Photo: AFP

The truth is, as a World Water Forum report reveals, underground water beneath the Arab countries is depleting rapidly. That includes the Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is probably the worst hit of all, as its water resources are expected to dry up within the next 50 years. Incidentally, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE are expected to reach a combined population of 39 million by next year, according to the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The Gulf states have their own food security issues. They import 60-80% of their food, including most of their staples. But 60-80% of their populations are foreign workers – workers they can’t do without and who have to be fed too. According to the Arab Organisation for Agricultural Development, their food bill jumped from $8 billion in 2003 to $20 billion in 2007. How long could they keep up with these sky-rocketing bills?

The solution seemed to be to grow their food in other countries and ship it directly home from farms owned by them, making it cheaper than imports. This way they would save millions by bypassing world markets. It would bring their food import bill down by 20-25% and also help lower the prices for consumers since they would be bringing their entire production home without sharing any with the host countries.

In fact, Qatar is about to outsource its food production to the Punjab. This will lead to the displacement of as many as 25,000 villages. How does the present government plan to address this issue? Or even the issue of providing enough water for agriculture for foreign investors. Can a water-scarce, hunger-stricken Pakistan afford this? Water – which neither the government nor the investors are talking about, but which is the real reason the Arabs are coming here – will have to be diverted from our farmers, invariably the poorest, who will then be forced to abandon their dried-up, dying lands and join the migrant hordes in our already slum-ringed cities.

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Water crisis: Already, rural, and even urban, Pakistanis face painful water shortages. Photo: AFP

The International Institute for Sustainable Development states that this is really a water grab, describing it as “the purchase or long-term lease of land in order to obtain the water rights that come with the land under domestic law or with the investment contract itself.” This explains why the government is being so secretive and not sharing the details with either the public or parliament (who may be forced to share it with the people).

Agriculture claims most of the world’s freshwater – about 70% of what’s available, is used for irrigation. But only between a third to a half of irrigation water reaches crops. The rest mostly leaks into the soil or runs off into water courses carrying agricultural pollutants with it. The worst affected areas are the Middle East (Israel imports all its potable water from Turkey), North Africa, northwest India, northeast China and Pakistan. This factor alone merits Pakistan being stricken off the land grab list.

In August 2008, the international environmental organisation World Wildlife Fund reported that the UK’s rising imports of cotton and rice from Pakistan was draining the aquifers of the fertile Indus Valley much faster than they can be replenished and that very soon, the land will become unproductive. It also expressed concern about the dangers of foreign control over farmlands of poor countries.

The UAE is reportedly about to sign an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Balochistan government for 150,000 hectares (370,657 acres) near Mirani Dam. Another foreign press report states that earlier the UAE had paid about $40 million for some 40,000 acres in the province – that comes to a thousand dollars per acre. But, if there is resistance, given the insurgency in the province, these land deals could run into trouble. Qatar Livestock is said to have sunk $1 billion into corporate farming in Pakistan. They are simultaneously reported to be negotiating with the Sindh government for leasing lands in Shikarpur, Larkana and Sukkur, and the Punjab government for leasing lands around Mianwali, Sargodha, Khushab, Jhang and Faisalabad, in addition to the NWFP government in search of something suitable. Deals with Bahrain and Qatar are reportedly already in the bag for producing rice for them.

If all these land deals will be beneficial to Pakistan in the long run, why is the government refusing to divulge the details of what is the citizens’ common property?

A Pakistani official, who chose to remain anonymous, said that the investor as well as the Balochistan government will be jointly undertaking infrastructure development worth $20 million to introduce irrigation and improvements. But irrigation provides only short-term solutions and long-term, and often permanent, headaches. Due to inadequate drainage or canal lining, irrigated lands gradually become saline and infertile.

Reportedly, around 60-80% of the world’s irrigated lands may be affected. According to the Russian soil scientist V. Kovda, 20-25 million hectares have already been laid waste worldwide because of badly managed irrigation; 200,000 to 300,000 additional hectares out of a total worldwide irrigated area of about 200 million hectares are abandoned every year due to water logging and salinity.

