Think of Monsanto as a legal crack dealer – they know that people need their product, and they will make as much as they can from the poor sods who are dependent on their goods. Monsanto has been facing increasing scrutiny in the US and in other developed nations, especially in Europe, so they have set their sights on developing nations, including the rapidly growing country of India.
GMO proponents argue that providing GMO seeds to poverty stricken areas allows the people living there to have access to ample food without the fear of crop devastation that comes with weak plants and pest invasion. This was the story sold to the farmers of India, who have long faced financial hardships caused by a range of challenges from droughts and floods to famine and pestilence. Monsanto's sales pitch must have sounded great. Too bad it was misleading.
Farmers like Shankara Mandaukar, a cotton producer, had been promised that their crops would be larger, hardier, and resistant to pests, providing that the farmers abandon traditional seeds for Monsanto's "Terminator" line. If the name sounds scary, it's because the prospect for farmers using Terminator seeds is indeed a frightening one. Engineered into the plant is a gene that "terminates" that plant's possibility of producing descendants. When farmers cannot grow and harvest their own seeds, that farm quickly becomes a pile of dust unless, of course, farmers agree to purchase more seeds from Monsanto. And Monsanto seeds can cost several times more than traditional seeds.
Farmers frequently take out massive loans to cover the cost of these "pest-resistant" plants, only to face a resurgence of bollworms, a common pest in cotton. Monsanto also failed to mention to farmers that GMO cotton
requires about twice as much water as traditional cotton, so many crops, on which Indian farmers wagered their entire livelihoods, just withered and died.
In India, an estimated one thousand farmers commit suicide each year, most believe as a direct result of crop failure and massive debt. While conflicting theories abound as to exactly what is to blame for these suicides, many activists believe that Monsanto and the effect of GMOs are a factor. Of course, people commit suicide for any number of reasons, but losing your livelihood and seeing no prospects for the future can certainly be a contributing factor.
Pro-GMO experts claim that while the suicides are tragic, suicide has been common in rural areas of India for years. They say that rural poverty, alcoholism, drought, and "agrarian distress" are the real reasons for the suicides. I'm not sure about you, but losing your entire crop after taking out a massive loan to grow it sounds an awful lot like "agrarian distress" to me.
Our cotton producer from a few paragraphs back, Shankara Mandaukar, took his own life in 2008 after drinking a cupful of chemical insecticide, leaving behind his wife and two children to fend for themselves, a situation becoming more and more common. At the time of his death, he was in debt the equivalent of about $1600.
Another woman, whose husband Suresh lost hope and ended his life, had this to say about his death: "We are ruined now. We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton [a GMO cotton created by Monsanto]. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the cotton, and swallowed insecticide."
When asked if the dead man was an alcoholic or suffered from depression or any other mental or social problems, as alleged by pro-GMO officials, previously somber funeral attendees were quick to anger.
"No! No!" they exclaimed. "Suresh was a good man. He sent his children to school and paid his taxes. He was strangled by those magic seeds. They sell us the seeds, saying they will not need expensive pesticides, but they do. We have to buy the same seeds from the same company every year. It is killing us. Please tell the world what is happening here."
We're trying, my friend. We're trying.
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Wednesday, 21 November 2012