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Fri Dec 19, 2014, 02:49 PM

Debt and Death in the Indian Hinterland

Last edited Sat Dec 20, 2014, 09:12 PM - Edit history (2)

By Romi Mahajan

December 19, 2014

In the last nine years, Gangabai has lost both her husband and her son to suicide; her son, despondent and desperate, took his life on Dec 8th, 2014. Tears in her eyes, she described the difficulties of life on the cotton farms. Behind her, Yogita, 25, a new widow, tends to her son Kanhanniya, 1. He has a fever today but is happily running around; he is too young to know that he is suddenly fatherless. Yogita’s movements are a bit deliberate- she is to deliver her second child in 3 months. She has a tough life ahead.

Moreshwar Chaudhary, 32, killed himself around 3pm on Dec 8th by imbibing insecticide. A small scale cotton farmer with 3 acres to cultivate, Moreshwar was indebted to banks, private lenders, and to a microcredit facility and could not meet the payments. The family mortgaged everything including Yogita’s wedding jewelry. Gangabai, his frail sixty-something mother, went back to work as a day laborer to make some money but still they could not manage to make their payments. Moreshwar really wanted to get Yogita’s jewelry out of hawk but could not find the money. And the fields did not help. This year, the drought conditions are the worst in decades and the cotton is sparse. Meanwhile the price of these commodities has come down and the input costs have gone up. This cruel hat-trick connived to make cultivation an economically detrimental activity and further immiserated the family; bereft of income and hope, Moreshwar could no longer take the enormous stress and pain and chose to commit suicide.

Huddled in their modest home, we saw Moreshwar’s wedding picture. He looked peaceful and proud. His older sister sat stoically, supporting Gangabai. A friend of the family, a young man, played with Kanhanniya while telling us about the state of life in the village right now. Others huddled inside and outside the home. Yogita’s parents have come from their village to be with her. In this sense, Gangabai and Yogita are lucky- they have a community; this is not always the case given that the traditional social bonds in villages have been rent by a variety of factors that can together be called “modernity.” Veteran journalist Jaideep Hardikar, who arranged our visit to Gangabai’s village, put it best- “there is nothing to romanticize about the village.”

Moreshwar’ s death does not mean the erasure of debt. The debt that plagued the family and ultimately led to Moreshwar’s suicide, is also in Gangabai’s name. The path ahead is painful- and lonely. Lonely especially for Yogita who at 25 will now be consigned to a life of difficulty; in her community widow remarriage is proscribed. She might stay with Gangabai or might move back in with her parents, also desperate small-holding farmers. Right now, it’s too early. Moreshwar has only been gone a few days.


https://zcomm.org/zcommentary/debt-and-death-in-the-indian-hinterland/


Human tragedy: A farmer and child in India's 'suicide belt'


When Prince Charles claimed thousands of Indian farmers were killing themselves after using GM crops, he was branded a scaremonger. In fact, as this chilling dispatch reveals, it's even WORSE than he feared.

The children were inconsolable. Mute with shock and fighting back tears, they huddled beside their mother as friends and neighbours prepared their father's body for cremation on a blazing bonfire built on the cracked, barren fields near their home.

As flames consumed the corpse, Ganjanan, 12, and Kalpana, 14, faced a grim future. While Shankara Mandaukar had hoped his son and daughter would have a better life under India's economic boom, they now face working as slave labour for a few pence a day. Landless and homeless, they will be the lowest of the low.


"He was strangled by these 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.'


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1082559/The-GM-genocide-Thousands-Indian-farmers-committing-suicide-using-genetically-modified-crops.html

'Bitter Seeds' Film Tells of Suicide and GMO Effects on India's Farmers
Posted: 09/21/2012 3:43 pm EDT Updated: 11/21/2012 5:12 am EST

"Every 30 minutes a farmer in India kills himself ..." This frightening fact is pointed out in "Bitter Seeds," the third documentary in "The Globalization Trilogy" directed by Micha Peled. The 12-year project aims to generate debate about public policy and consumer choices in some complex issues relevant to all of us. Peled is the founder of the nonprofit Teddy Bear Films, which he created to make issue-oriented films such as "Will My Mother Go Back to Berlin?" and "Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town."