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Cheap labour: Not only will Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, get land and water but they will also get access to lots of labour to work their fields. Photo: AFP

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that erosion causes a global loss of five to seven million hectares of productive land a year. Pakistan falls in this category. Georg Bergstrom, author of The Hungry Planet, stated that Pakistan was losing a hectare (two-and-a half acres) of good agricultural land every 20 minutes. Some two million hectares, or one-fifth of the cultivated area of the Indus plains, have been badly affected. As much as 40,000 additional hectares each year are falling victim to water logging and/or salinity, or have ceased to be productive altogether. Various other studies suggest that at least half the water used in agriculture is lost in transit, and sometimes over 60% is lost.

About a third of the world’s irrigated land, including that in Pakistan, is presently in danger. The worst effects of soil corrosion are visible in North America and Europe, where agriculture is heavily subsidised and chemical monoculture has been around longer and pursued to the optimum. A lesson needs to be learnt from the US where some 225 million acres of land is undergoing severe desertification. It would not be difficult for experts to guesstimate the level of soil corrosion within half a decade of intensive industrial farming in Pakistan.

The Indus irrigation system has negatively affected the hydrological balance of the Indus River basin and is rapidly deteriorating. It risks being consigned to failure if drastic action is not taken soon. It presently accounts for 90% of the agricultural output, but that may drop when foreign investors come in and expand the system further.

It is, therefore, difficult to understand how the Ministry of Investment got into an activity more akin to disinvestment. It is suicidal to divest the country of its natural capital. Whatever investment is poured into the lands will be for the exclusive benefit of the investor, not Pakistani citizens, or the generations that will follow.

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Modern farming: Will corporate farming ruin Pakistan’s agricultural land? Photo: wikimedia.org

The Green Revolution fizzled out in less than a decade. And it will not take a 49-year lease, let alone a 99-year one, for Pakistan’s fragile soils to be worked to death by the corrosive effects of chemical monoculture and genetically modified seed. In a decade or less, there is a grave danger that investors will have used intensive technologies to wrest out the maximum possible yields leaving the land so degraded, they will have to move out in search of new pastures.

Government spokesmen keep harping on the fact that the land is being leased, not sold. But the land will not be worth repossessing once it is exploited to the hilt. Further, it is easy enough for buyers/lessors to protect their investments with investor-protection provisions of international trade pacts and bilateral investment treaties, even to the extent of preventing cancellation of unfair land deals or stopping unsustainable or exploitative activities.

In fact, investors can even sue for imagined non-compliance of agreement, such as short supply of water, even if the host country is over-generous and depriving its own people.

The Saudi plan is to set up a series of 100,000-hectare (247,000-acre) farms in various countries to produce its crops of choice, such as wheat, corn, rice and soybeans, as well as fodder.

The Gulf states are a step ahead. Together they ostensibly manage $5 billion in assets across the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. Apparently, the Abu Dhabi Group, the single-largest foreign direct investor in Pakistan, the Emirates Investment Group and Abraaj Capital, a Dubai-based investment firm, have made known their interest in our agricultural sector and may be among those who have already clinched their deals.

Another argument the government keeps forwarding is that it is releasing marginal or unused land simply because it is not being operated by any landlord and does not appear in land records. Such land is part of the shaamlaat or community lands, which, although technically not owned by anyone, is by customary rights entrusted to the collective responsibility of local communities. These communities are responsible for justly sharing the produce and protecting it from overexploitation. Food and medicinal herb collection from wild plants still exists in many parts of South America, Africa and Asia, including parts of Pakistan. Land is also needed by herders or gypsies for grazing their animals.

Most importantly, lands that are sparsely populated because of water constraints are the very places where the hardiest wild species have evolved to withstand the harshest environmental conditions. These flora draw corporate gene-hunters to search them out so their survival traits can be transferred to other plants. These are then flaunted as the new ‘man-made’ species that are appropriated for sole global control and sale under intellectual property rights regimes.

