|Bt cotton implicated in farmer suicides (25/11/2005)
This important study, ordered by the the Maharahtra state government, implicates Bt cotton in the appalling problem of cotton farmer suicides.
In general, the report notes that while a variety of factors can contribute to farmer suicides, key contributory factors include debts from crop failures, lack of irrigation and an unfavourable cost-benefit ratio of the crop.
Bt cotton does nothing to help farmers escape these problems - in fact, quite the opposite given the additional cost of Bt seeds.
As the article puts it, "The use of Bt cotton is not really a guarantee for profit." It also notes that, "Whether Bt or non-Bt, due to dryland germination rate of only 65 per cent, farmers sow two seeds instead of one, increasing the input cost."
The significance of this is that Bt seeds cost significantly more in the first place, so having to purchase extra seeds because of poor germination adds still more to farmer debt.
The article also notes, "due to lack of irrigation, Bt cotton too, can't be very effective in Vidarbha. A huge amount of money, 89 per cent of the total expenses, was spent on insecticides."
In the case of Bt cotton, farmers are paying more for seeds that "can't be very effective" to begin with, and then they're having to pay for insecticides on top of the higher seed costs.
Although it is not mentioned in the article, an added factor is of course the aggressive way that Bt cotton has been hyped in India as a semi-miraculous cure for cotton production problems.
The following report details the use by companies like Monsanto of false and misleading claims as well as unethical practices to sell their Bt Cotton seed in states like Maharahtra: THE MARKETING OF BT COTTON IN INDIA: AGGRESSIVE, UNSCRUPULOUS AND FALSE.
No 'personal' reason behind cotton farmers' suicide
A few months ago, after sustained media reports, the government ordered a study on the matter. The preliminary findings of the study, conducted by Mumbai's Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research (IGIDR), puts the government's argument out of court.
The report lists reasons that are anything but "personal".
Debts from crop failures, breakdown of formal credit structures, lack of irrigation, absence of government extension services, unfavourable cost-benefit ratio of the crop, options for cash crops being limited to cotton and soyabean and poor public intervention are cited as the main causes.
The study, conducted in 111 households, cited debt as the prime reason for suicide, causing about 93 per cent deaths. In 41 per cent cases, the families were harassed for repayment. About 40 per cent of families suffered due to crop failure. In most cases, the loans were taken for purposes like marriage in the family. Also, ill health added to the loan burden. In only 28 per cent of cases, addiction (particularly alcohol) was found.
The use of Bt cotton is not really a guarantee for profit.
"Whether Bt or non-Bt, due to dryland germination rate of only 65 per cent, farmers sow two seeds instead of one, increasing the input cost."
On the other hand, due to lack of irrigation, Bt cotton too, can't be very effective in Vidarbha. A huge amount of money, 89 per cent of the total expenses, was spent on insecticides.
Most importantly, in view of the current controversy over the governments decision not to pay the bonus of about Rs 500 over and above the average minimum support price of cotton Rs 1,700 for all grades the study mentions that even the highest price under Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme does not match the high production cost (Rs 2,204 per quintal).
The report also highlights the loopholes in the criteria for government aid of Rs 1 lakh to the family in cases of suicide. Only in 20 per cent cases the family receives aid.
"It is often denied on the ground that the farmer was not the owner of the land, the difficulty in verifying the informal loan and restricting loan as a cause only if there was harassment for repayment."
In a footnote, the study also highlighted the issue of removal of quantitative restrictions and import duty reduction on cotton from 35 per cent in 2001-02 to 5 per cent in 2002-03, exposing the farmer to the volatility of internation prices.
* In the past week, 2-3 suicides were reported every day. The rate in 2001 was one every 10 days, 850 reported in five years
* Suicides are normally reported at sowing and harvest times, when the farmer needs and loses money, respectively
* In the past two years, Yavatmal alone accounted for more than half the suicides
* This year the number in Yavatmal has crossed 250