2012-09-21-wheatseeds.jpg

"Bitter Seeds" follows a season in a village in India from planting to harvest. There are three important stories in this film, each revolving around the multinational corporate takeover of India's seed market and the effect it has on farmers and farming all over India and the world.

Like most of his neighbors, the protagonist in the film, Ram Krishna, must engage a money-lender to pay for the mounting costs of modern farming; he puts his land up as collateral.

The only seeds available in India now are GMOs (genetically modified organisms), which require farmers to pay an annual royalty each time they are replanted. The GMOs need additional fertilizers, and as the seasons move forward, more insecticides and pesticides. The soil in which these seeds are planted requires more water. All of which means more and more money for the farmer to lay out.


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zester-daily/bitter-seeds-film_b_1902221.html

http://idfa.muvies.com/reviews/3754-bitter-seeds (VIDEO)

Every 30 minutes, another Indian cotton farmer commits suicide. Filmmaker Micha Peled investigates why this is happening and follows one of them to the edge of the abyss.

Medium

Manjusha Amberwar hopes to get her first article published in the local paper. Taking her first step as a journalist is not easy for the village girl, whose entire family opposes her ambition, and the topic of her article provides even less reason for joy. Her father was one of the many Indian cotton farmers who have committed suicide. She hopes that by drawing attention to their plight, she can bring an end to this epidemic, but it won't be easy. Many farmers switched to genetically modified seeds produced by the American company Monsanto, and the drawbacks proved to be manifold. In contrast to the supposed benefits, the costs for fertilizer and pesticides turned out to be far higher than before. What's more, the seeds require more water, and the farmers are rain-dependent in an arid area, so they rarely grow a large crop. Bitter Seeds is the third part of a trilogy by director Micha Peled about globalization. The first two parts were Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town (2001) and China Blue (2007). In addition to Amberwar, Peled follows a farmer who is battling to keep his few acres of land. As in his previous films, he once again gives a human face to the victims of opportunistic multinationals. His own opinion isn't difficult to guess, but by simply allowing his subjects to tell their stories and without laying the sentiment on too thick, he leaves the final judgment in the hands of the viewer.


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If Specter had actually travelled across the cotton belt in Maharashtra State (surely the Monsanto office could have easily directed him there), he would have heard from his trusted sources that there is a decline in Bt Cotton cultivation in favor of Soy Bean due to failed Bt crops. He would have heard of Datta Chauhan of Bhamb village who swallowed poison on November 5, 2013, because his Bt cotton crop did not survive the heavy rains in July that year. He would have heard of Shankar Raut and Tatyaji Varlu, from Varud village, both who committed suicide due to the failure of their Bt Cotton. Tatyaji Varlu was unable to repay the Rs. 50,000 credit through which he received seeds. Specter could have met and spoken to the family of 7 left behind by Ganesh, in Chikni village, following the repeated failure of his Bt Cotton crop. Ganesh had no option but to buy more Bt Cotton and try his luck multiple times because Bt Cotton was the only cotton seed in the market, brilliantly marketed under multiple brand names through Licensing Arrangements that Monsanto has with Indian companies. Multiple packages, multiple promises but the contents of each of those expensive packets is the same: it’s all Bt. It’s vulnerable to failure because of too much or too little water, reliant on fertilizer, and susceptible to pests without pesticide, all additional costs. The farmer, with a field too small to impress Specter, does not choose Bt Cotton of his free will. That choice is dictated by the system Specter attempts to hail.


