Tag Archives: Vidarbha

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.”

Advertisements

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

Act Naturally sponsors documentary on farmer suicides, their causes, and solutions.

Act Naturally sponsors documentary on farmer suicides, their causes, and solutions..

Act Naturally sponsors documentary on farmer suicides, the causes and solutions.

Act Naturally (www.actnaturally.org) is a non-profit who promotes non-violent biodiverse agricultural practices to solve problems in health and food security. We partner with farmers and communities, activists, volunteers and other N.G.O’s to provide debt relief, organic education, and micro livestock, seedstock and bag garden donations. With our Khet Jyoti Fund, farmers who benefit from our debt relief program are put on a four year transition period toward full organic production where their risks are minimized through Act Naturally’s partnerships that provide for their inputs such as seeds, and any loss of income from the transition. We effectively severe farmers ties with corporate agribusiness predators like Monsanto once and for all, eliminating costly inputs and the need for future debts.

As part of our mission to increase public awareness worldwide about the benefits of organic agriculture and biodiverse farming practices, nutritional appropriation by agribusiness, and issues in national food security, we are raising money to create a 60 minute documentary about farmer suicides in India, their causes, and the civil resistance movements rising up in response. To date, it is estimated by the National Crime Records Bureau, part of the Ministry of Home Affairs in India, that over 200,000 farmers have committed suicide since trade liberalization in 1991.

The film will show our audience how globalization and corporate agriculture are exploiting India’s farmers and replacing farming, which was once at the center of India’s democracy, with modern consumer values and service reliance at the cost of food production. At the time of trade liberalization in 1991 aimed at making India a global competitor, few people in India’s rural expanse, participated in the machine of money exchange and consumerism to the scale that would make India attractive to foreign investment. At the time of these vast economic changes some villages still bartered wheat for haircuts,and saved seeds. Over the next two decades, generations of people; their values, culture, customs, means of producing food, relationship to land, and way of relating to wants and needs would have a new system, one that required money at its core to be successful, overlaid on top of their day to day challenges. The forcing of biotech/chem-tech and/market-based agriculture ontop of a traditional agrarian society, that was self reliant, threaded together spiritually, and lacking complex social desires, has created the mass migration of farmers to cities looking for menial labor jobs, and/or farmers committing suicide do to escalating debts.

The film will show how what we see today can be traced to a profound shift in social values and self sufficiency worldwide. Here is where the metaphor of the buttery fly effect glues together everyone as a part of the problem and solution. We will show how the debt cycle began, what forces made it possible and why it continues. We will interview leading activists and farm movement leaders on the issue, and use a significant portion of the film to highlight positive movements, protests, yatras and action along with organic solutions.

Act Naturally founder and activist Lua Cheia has teamed up with notable professionals:

* Helkin Rene Diaz, an amazing cinematographer who shot “Jala” (see it here) (a documentary on India’s scared waters being polluted);

*Rohit Chawla, logistics and travel coordinator, translator and photographer http://www.cosurvivor.in and;

*Emily Roland, editor, post production coordinator from Portland Community Media
to create this documentary.

We are lining up an impressive interview list including Umendra Dutt from Kheti Virasat Mission, Vandana Shiva, eco-feminist, environmentalist, writer and founder of Navdanya, Kishor Tiwari and more, to help illuminate the details as to how India has gotten into her current agricultural crisis.

We will also embed with two families who have lost a member to suicide in the Vidarbha region, known as India’s suicide belt, to follow their day to day lives and present their hardship. We will use commentary from activists, and prominent farm sangha leaders, who work everyday at the edge. There is a concept in permaculture called edge. Edge is the boundary between two elements -between a field and a forest, between the water and land. At the edge we find the most creative innovations in nature, as she attempts to deal with the evolutionary pressures of two worlds in order to thrive. The camera will attempt highlight the color, innovation and variety of this edge, showing the juxtaposition of agrarian ancient India with modern India. It’s lens is focused on authenticity and purpose, survival and victory. We will follow the farm workers unions and movements and show the angle of brother and sisterhood created within these movements for support and survival.