Even if the Arab investors are not looking for fresh geneplasm and patents, the introduction of a few crops on vast monoculture plantations will wipe out, once and for all, the rare biodiversity that is left there, depriving our own farmers and scientists of genetic material.

What our ‘hands-off’ economists and urban experts have yet to absorb is that if monocultures take 100% hold, and there are no wild genes left to replenish weakened stock, agriculture will soon die and, along with it, people and other forms of life.

Jacques Diouf, director-general of FAO, has warned against creating a food neocolonialism, with richer countries obtaining supplies at the expense of poor farmers. For example, in Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries where people are starving, some 1.5 million acres have been leased out for a mere $3-10 per hectare per year. The average landholding size being five acres, over 300,000 families are displaced. Only about 20,000 people or so may get jobs in the highly mechanised farms.

That the Arab countries need to ensure their food security is understandable, but it does not have to be at the cost of countries like Pakistan that still need to set their own agricultural house in order to feed the starving in their own backyards.

NPR covers the Green Revolution, “Green Revolution’ Trapping India’s Farmers In Debt” Part 2

Listen to NRP radio coverage here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102944731

‘Green Revolution’ Trapping India’s Farmers In Debt

As the world’s population surges, the international community faces a pressing problem: How will it feed everybody?

Until recently, people thought India had an answer.

Farmers in the state of Punjab abandoned traditional farming methods in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the national program called the “Green Revolution,” backed by advisers from the U.S. and other countries.

Indian farmers started growing crops the American way — with chemicals, high-yield seeds and irrigation.

Since then, India has gone from importing grain like a beggar, to often exporting it.

But studies show the Green Revolution is heading for collapse.

A Thirst For Water

On a recent morning, a drilling rig is pounding away in the middle of a wheat field near the village of Chotia Khurd. The sound, part jackhammer and part pile driver, is becoming increasingly common in the farm fields of northern India’s Punjab region.

The farmer, Sandeep Singh, is supervising and looking unhappy as the rig hammers away, driving deeper and deeper under his field in search of water.

When India’s government launched the Green Revolution more than 40 years ago, it pressured farmers to grow only high-yield wheat, rice and cotton instead of their traditional mix of crops.

The new miracle seeds could produce far bigger yields than farmers had ever seen, but they came with a catch: The thirsty crops needed much more water than natural rainfall could provide, so farmers had to dig wells and irrigate with groundwater.

The system worked well for years, but government studies show that farmers have pumped so much groundwater to irrigate their crops that the water table is dropping dramatically, as much as 3 feet every year.

So farmers like Sandeep keep hiring the drilling company to come back to their fields, to bore the wells ever deeper — on this day, to more than 200 feet.

Farmers In Debt

The groundwater problem has touched off an economic chain reaction. As the farmers dig deeper to find groundwater, they have to install ever more powerful and more expensive pumps to send it gushing up to their fields.

Sandeep says his new pump costs more than $4,000. He and most other farmers have to borrow that kind of cash, but they are already so deep in debt that conventional banks often turn them away.

So Sandeep and his neighbors have turned to “unofficial” lenders — local businessmen who charge at least double the banks’ interest rate. The district agriculture director, Palwinder Singh, says farmers can end up paying a whopping 24 percent.

Another side effect of the groundwater crisis is evident at the edge of the fields — thin straggly rows of wheat and a whitish powder scattered across the soil.

The white substance is salt residue. Drilling deep wells to find fresh water often taps brackish underground pools, and the salty water poisons the crops.

“The salt causes root injuries,” Palwinder says. “The root cannot take the nutrients from the soil.”

Destroying The Soil

In the village of Chotia Khurd, farmers agree that the Green Revolution used to work miracles for many of them. But now, it’s like financial quicksand.

