Seeds of Suicide: India's desperate farmers (14/8/2005)

Farmer suicide is an epidemic in India. In recent years crop failure can often be traced to Bt cotton.

1.Watch the video + excerpt

2.Seeds of Suicide: introduction

3.Related Links


1.Watch the video: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2005/07/seeds_of_suicid.html#

excerpt from the script:

Historically, farmers grew a diversity of food crops but now they grow cash crops for export. Here cotton is king... Then came genetically modified cotton from Monsanto...

Monsanto insists this new generation of GM cotton will save farmers money with reduced chemical sprays. The Bt technology should repel bollworms for 90 days but its only been 60 days and these farmers' fields are covered in bollworms. This leaves the farmers confused.

Researcher: That's a non-Bt cotton plot. There are no pests there on that plot.

These farmers are essentially guinea pigs for what many experts see as an experimental technology.

2.Seeds of Suicide: India's desperate farmers


Suicide by pesticide: It's an epidemic in India, where farmers try to keep up with the latest pest-resistant seeds only to find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of pesticides that don't work, drought and debt. Since 1997, more than 25,000 farmers have committed suicide, many drinking the chemical that was supposed to make their crops more, not less, productive.

This week on Rough Cut, you'll join FRONTLINE/World correspondent Chad Heeter in verdant Andhra Pradesh, an agricultural state in eastern India where last summer an average of seven farmers killed themselves every day. In this part of the world, machinery, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and hybrid seeds -- all of which originated in the West -- often spell disaster rather than prosperity. "This is the other side of globalization," says Heeter, a student at U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

The tragedy unfolds from crop failure. Drought, pests, and spurious pesticides are expensive problems that small farmers don't have the means to rectify. In recent years, as Heeter finds in the fields of Andhra Pradesh, crop failure can often be traced to Bt cotton, a genetically modified breed that contains a pesticide that naturally occurs in soil rather than plants. Bt technology should, in theory, repel bollworm -- cotton's worst enemy -- but some farmers who plant more expensive Bt seeds often wind up worse off than those who don't. One farmer, Pariki, confides that after he fell into debt, his wife killed herself, leaving him to care for their three small children.

In the last seven years, bad seeds, costly pesticide and drought have triggered debt, then suicide for 4,500 farmers in Andhra Pradesh alone, but no one is taking responsibility -- not the government, whose policies encouraged cash crops like cotton; not the developers of genetically modified crops; and not the dealers, who insist that farmers don't follow instructions for their seed. Amazingly, Pariki harbors no grudges. "I'm not angry with anyone because the moneylender has the right to ask for repayment," he says.

Heeter discovers that less expensive, lower-risk organic farming methods might offer a solution for the cotton-growing crisis in India. But without a sea change in agriculture policy and practices, thousands more Indian farmers are likely to take their own lives.

3.Background Facts and Related Links

Learn more about the use of pesticides and "miracle seeds" in India.

Related Links

CIA Factbook: India

Learn more about India's geography, people, government, economy, communications, military and transnational issues in the CIA's World Factbook on India.

"India PM Pledge Over Suicide Farmers"

This 2004 article from the BBC follows Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Andhra Pradesh after his election and covers his pledge to monetarily compensate families of suicide farmers.

"Suicide Spree on India's Farms"

The BBC profiles two casualties of the seasonal suicide deaths.

"Empowering Women"

In this article, Dr. Vandana Shiva, a noted Indian physicist and ecological activist, suggests that part of the solution to India's agricultural crisis lies in making farming more "woman centered."

"Plea to West Over Indian Suicides"

Jenny Cuffe reports for the BBC on Indian farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh.

"The Damage Done: Aid, Death and Dogma"

In this 2005 report from Christian Aid, the organization blames British policy for the farmer suicides and calls for a change in its free trade policy. (PDF format)

"Aid U-turn Comes Too Late to Stop Thousands of Indian Suicides"

This 2005 article in The Guardian references the Christian Aid report as well as three separate studies in India that link Great Britain's liberalization policies with farmer suicides and poverty.

"Suicide Rate Spikes Among Farmers in India"

Listen to this NPR report from the summer of 2004 about the spike in the suicide rate in southern India.

"GM Seeds in India"

This 2000 NPR report warned of the effect that genetically modified seeds were having on India.

"Harvest of Fear"

FRONTLINE and NOVA explore the intensifying debate over genetically modified food crops. Through interviews with scientists, farmers, biotech and food industry representatives, government regulators, and critics of biotechnology, this two-hour report presents both sides of the debate, exploring the risks and benefits and the hopes and fears of this new technology.

"Seeds of Conflict"

NOW and the BBC held a roundtable at the 2002 U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Read about the debate surrounding the issue of genetically modified foods and genetic diversity.

"Bacillus Thuringiensis"

This U.C. San Diego site details how the bacillus thuringiensis toxin, often referred to as Bt, kills insects.

Food and Environment

At this site, the Union of Concerned Scientists cautions that new pesticides are not a viable solution to insect control.

"Centre's 'No' to Bt in Andhra Pradesh"

Learn more about the debate surrounding the use of Bt cotton and read about a three-year study on the Andhra Pradesh region at India Together, an online Indian news magazine.

"BT Cotton in Andhra Pradesh: A Three-Year Assessment"

The full report debated in India Together can be found on this site.


Monsanto, the corporation that developed Bt cotton, explains in its Web site, in a section on agricultural biotechnology, that the company breeds new plant varieties that "fight plant pests -- insects, weeds and diseases -- that can be devastating to crops."

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