By destroying the alternative sources of seed, as I explained earlier, a monopoly was established. Promises were made of higher yield and a reduction of pesticide costs to initially woo farmers. With a monopoly, Monsanto increased the price of seeds since it didn’t have to compete in the market. In India, the agents that sell Monsanto seeds also sell the pesticides and fertilizer, on credit. A Bt Cotton farmer starts the cultivation season with debt and completes the cycle with the sale of the crop after multiple applications of fertilizer and pesticide acquired on more credit. As the Bt-toxin was rendered useless, the crop was infested by new pests and yields of Bt Cotton started to decline, more fertilizer and pesticide were purchased and used by the farmers in the hope of a better yield next time around, destroying soil health. Degraded soil led to lower yields and further financial losses to the farmers. Many farmers would plant seed from another brand, not knowing it was the same exact Monsanto seed Bollguard, and that it would not fare any better and would require more fertilizer and pesticide than before, going deeper and deeper into debt. This cycle of high cost seeds and rising chemical requirements is the debt trap, from which the farmers see no escape, and which drives these farmers of the cotton belt to suicide. There is a causefor each and every farmer taking his own life, he is not driven to it by correlation. And the cause is a high cost monopoly system with no alternative. If it were any other product, Monsanto would be liable for false advertising, and a product liability claim due to intentional misrepresentation regarding Bt Cotton. Specter promotes a system of agriculture that fails to deliver on its promises of higher yield and lower costs and propagates exploitation.


The real reason for the Bengal Famine was speculation–as evidenced by Amartya Sen’s extensive work–that drove the prices of food so high that most people could not afford it. It was mostly a man-made famine. The same system of speculation that caused famines, like that of 1943, exists today. It’s now more organized, more lethal and captained by Wall Street. Large Agri-business, armed with near-monopoly power, increase prices beyond market-determined increases in costs.

Although, Specter writes about India becoming an exporting nation, he hides the fact that as a result of ‘Free Trade’ India has now become heavily dependent on imports of oil-seeds and pulses—staples for millions of Indians. In the nineties, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), prices of tortillas in Mexico City rose sharply while the price of corn, sold by Mexican farmers, went down. Free trade does not imply free-market, and more often than not it means the poor go hungry while profits of corporations, especially in agriculture, increase.


https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/seeds-of-truth-vandana-shiva-and-the-new-yorker/

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Vandana Shiva's Letter to PM Modi and President Obama

Seed Freedom and Food Democracy

An Open letter to Prime Minister Modi and President Obama from democratic, concerned citizens of India and the US



In addition to sueing farmers like Bowman, Monsanto has sued farmers like Percy Schmeiser of Canada whose fields were contaminated with Monsanto’s Roundup ready canola. Instead of the principle of polluter pays, patents allow Monsanto to work on the principle of polluter gets paid. This has recently happened in the Australia in the case of Steve Marsh. While Monsanto does not have a patent on Bt cotton in India, it goes outside the law to collect royalties as “technology fees”. Most of the 291000 farmers suicides in India since 1995 when WTO came into force are concentrated in the cotton belt. And 95% cotton is now controlled by Monsanto.

Intellectual Property Rights are defined as property in the “products of the mind”, including patents. Patents are granted for inventions, and give the patent holder the right to exclude everyone from the use or marketing of a patented product or process. Over the last 2 decades, patent laws have taken a different direction, under the influence of corporations, from protecting the interests of genuine inventions and ideas to ownership of life and control over survival essentials like seed and medicine. Such monopolies are violative of article 21 of the Indian constitution which guarantees all citizens the right to life.


We ask that the US not put pressure on India to undo article 3(d) and 3(j), and will instead take lessons from India about how to respect the integrity of living systems and processes, and put the rights of farmers and citizens first. For us seed freedom includes farmers rights to save, exchange, breed, sell farmers varieties of seeds- varieties that have been evolved over millennia without interference of the state or corporations.

Prime Minister Modi and President Obama, let this Republic day in India sow the seeds of Earth Democracy and Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam, for our times and the future. We hope you show great leadership by working together to strengthen the laws to protect your citizens and countries instead of making it easier for corporations to take control over life-forms for short term profits. Let us build Purna Swaraj for all life on Earth, freedom to grow our food and know our food. Let us work toward a future where our food is our freedom.


This is an excellent letter explaining exactly why Indian farmers are suffering so badly. Long, but well worth reading.

http://www.momsacrosstheworld.com/vandana_shiva_letter_to_pm_modi_and_president_obama

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