Studies show that their intensive farming methods, which government policies subsidize, are destroying the soil. The high-yield crops gobble up nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, iron and manganese, making the soil anemic.

The farmers say they must use three times as much fertilizer as they used to, to produce the same amount of crops — yet another drain on their finances.

A farmer named Suba Singh has seen the good and bad effects of the Green Revolution.

Clad in a bright blue turban and his face furrowed like a field, he opens a squeaky wooden gate to his compound. He points to a small building made of mud and straw, with faded green doors.

“That’s where my family used to live,” he says.

During the profitable years of the Green Revolution, he saw that everyone else in the village was building brick houses.

“So I took out a loan,” he says, “and built a brick house for my family, too.”

He turned the old mud house into his cattle shed. But now he is in debt.

A study by the Punjab State Council for Science and Technology calls it a “vicious cycle of debt.”

Suba and the other farmers say they’ve had to borrow money to buy just about everything that makes them look prosperous — their brick homes, tractors, cattle, even their plastic chairs.

The farmers have also built their Green Revolution farms and lifestyle on another unstable source of money: Family members have moved overseas to find jobs, because they couldn’t make a living farming, and now they send part of their income back to Chotia Khurd to support their relatives.

“It’s like a disease that is catching on in the world,” says Suba, “building a life that is like a house of cards.”

A System About To Collapse?

Some leading officials in the farming industry wonder when this house of cards might collapse.

“The state and farmers are now faced with a crisis,” warns a report by the Punjab State Farmers Commission.

India’s population is growing faster than any country on Earth, and domestic food production is vital.

But the commission’s director, G.S. Kalkat, says Punjab’s farmers are committing ecological and economic “suicide.”

If he is correct, suicide is coming through national policies that reward farmers for the very practices that destroy the environment and trap them in debt.

Kalkat says only one thing can save Punjab: India has to launch a brand new Green Revolution. But he says this one has to be sustainable.

The problem is, nobody has yet perfected a farming system that produces high yields, makes a good living for farm families, protects and enhances the environment — and still produces good, affordable food.

The Suicide Belt: Thousands of Cotton Farmers in India are Killing Themselves in Their Fields (story by Trevor Aaronson and Photographs by Angshuman Ghosh)

” I am humbled by the passion and efforts by the alternative media on covering this issue.  Please take time to read this story and support the activists involved. Thank you, may we live in harmony – Kamla Vishvas.”

The Suicide Belt

Thousands of cotton farmers in India are killing themselves in their fields.

Story by Trevor Aaronson and Photographs by Angshuman Ghosh

Gokal Landkar sits beneath the mango tree from which his father hanged himself a week earlier.

VIDARBHA REGION, India — The reminders are still here as Gokal wipes tears from his face. There’s the white headscarf with gold trim, next to a pair of cracked and worn sandals. The rope is here, too, snaking along the ground next to a large mango tree, a perfect noose tied at its end.

Five days ago, Gokal’s father hanged himself from the mango tree. His name was Motiram Baban Landkar, and Gokal and his two brothers don’t know how old he was when he died. In this part of rural India, birthdays go unnoticed and age matters little. The three sons can agree only that their father was about as old as the mango tree, and he took his life on May 31 to escape a debt of about $850.

He is one of nearly 200,000 Indian farmers, many of them cotton growers, to commit suicide since 1997. In fact, suicide among farmers in India has become so prevalent that officials in New Delhi keep a tally. Hanging and consumption of poison are the common methods of death, and most farmer suicides have occurred in India’s cotton belt, which extends from Hyderabad north to Nagpur, at the geographical center of India, and east to the state of Gujarat.

Many in India blame a combination of climate change, globalization and the U.S. corporation Monsanto for pushing to suicide thousands of subsistence farmers.

“Ten years ago,” Gokal says, ”farming was easy.”

Now it’s deadly, and with the worst drought conditions India has seen in decades, this year’s December cotton harvest could be one of the deadliest.