Any donation you can make is the right amount. Act Naturally is funded 100% by donations and we need your support to make this documentary from the ground up! Everyone who donates will get a copy of the final DVD. Donations over $150 will also receive an Act Naturally t-shirt along with the DVD. Thank you for taking the time to visit our site, and for your compassionate caring interest. Please feel free to write us with any questions at media@actnaturally.org.

If you would like to know more about India’s agricultural situation visit our blog at http://www.actnaturallyblog.wordpress.com. You can also go to our brand new website at http://www.actnaturally.org to find out more about our programs. Will you Act Naturally with us?
—————————————————————————————————-

The Agrarian Crisis Is the Drive Toward Corporate Farming -Shockingly Honest – Nero’s Guest by P. Sainath

Nero was a Roman Emperor who murdered his own mother.  Tacitus, a senator and historian  wrote in his book,  Annals that,

Nero during gladiator matches he would lite his garden parties with the burning carcasses of Christians. The  guest lists to those parties were poets and artists, and upper class elites, and intellectuals..and..no one objected.

Indian filmmakers  follow rural reporter and activist  P.Sainath into the causes of farmer suicides, and  the system that neglects and destroys them.  This is a shocking and eye opening film. Please take the  time to watch, reflect  and understand.

“I have covered farmers who have committed suicide because they could not get 8000 ruppees at a decent rate of interest from the bank in 2003 and 2004. Than I’ve gone back to my house as an urban middle class professional sir and got a letter from my bank offering me a Marcedez Benz at 6% interest no collateral required..what kind of justice is this?” P. Sainath

“Dear God. I pray for the hearts who’ve traded their divinity and humanity in for the abstraction of leisure, and distraction of purpose, and the cruelty of distance. ”

“Please friends, support my efforts at Act Naturally, become a part of the solution. Be the change you want to see.  Trade in your passivity for purpose.  Grow your own food. Educate yourself and dismantle one by one the systems of control in your life that keep you from your highest purpose.  Closing our eyes in this desperate hour, will surely destroy us all.” –Kamla Vishvas

Farmer Suicides: Why?

By Lua Cheia

Farmer Suicides: Why?

India is home to 1.25 billion people 722% of which live in villages. As much as 60% of the work force works in agriculture in some capacity. Over the last two decades however, more and more people have been seeking non-agricultural work in cities, and urban townships. Mass migration from rural to urban areas has increased rapidly since 1991. An estimated 70-73 million people have migrated away from rural India because of a myriad of problems, such as lack of education, jobs, farming support, and opportunity and a lack of infrastructure for things like clean water and health care.

 In 1991 an exchange rate crisis caused by fiscal and balance of payment deficits, pushed India near bankruptcy. As part of a bailout deal with India, the International Monetary Fund directed India to sell 67 tons of gold to the IMF, which was transferred to London as collateral. Also, India had to devalue the rupee and restructure economically to make the country more open to foreign trade. Since independence from the British in 1947, India had operated a state-controlled economy called the License Raj system. As part of the deal with the IMF, India got rid of the License Raj system and liberalized the economy.

A key player in the economic restructuring was Indian Prime Minister Manmohan. Singh. He moved India from a socialist economy into a capitalist one. He opened international trade and investment, initiated privatization of certain public sector companies, enacted inflation control measures, broke up state monopolies, and removed obstacles standing in the way of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). At this time, India entered into an era of globalization.

 Trade liberalization, and globalization has forced India to compete with more developed countries, when only a percentage of her people were of the mind or education level to do so. There is no doubt however that economic reforms have brought with it many opportunities and chances for education, greater access to health care and public utilities, and an international competitor and contributor to many technological fields, among other things. Act Naturally acknowledges that there have been positive changes. Our work however, focuses on those who have been left behind as India heralds a new age of prosperity.

 Not everyone in the world, and certainly not in India’s rural expanse, participated in the machine of money exchange and consumerism to the scale that would make India attractive to foreign investment. At the time of these vast economic changes some villages still bartered wheat for haircuts and shoe repair, saved seeds, and used cow manure to grow their crops. Over the next two decades, generations of people; their values, culture, customs, means of producing food, relationship to land, and way of relating to wants and needs would have a new system, one that required money at its core to be successful, overlaid on top of their day to day challenges.

