Category Archives: Media and Film on GMOs

Indian Farmers Trapped and Desperate By Graham Peebles

Originally published in January 27, 2013 by Countercurrents.org

Losing the will to live

London : India has the largest number of smallholder farmers in the World, 600 million by some estimates. From this army of workers one impoverished desperate man, or indeed woman, with a noose of debt around their neck takes his or her own life on average every thirty minutes, A statistic barely comprehensible, representing the tidal wave of suicides that has swept through the farming community in the last 15 years.

The agrarian crisis of which farmer suicides are a tragic consequence is a mega calamity, rooted in one fundamental cause,which P. Sainath (i) ,rural editor for The Hindu describes as ‘the drive towards corporate farming’, predicated by the “predatory commercialization of the countryside”, that is forcing “the biggest displacement in Indian history”. Shocking and destructive it should be seen as part of a greater whole of interconnected issues facing India . Sainath makes this clear, “don’t detach this crisis from the overall political, economic social direction of the country, he says.

The number of farmer suicides – the largest in human history is estimated to have reached 300,000+ and rising as we speak. Add to this the 400 a day who attempt suicide and fail, the 2,200 that daily quit farming and the one and a half million family members affected by suicides, plus the millions facing the very issues that are driving the tragedy, and the scale of the inferno begins to be clear. Shocking, as they are, these figures are an indication only ; women are one of eight groups who are generally excluded from official data because most do not have title to land. A woman is not classed as a farmer, she is a farmer’s wife, and her suicide is not included in the figures, nor are The Center For Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University’s (HRGJ) (ii) report on farmer suicides tells us, “family members of farmers who have committed suicide—who themselves take over farming land, and subsequently commit suicide because of debt”, and less surprisingly the Dalit and Adivasi (indigenous) people are also invisible to a government who ignores them in death as in life.

The major cause of this epidemic is indebtedness to banks and moneylenders, hiding behind the debt however is twenty years of market liberalization at the hands of the government that has withdrawn all agricultural support, failed to invest in irrigation, improve the availability of rural credit, or provide farmers with alternative seed purchasing options – other than GM shopping. HRGJ convey government statisticsstating: “that 241,679 farmers in India committed suicide between 1995 and 2009”, the majority are cash crop farmers, growing cotton being particularly hazardous work. Suicides have been highest in the states of Maharashtra , Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal , all high cotton producing areas.

Growing disadvantage

As a result of economic liberalization, designed and sold by the parents of globalization or market fundamentalism; the IMF and the World Bank, India has become integrated into the global market and what Sainath(iii) calls ‘McEconomics– it tastes the same everywhere’. The state has increasingly withdrawn from the public sector and become “ more interventionist on behalf of the corporate world and the super elite.” As state support for farmers was withdrawn India opened up to huge foreign corporations and their equally mega native partners.

The foreign multinationals were at a huge advantage because as HRGJ makes clear, “the price of their products was set artificially low as a result of agricultural subsidies in their home countries,” affecting the costs to Indian (and African) farmers, secondly and equally devastating, “the Indian government’s removal of quotas, duties, and tariffs on imports made it cheaper for these entrants to import their products into the country.” Whilst these policies implemented some twenty years ago have as HRGJ makes clear “helped usher in dramatic economic growththis growth has been unevenly distributed, largely benefiting the nation’s elite, while the majority continues to endure grinding poverty.” Sound familiar; political loyalty in corporate politics lying firmly with the corporations, the duty of politicians in market fundamentalism beingcontinual accelerated growth and maximum profit, no matter the human or environmental cost.

Genetically modified mayhem

With the invasion of multinational corporate man came his agricultural weapon of choice, GM modified cottonseed. The Monsanto Bt seed has flooded the Indian market, to the extent that in some Indian states it is now impossible to buy non-Bt seed, despite the unconvincing evidence to its efficacy. With no choice and convinced by blanket advertising and misleading demonstrations made in ideal conditions, 95% of farmers take loans and invest in GM Bt seeds that, the New York Times ( 16/10/12 ) (iv) report, “ can cost three to eight times the cost of conventional seeds”. In addition to authorized distributors a black market has thrived, that as shortages appear, can set “prices as high as 2,000 rupees ($38) per packet, leading to a profusion of bootlegged seeds illegally marketed as genetically modified products.”

Costs of seed, fertilizers and pesticides, all incidentally supplied by the same company, have increased year on year. One farmer relates in the NY Times how “the old pesticide used to cost us 200 rupees per litre…. Now I have to pay between 2,000 to 3,000 rupees. And I need to apply it more and more every year.” With low yields and low market rates as well as the collapse of government investment Indian farmers are increasingly dependent on loans resulting in a debt cycle that is inescapable.