* * *

Kishor Tiwari works from a small, two-room office in Yavatmal, the largest city in an area of the country that has witnessed more farmer suicides than any other. Tiwari, a fast-talking former engineer, is attempting to document as many of those deaths as he can. As founder of the Vidharbha People’s Agitation Committee, Tiwari has made a full-time job of raising awareness of cotton farmers’ plight.

Kishor Tiwari has dedicated his life to raising awareness of farmer suicides in India.

On an afternoon in June, with the annual monsoon rains already two weeks late in what scientists believe is a symptom of climate change, Tiwari motions to one of his assistants. “This is the suicide man,” he says. The man hands Tiwari a white ledger. Inside, on dog-eared pages, there’s a line for every suicide: name, date, place of death.

Tiwari then points to a map next his desk. “We are here,” he says, placing his right index finger on the map. He then draws a large circle with the finger. “This is the cotton area,” he says. Tiwari looks back, making sure everyone is watching. He draws another large circle away from the first one. “This is the non-cotton area.” He pauses, leveraging the silence for effect. “The suicides,” he finishes, “are mainly in the cotton-crop area.”

Dressed in black pants and a white button-down shirt, Tiwari walks barefoot into the next room. “Come, come,” he says. There, he has a floor-to-ceiling chart illustrating the numbers of suicides his organization has confirmed in this area of Vidarbha from 2001 to 2008. The years and numbers are in Sanskrit, and Tiwari begins to read each aloud. “In 2001, 52 suicides,” he says, then rattles off the numbers in machine-gun procession, each number representing the suicides of the following year: “104, 148, 447, 445, 1,448, 1,246, 1,267.”

Tiwari believes St. Louis, Missouri-based agribusiness giant Monsanto is the primary reason for the suicides, and to understand why he believes this, it’s instructive to appreciate first how drastically the cotton-seed business has changed in India.

Cotton seed has historically been among farmers’ lowest expenses. During the harvest, cotton growers would cultivate crop seeds and save them for the following season. As a general practice, they also would swap seeds with neighboring farmers, ensuring through natural selection that subsequent generations of cotton seed would be best suited for the region. Although local cotton did not provide the same potential yields as cotton seed from the Americas, it had adapted to India’s unique climate — an intense monsoon season followed by months of drought.

Monsanto helped to abolish this practice. At the turn of the century, the company introduced a genetically modified cotton plant that produces bacteria known as Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a commonly used pesticide against bollworm. When Bt cotton seed first came to market nationwide in 2002 under the trademark Bollgard, a box recommended for one acre of farmland was 1,400 rupees, about $35, a substantial amount for a farmer who in a good year will earn a few hundred dollars to support his family. Although government-regulated prices have been halved to 750 rupees per box — a predatory pricing lawsuit filed by the state of Andhra Pradesh forced Monsanto and the federal government to lower the prices — the input costs of Bt cotton are still more than the average farmer can afford to spend out of pocket.

What’s more, unlike with traditional seeds, farmers aren’t able replant seeds harvested from the crop. Doing so not only would violate a farmer’s legal agreement with the seed company but would be impractical as well. Because Bt sold in India is only available in hybrid seeds, replanting the next generation of seeds is a genetic crapshoot. Hybrids genetically segregate with every generation, with only one-third of seeds showing the same genetic traits of the parent. While hybrids can offer yield benefits for farmers, they primarily offer Monsanto greater control of intellectual property through this genetic segregation. As a result, farmers must buy new seeds year after year.

Despite the high costs of Bt cotton and the problems associated with the seed, advertising campaigns and government promotion of Monsanto’s technology initially helped persuade Indian farmers to take out loans and buy the genetically modified cotton seed.

On a macro level, Bt cotton has been a success in India. Since its introduction, national cotton production has doubled. But on a micro level, when examined from farm to farm, Monsanto’s technology has clearly offered mixed results.

Because the genetically modified Bt trait is only readily available in hybrid seeds, the crop requires more water than traditional Indian seeds. Affluent farmers with irrigated fields can fully exploit the technology and profit from increased yields, and these farmers are success stories for Monsanto.