 “With an influx of new money, products, and advertising these “poor people,” became overnight poster children for modernization by the developers. They all were  potential markets. Tantalizing ads selling everything from new cellphones, to Coke, to diapers, to Himalayan shampoo, sparked conversation, then desire for a disposable world of stuff that has/had no real relevance to  their practical day to day reality but never the less, with enough exposure, had tantalizing appeal . It was as if these new products could do something that nothing else had done – improve their social standing. The older generation was skeptical, but the younger generation craved it immediately.

The self definition through things fetish was engineered long ago by advertising agencies, and has had immense success in  America. India patterns its success off of western business models. It’s a carrot on a stick that the farmer is chasing right off of his field.” — Kamla Vishvas

 The promise of money in more urban areas to carve out a better life, has become the mantra that moves the young and old away from their family plots and often into cramped urban conditions. But that is not the only reason. The introduction of chemical agriculture since India’s Green Revolution began in 1966, has created more input costs to the farmer and these prices too have risen. The lack of government support for farming, because of an uneven focus on the IT, Biotech and Pharmaceutical industry, has left many farmers to the agendas of agribusiness giants like Monsanto, Carghil and ADM all American made.

 As reported in PRAXIS: The Fletcher Journal of Human Security,  in an article entitled, “The Paradox of Indias Bread Basket: Farmer Suicides in Punjab” written  by Mallika Kaur;

 “During the Green Revolution, production was improved with the use of modified seeds that increased yield only when combined with expensive chemical fertilizers and irrigation. Unable to afford sufficient amounts of these expensive inputs, small farmers found their holdings becoming progressively less profitable. Meanwhile, grain prices remained comparatively low even as input costs increased. Now, three decades later, the small and marginal farmers of Punjab, in trying to pursue environmentally and economically unsustainable agrarian practices, are accumulating high debt while lacking alternative sources of income. As a result, farmers, their unions, concerned NGOs, and several academics conclude that agriculture has become a losing proposition in Indian Punjab, the farming heartland of South Asia for generations.”

Farmers go into more and more debt year after year since signing initial contracts for “crop packages” – genetically modified seeds like BT-Cotton, that require companion herbicide for best results. These expensive seeds require the farmer to buy them year after year as it is a breach of contract with Monsanto to save seed. Every year he must take out a loan from someone or somewhere. Most rural farmers do not have official documentation of their land. This means credit and collateral is questionable, so they choose to deal with private money lenders even though private money lending is officially illegal. When a farmer can no longer pay their debt, two common scenarios play out. 1. They commit suicide or; 2.  Their  family land is seized by debt collectors.

These pressures, coupled with land grabs by foreign interests made possible by the SEZ or Special Economic Zones Act passed in 2005, and the Land Acquisition Act, has meant that more and more agricultural lands are abandoned, sold to foreign interests for nonagricultural purposes, seized by private money lenders cashing in on their debts, and/or turned fallow do to exhaustion of the ecosystem with chemicals.

It is not coincidence that the issue of farmer suicides was brought to the attention of the government in the early 90s just as India was liberalizing trade, by a journalist who focused on rural reporting named P. Sainath. Palagummi Sainath was the rural Affairs editor of the Hindu at that time. Although the numbers have a margin of error do to difficulties with official reporting, it is estimated by the NCRB that over 200, 000 farmers have committed suicide in the last 15 years. The NCRB is the National Crime Records Bureau, part of the Ministry of Home Affairs,  is responsible for collecting and analyzing crime data in India. Some reporters say the number is as high as one suicide every half hour!

Summary of Causes

There are many causes for the stress in the farming community that leads some farmers take their own lives. They are dominantly related to public policy and economic strategy. Act Naturally has identified 22!:

  • Lack of support from a government that is focused more on India’s  technological future
  • Legal tender system forced through majority rule on communities that bartered
  • No advice from the government on how to conduct agricultural operations or adjust to changes in climate
  • Income from farming is not enough to meet the minimum needs of the family
  • Widening gap “price scissors” between industrial and agricultural prices
  • World Trade Organization and developed nations’ subsidies that make India’s products uncompetitive in world markets thus lowering demand and price. This is particularly true in the case of cotton farmers in Vidarbha whose cotton competes against subsidized U.S. cotton
  • Corruption at every level of government siphons off certain relief monies before they reach the intended
  • Absence of adequate social support infrastructure at the level of village. No counselors. Issue is taboo.
  • Rising prices of dowry causing huge hardships on family. The price of everything in the open economy is more, and the husbands families are demanding more as they seen grander lives advertised
  • Relief packages organized by the central government did not take in account farmer’s demands, or those of civil society organizations, local government bodies or panchayats as reported by an audit of the state done by Green Earth Social Development Consulting.
  • The same open market policy followed by India which has been a boon to foreign investors coming into the IT industry and benefiting Indian IT Engineers is causing an ever widening price gap between the food the farmers must eat to survive and the price the farmers get for their food in the market.
  • Rising cost of cultivation
  • Lowering water tables and lack of irrigation facilities. Expensive bore wells are now needed in some states. Poorer farmers can’t afford, and their lands are  bought out by larger more successful farms.
  • Reduction in agricultural subsidies
  • Environmental pollution
  • A push for cash cropping and mono cropping means a total loss of income when crop fails
  • Pressure to use genetically modified  seeds that are not acclimated to the fluxes in India’s climate. Pests are adapting.
  • Subdivision of land through successive generations of sons in certain areas make the size of land too small to grow enough food to sell
  • Compensation for acquired lands are often mismanaged by farmers who have not had experience or education on money management. Money is spent quickly. After it’s gone there is no land to produce a livelihood
  • Compensation for lands acquired under the Land Acquisition Act and SEZ are often under the fair market price
  • Threat of violence to farmer and family from illegal debt collectors

 In the next blog article, I’ll introduce the solutions. There are many ways  in which NGOs, non-profits, farming educators,  local governments, cooperatives, unions, members of independent media, activists, volunteers and philanthropists  can come together, bypassing culturally tolerated systems of corruption, to direct efforts that fortify the stability of India’s farmers. These are outlined  in the next issue.

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 Dying Fields

“To my generous, courageous and compassionate readers, I believe this movie is a must see for everyone concerned with the farmer suicides in India.  I solute the filmaker Jagdish Baghwati. May we all live healthy, harmonious lives not at the expense of others.”  -KV

Video: Full Episode.

July 11th, 2011
The Dying Fields

Introduction

About the Issue

India has increasingly embraced free trade and, since 2002, has had one of the world’s fastest growing economies. But only images of this new prosperity have reached the impoverished rural areas where two thirds of India’s 1.1 billion people live. Left behind by India’s soaring economic boom is Vidarbha, a region of hilly forests in the middle of India. It used to be known as India’s cotton belt – but now captures headlines as its suicide belt. In 2006, 1,044 suicides were reported in Vidarbha alone – that’s one suicide every eight hours.

Vidarbha farmers face a grim reality of crop failures, sinking global cotton prices and crushing debts. Farmers in default at the bank frequently resort to illegal moneylenders who charge up to 100 percent interest. And, the government safety net – that once kept cotton prices closer to the cost of production – has all but disappeared. Under India’s new free trade policies, Vidarbha’s 3.2 million cotton farmers – most of them small landholders – must compete in a global market that includes formidable, often subsidized rivals, including American cotton farmers.

About the Film

At a moment when India is enjoying record economic growth, THE DYING FIELDS turns to Vidarbha’s four million cotton farmers who have been left behind, struggling to survive on less than two dollars a day. WIDE ANGLE cameras follow Kishor Tiwari, former businessman turned farmer advocate, whose tiny office in the heart of this cotton-growing region functions as the archive and watchdog for the suicide epidemic; traveling salesmen hawking genetically modified – and costly – cotton seeds that require irrigation that few Vidarbha farmers have; the last rites of a farmer who couldn’t pay his debts; a tour of the poison ward at the local hospital, where beds are always filled; and a visit by then-president of India, A.J.P. Abdul Kalam, whom the farming widows beseech for help in convincing the government to forgive their debts.
_____________________________________________

Thanks for watching and reading. You may be excited to find out that ActNaturally.org has gone from flow charting and visualizing to planning. Very soon we will introduce Act Naturally to a global audience asking for support for our grassroots efforts to provide relief to farmers in India.

Inshallah,

until next time.