Farmers' suicides, Bt cotton linked: Experts (7/7/2006)

In spring 2005 Monsanto brought the Bollywood star Nana Patekar to the state of Maharashtra to promote its Bt cotton seeds as the answer to a poor farmer's prayers.

Since then in Maharashtra's main cotton growing belt of Vidarbha, there has been a tragic escalation in the number of farmer suicides. So far, 626 farmers have taken their own lives - the vast majority Bt cotton growers.

This, as the article below makes clear, is anything but a coincidence.

As Vijay Jawanghia of the farmers' union Shetkari Sanghatna explains, "The introduction of Bt cotton only increased the indebtedness of the farmer as it raised the overall cost of inputs by 40 per cent."

On top of that, there was already evidence that Bt cotton was unlikely to be successful in the growing conditions of Vidarbha. Bt cotton's high costs and poor results were a fatal combination, particularly given reduced state support for cotton farmers.

Monsanto - in its drive to squeeze every last rupee out of Maharashtra's poor farmers via its campaign of hype - squeezed the very life blood out of many.

Monsanto's brand ambassador, Nana Patekar, has not been back.

Vidarbha farmers' suicides, Bt cotton linked: Experts
Makarand Gadgil / Nagpur Business Standard, July 4 2006

Genetically modified cotton seeds or Bt cotton is one of the major reasons for the spate of farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha over the last two years, say experts.

Last year, when Bt cotton was introduced in the region, the seeds were priced at a prohibitive Rs 1,700 for a 450 gm packet, almost four times higher than the hybrid seeds.

"The reason for such a high price was the high royalty of Rs 1,400 per packet charged by Monsanto, the US seed company which has developed the Bt seeds from its licensed seed manufacturer in India," said Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti.

However, the Andhra Pradesh government challenged this high royalty in the Supreme Court, after which Monsanto agreed to reduce the royalty and this year seeds are available at Rs 750 per packet, still pricier by Rs 300 compared to the hybrid seeds, says Tiwari.

Tiwari argues that the combination of high seed price and withdrawal of the monopoly state purchase scheme is what drove the farmers in the area to suicide.

"With imported cotton coming in at 10 per cent duty, there was no way a Vidarbha farmer could compete in the marketplace profitably. This state of affairs will continue until the government raises the import duty on cotton to 60 per cent or reintroduces the monopoly purchase scheme," he said.

Vijay Jawanghia of the Shetkari Sanghatna [farmers' movement] adds, "The introduction of Bt cotton only increased the indebtedness of the farmer as it raised the overall cost of inputs by 40 per cent. And unfortunately, at the same time prices fell from Rs 2,300 per quintal to Rs 1,700 per quintal as the state government withdrew its cotton monopoly purchase scheme."

Tiwari also alleges that the state went ahead with the introduction of the Bt seed without considering its implications and despite expert opinion to the contrary.

He points out that both Dr Punjabrao Agriculture University of Nagpur and the state agriculture commissioner had said that Bt cotton is ideal for areas where temperature doesn't exceed 35 degrees Celsius.

But summer temperatures in Vidarbha often soar beyond 45 degrees. Also, it is not the ideal seed for areas dependent on rains.

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