But still 60 percent of India’s 90 million farmers own less than two and a half acres of land, and for them, the situation is vastly different. Subsistence farmers own rain-fed lands whose success depends entirely on the generosity of the monsoon. During this current period of unpredictable rains and increasing drought, these farmers have, like their more affluent counterparts, adopted drought-intolerant Bt cotton, which has resulted in reports throughout the region of crop failure and disappointing yield levels. Although boxes of Bt cotton have a warning label that instructs farmers to use the seed only in irrigated fields, the warning is in English, which few farmers can read.

Now, only a few years after the introduction of genetically modified seeds, Bt cotton has become so universal, and so much more profitable for the seed companies that license Monsanto’s technology, it’s the only type of seed available to farmers at stores. Consequently, every year as Indians await the monsoon rains, farmers line up to sign loan paperwork. In less than a decade, cotton seed in India went from a negligible cost to one requiring a bank loan.

“Fifty percent of farmer expenses now come from the cost of the seed,” Tiwari, the activist, says.

Whereas previous generations of cotton farmers could recover from crop failure — they would face a year of hardship from reduced income but could find means to plant again the following year — India’s subsistence farmers today are playing a game of agrarian roulette. Here’s the familiar pattern: To purchase Bt cotton, the farmer must take out a seed loan from the State Bank of India. If the crop fails due to a poor monsoon — a noteworthy potential given Bt cotton’s design for use in irrigated fields — the farmer will not be able to pay back the loan and will be denied a second loan. The farmer then will turn to an unregulated private moneylender who charges usurious rates, sometimes as high as 100 percent. A second crop failure, or even an underperforming crop, can place the farmer in a hole so deep that many turn to suicide.

In fact, the number of farmer suicides in India spiked in 2006, and has remained steady since, following implementation of a government program to pay as much as 10,000 rupees in compensation to families affected by farmer suicide. Suddenly, indebted cotton growers were worth more as corpses than as patriarchs.

Gajanan Bhindarwa cradles cotton seeds containing Monsanto’s genetically modified Bt trait.

That’s what happened to Vithal Bhindarwa, whose six-acre cotton farm was near the two-lane highway that runs from Hyderabad to New Delhi. His crop failed in late 2008, and he owed 28,000 rupees to the State Bank of India and even more to a private moneylender. Bhindarwa’s wife and children did not know the debt existed, and one evening in December, the farmer stepped out of his two-room home and swallowed poison he had reserved for rats trolling in the soybean field. ”We were told it would produce good results, the Bt cotton, so everybody took a loan,” says his son, 23-year-old Gajanan, now head of the family.

Today, according to one of Monsanto’s own studies, 95 percent of farmers in India have expenditures greater than income. These farmers are upside down on loans, but instead of walking away from farms as Americans have walked away from homes, thousands are hanging and poisoning themselves.

* * *

Sekhar Natarajan, Monsanto’s head of India operations, lives in Mumbai, about 425 miles west of the farmlands where these suicides are occurring, and oversees a business that generates more than $70 million in annual revenue from sales in the Indian heartland.

Sitting at a desk in his office, Natarajan bristles at the claims his company is somehow responsible for suicides among subsistence farmers.

“I like to start out by saying that, as an Indian, whenever I hear about the suicide of farmers, it pains me, because it’s a human life that we’re talking about,” Natarajan says. “Farmer suicide is a very painful subject, and it’s a subject that is important for India as a country to clearly understand. It’s not one single cause. A farmer commits suicide as a last resort, to keep up his honor and commitment which he’s unable to do.

“I would disagree with the fact that genetically modified seeds are the cause of suicide, because these suicides happen in non-cotton areas also,” he continues. “Cotton farmers are in fact benefiting from technology because we believe risk is reduced. A cotton farmer who does not use technology has a higher risk profile than a cotton farmer who uses technology, assuming the seeds are the same value. That being the case, we think we reduce risk. To that extent, we add positively to this whole debate about how much of a pressure is on farmers. This is a holistic subject, and I really think the statements directly linking us are unfounded in my opinion.”