As well as costing the earth the Bt cottonseed demands a great deal more water, a fact that is being hidden from Indian farmers unable to read the English instructions and water warnings on seed packaging – an accidental corporate oversight, no doubt. With poor irrigation, most farmers rely on rainfall to feed crops. When the monsoon rains fail, so does the crop, leaving the farmer with a massive debt to service and the prospect of further loans to continue farming the following year. The lifeblood of the Indian farmer is in danger of becoming even more scarce as the government goes ahead with the privatization of water (as we collectively shake our heads in disbelief) and irrigation pathways, sold no doubt into the hands of Indian corporations. One doubts there are farmer, Dalit or Adivasi cooperatives in the bidding – so much for participatory democracy.

Critics of GM seeds maintain, “the solution to increasing costs and spiralling debtis a shift toward organic and eco-friendly farming methods.” The NY Times reports, “and these are low technology, simple to use, not costly methods – you don’t have the high costs of pesticides or genetically modified seeds.” Monsanto unsurprisingly offer a different answer to this social tragedy: “Buy more BT seed,” they suggest,” with the hope of increasing yields. Unsurprisingly, they dodge any responsibility for farmer suicides, asserting that claims attributing debt to the impact of the thirsty, expensive Bt seed are spurious and “misinformed”. Corporate responsibility beginning and ending at the door marked profit.

A Legacy of debt

A suicidal farmer’s debt does not, alas, die with him: loans merely become the responsibility of the wife (or husband) of the victim, who in many cases repeat the final desperate act, some families have witnessed two or three suicides. Dowries add to the mountain of debt for families in poverty, and widows under the unbearable pressure of huge debt and the burden of finding a husband for their daughters, may in desperation take their own lives.

The cycle of debt has created a spiral of death and extended multiple suffering; Children whose Father or Mother commits suicide are forced to quit school or university and take up the reins of the farm. Sainath describes one young man, symptomatic of many thousands, “I see a child trying to be a man whose eyes tell you how scared he is, pitchforked into a position he is not ready for”. Entrapment the order of the day, keeping people in a position of permanent anxiety, depleted of energy and with no state support, completely at the mercy of market forces and unable to resist. In the 1960s and 70s, when agricultural reforms where tabled in India, Sainath relates there was a peasant revolt, “in the ‘1990s and 2000s there is mass suicide and despair,” outcomes causing less obstruction to the corporate political plan, of the commercialization of everything and everyone, everywhere.

In the face of what is suicide on epidemic proportions the Indian government is guilty of appalling neglect, moral and legal- they are signatories to all the key international human rights conventions and are obliged to respect, protect and observe the human rights of farmers and their families. Instead, and in keeping with corporate politics, a plethora of fundamental human rights are being ignored. HRGJ list the rights breached, as: “the right to life; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to work; the right to food; the right to water; the right to health; and the right to an effective remedy among other rights.” Instead of meeting its responsibilities the government has followed the bureaucratic line of least resistance and set up a series of committees to examine the crisis. It is the Indian way, according to Sainath: “You keep forming committees until somebody gives you the report you want. There have been 13 reports on farmer suicides, for example.” These are pointless distractions from a government that, whilst ignoring the human rights of the most vulnerable members of Indian society, subsidizes the wealthy and procrastinates as farmers in deep despair drink pesticide or rat poison to escape the interminable torture of debt.

The governments actions and inaction have fanned the flames of the crisis, sending a message of indifference loud and clear to farmers and rural communities, and of unity and shared interests to corporations eager to work to ‘commercialize the countryside’ with government backing and poste haste. Farmer suicides are a blood red stain of shame on the democratic pretentions of the Indian government that is duty bound and legally required to act on behalf of the men, women and children being marginalized in rural areas, many who have farmed the land for generations, and are now unable to compete against the machinery of economic fundamentalism that is crushing them totally.

Notes

(i) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q6m5NgrCJs

(ii) www.chrgj .org/publications/docs/every30min.pdf

(iii) P. Sainath: “Slumdogs vs. Millionaires: Rural Distress in the Age of Inequality” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1OlgDw5tQ4

(iv) http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/16/in-india-gm-crops-come-at-a-high-price/

Graham Peebles is Director of The Create Trust, www.thecreatetrust.org A UK registered charity (1115157). Running education and social development programmes, supporting fundamental Social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. Contact , E: graham@thecreatetrust.org

 

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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.”