Between 1997 and 2002 at least 140 current and former Indonesian government officials and their family members benefited from illicit payments made to them by Monsanto to the tune of at least $700,000. The famers who grew Monsanto's seeds did less well out of it.
"The company didn't give the farmer any choice, they never intended to improve our well being, they just put us in a debt circle, took away our independence and made us their slave forever." - an Indonesian farmer who grew Monsanto's GM cotton
"Bt cotton planting has given us more harm than good"
In December 2003, the Indonesian Minister of Agriculture announced that Monsanto had pulled out of South Sulawesi . In fact, Bt cotton seeds were no longer supplied to farmers as of February that year. Monsanto said that its cotton business there was no longer economically viable. After two years of planting, Indonesia, the first Southeast Asian country to commercially approve Bt cotton, was pulling the plug on that GM crop, and switching to a locally-developed non-GM cotton variety.
Monsanto's entry into the region in 2001, through its Indonesian subsidiary PT Monagro Kimia, rode on a concerted campaign of promotion of Bt cotton among farmers. The company had claimed that Bt cotton was environmentally friendly, used less pesticide, and would ensure an abundant harvest and increase farmers' welfare.
The reality was very different. In the first year of planting, during which the government aimed to assess the crop's performance before deciding on whether to allow further commercialisation, there were reported failures of Bt cotton - the crop succumbed to drought  and hundreds of hectares were attacked by pests . The drought had led to a pest population explosion on Bt cotton, but not on other cotton varieties. As a result, instead of reducing pesticide use, farmers had to use a different mix and larger amounts of pesticides to control the pests . Furthermore, the Bt cotton - engineered to be resistant to a pest that is not a major problem in Sulawesi - was susceptible to other more serious pests.
Bt cotton did not produce the promised yields [8, 10], which Monsanto had boasted to be as high as 3 tons per hectare. Some farmers were even promised 4-7 tons per hectare. The average yield was only 1.1 ton per hectare, and 74% of the total area planted to Bt cotton produced less than one ton per hectare. Some farmers only harvested about 500 kg per hectare, others even less, about 70-120 kg per hectare. About 522 hectares experienced total harvest failure. Despite the problems, the government extended its approval for Bt cotton commercialisation by another year, with equally dismal results.
The poor yields trapped farmers in a debt cycle ; some 70% of the 4 438 farmers growing Bt cotton were unable to repay their credit after the first year of planting . Branita Sandhini, a subsidiary company of Monsanto's Indonesian subsidiary, had provided farmers with the transgenic seeds and fertilisers on credit schemes, and bought the harvests so that farmers could repay their debts to the company . But as the yields were poor, many farmers were caught out. Research conducted by various Indonesian institutions clearly showed that, in the year 2002, farmers planting Bt cotton had lower income compared to farmers planting non-GM cotton .
To make matters worse, the company unilaterally raised the price of the seeds. According to Konphalindo, the National Consortium for Forest and Nature in Indonesia, the initial agreement between the farmers and the company set the price of the seed at Rp 40 000/kg; but this increased to Rp 80 000/kg in the second planting season . Furthermore, the company initially bought the cotton from the farmers for Rp 2 600/kg, but this later decreased to Rp 2 200/kg.
Because the company could refuse to buy the farmers' cotton harvest, many had no choice but to agree to the higher seed prices, by signing a letter of agreement with the company. Santi, one of the farmers said, "The company didn't give the farmer any choice, they never intended to improve our well being, they just put us in a debt circle, took away our independence and made us their slave forever. They try to monopolize everything, the seeds, the fertilizer, the marketing channel and even our life" .
She and her fellow farmers burnt their cotton fields in protest and refused to sign the letter, although others had no choice but to agree to the unfair deal, and continue planting Bt cotton to try and escape the vicious debt cycle. Eventually, many farmers refused to pay the outstanding credit, resulting in the ousting of Monsanto from the region.
It is farmers - those whom GM crops supposedly benefit - who have had to bear the consequences of the poor harvest and unfulfilled promises of Bt cotton. In contrast, the company abandoned the region, without being held liable for the problems it caused .
[taken from Broken Promises: Will GM crops really help developing countries? Lim Li Ching looks at some telling examples in Kenya, Indonesia and India.
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