Monsanto has funded three studies attempting to prove the company isn’t responsible for the suicides. Those studies linked farmer suicides to a variety of social ills, including alcoholism, gambling and the use of credit to finance weddings and dowries. One study, by the International Food Policy Research Institute, concluded farmer suicides had so many possible contributors in addition to Bt cotton that any conclusive links to a single contributor were impossible to form.

* * *

Despite the Monsanto-funded studies, it’s clear from the ground level that had India not moved its cotton industry to genetically modified seeds so quickly, and instead confined the technology to the larger, irrigated fields for which it was designed, the agrarian suicide crisis wouldn’t exist at the level it does today. Critics of Monsanto in India allege this imprudent agrarian policy is the result of government corruption and the U.S. company’s gaming of the system.

“If you can bribe someone in the regulatory agency, you get what you want,” says Suman Sahai, a geneticist in New Delhi and activist against seed patents.

“I’ve seen too many scientists start to speak against their mind and their conscience just for money from Monsanto,” says Vandana Shiva, a well-known environmental activist in India.

Sahai and Shiva can’t provide evidence to support their claims, and Monsanto officials are quick to brush off such charges, saying their business in India complies with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. law that prohibits bribery of foreign officials.

Even so, Monsanto has demonstrated tremendous skill at influencing public officials in India. Among the best examples is C.D. Mayee, a New Delhi scientist who was co-chair of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee when Monsanto sought approval for Bt cotton in 2001.

Mayee granted that approval in 2002, and four years later, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, an organization whose major funders include Monsanto, appointed Mayee to its board of directors. Mayee saw no conflict of interest in being paid to promote the same technology he was charged with regulating. “ISAAA is engaged in a noble mission globally and this is the first time an Indian has had the honor of being on its board,” Mayee told The Times of India at the time of his appointment.

Mayee voluntarily stepped down as India’s regulator of genetically modified agriculture in May. However, as a member of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Mayee remains an influential government official in India and still serves on ISAA’s board.

During a June interview in his New Delhi office, when asked if he regrets having approved Bt cotton given that a rural credit crisis and a rise in farmer suicides followed introduction of the technology, Mayee remains emphatic in his support of Monsanto’s technology.

“Let me find you something,” he says, rooting through his briefcase. Mayee hands over two papers he recently submitted to academic journals. Both examine how India has benefitted from the genetically modified seed. “Cotton production in India has doubled as a result of Bt technology,” he says. “Therefore, how can Bt cotton be responsible for suicides?”

Asked why he believes his opinion should be viewed credible when he sits on the board of an organization funded by Monsanto, Mayee abruptly ends the interview without explanation.

* * *

It was a Sunday morning when Motiram Baban Landkar hanged himself in Vidarbha’s Akola District. His three sons had all left the village. Shivlal and Shantaram had gone to the market, and Gokal attended a wedding.

Motiram had tea with his wife in the early daylight hours and said nothing of

Motiram Baban Landkar never told his sons that the family was in debt due to seed loans.

what he’d planned. He walked five minutes from the village to his farm, crushing the parched earth with every step. He tied the rope, first around a sturdy branch of the mango tree and then around his neck.

About an hour later, a neighboring farmer found him hanging there and called police. They cut down the body and left behind the rope, scarf and sandals.

“Every day we come here, since it happened,” says Motiram’s middle son, Gokal.

A few days after the suicide, Gokal and his brothers learned of the debts — first from a private moneylender, then from a bank official. They’d known money was tight; they just didn’t realize the family owed money. Their father handled all finances for the combined family of 22 people.

“If we went and earned money somewhere, we would hand him the money and he would take care of all the food and vegetables for the family,” Gokal says. “We had no right to ask daddy where he got his other money from, so we didn’t know about the debts.”

Inside their small home in the village, Gokal says he blames the high cost of seed for pushing his father to suicide. Had he not taken out seeds loan, Gokal says, the debt would not have existed.

Sitting next to Gokal are his two brothers, and napping on his lap is his 3-year-old daughter Lakshmi. When asked what’s next for his family now that his father is dead, Gokal buries his face in his hands. Lakshmi looks up from his lap, half-asleep.

“We have to survive,” he says. ”But living without him is impossible.”

When the monsoon rains finally arrive in early July, one month late, farmers in Vidarbha are disappointed. The news gets worse in the following weeks. The government says rain levels are 29 percent below average this year, and halfway through monsoon season, 177 farming districts are declared drought zones.

Indian cotton farmers are expecting a deadly harvest.

Research for this story was supported in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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Insecticides from Genetically Modified Corn Found in Adjacent Streams

Monsanto is famous for dumping the byproducts of their chemical and biopiracy enterprise into the backyard of unsuspecting neighborhoods, and ecologies. Take for instance, Anniston Alabama, where Monsanto, whose chemical spin-off is now called Solutia,  dumped millions of tons of PCBS into a land fill near their western Anniston plant.  PCBs contaminate the soil, air, and water. Some residents near the site have PCB contamination in their bodies at levels hundreds of times higher in parts per million (ppm) than the “recommended” non-toxic dose. A series of lawsuits were brought by Anniston residents. One, Owens v. Monsanto settled in April 2001 for $43 million dollars. More recently, Tolbert v. Monsanto Co. et al., and the state court case, Abernathy v. Monsanto Co. settled for 600 million. This is only one small example on an astonishing roster of disasters such as Aspartame, Agent Orange, rBGH, and Bollgard. One only has to only search Monsanto on Wikipedia to find ample examples of their environmental, sociopolitical track record.

Now, the “Cary Institute aquatic ecologist Dr. Emma Rosi-Marshall and colleagues report that streams throughout the Midwestern Corn Belt are receiving insecticidal proteins that originate from adjacent genetically modified crops.”

The tissue of  BT corn,  is  genetically modified to express insecticidal proteins known as Cry1AB. This protein  wards off  European corn borer, a common pest to corn farming. Now the dissolved Cry1Ab protein is showing up in streams and headwaters. What do these proteins do if ingested by frogs, fish, humans….anyone? 

 There have been no long-term studies performed on rats or humans, regarding the effects of BT Cotton before it entered the market, nor after. See the article here:

Insecticides from genetically modified corn found in adjacent streams.

One reason, is that this “technology” is very young, another is that Monsanto is not “required” to do long-term testing before the product enters the market.

In fact, it might interest my readers to note that the FDA doesn’t even require a watch dog “approval” of new GM crops.  From their own website,

“The FDA established an informal process by which firms can inform the Agency that they have completed a food or feed safety assessment. FDA requests that firms submit a summary of their assessment to the Agency. It is our expectation and experience that all firms have complied with this request for all plant varieties that have been commercialized to date. This process has worked well to date and permits the Agency to identify and resolve any safety or regulatory issues before products reach the market.

The Agency encourages developers to consult early in the development phase of their products, and as often as necessary. When a firm has accumulated the information that it believes is adequate to ensure that the product complies with the relevant provisions of the FD&C Act ..”

..it is thus approved to enter the market, where you an I and every living thing, become the guinea pig in a long-term studies.  The burden of proof is only on the company producing the genetically modified organism. 

As critical thinkers, do you see a conflict of interest in allowing a profit motivated multinational to do their own testing of their products? Why would it be in their interest to omit data, or craft data in such away that achieves a favorable final result?  By the way on January 6, 2011 a recorded First Quarter Earnings conference call reveals that Monsanto’s sales have increased 13%. In 2010 Monsanto net sales were 10.50 billion.

Don’t despair. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. So, whose going to push?

Inshallah, KV