You’re a small-scale farmer in India.
|For the small scale farmer, debt is a huge problem|
You used to combine growing cotton with growing food crops, but then the government started telling you about a new wonder cotton which would make you rich. Ads appeared on TV...happy farmers, like you, only with plenty of money for daughters‘ weddings and for parents healthcare crops. The ads, from companies like Monsanto - American, ‘modern‘ and therefore good in your eyes - promised a better, more successful farming life if you used their special genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton seeds. You trusted them, turned over your entire crop production to cotton....and, then, as the years progressed, like tens of thousands of small scale farmers, you started to wonder what you’d let yourself in for.
The ads hadn’t explained how costly the new Bt seeds would be and that producing chemical cotton is an expensive process, with no guarantee of success.
According to a farmer in the 2007 documentary Cotton for my Shroud, seeds used to be 30 rs per kg. Then hybrid seeds went on the market at around 200 rs per kg, then Bt seeds cost 4-5000 rs per kg. This huge increase in the cost of basic seeds is out of all proportion to an increase in yield. And with one kg of seeds needed to sow one acre, farmers are facing a substantial outlay. Fertilizer, which used to cost 30 rs per pack is now rs 200.
Most shocking is the increase in the cost of pesticide. Previously pesticide was around 30 rs per litre. But with the advent of Bt GM cotton, the average cost of pesticide produced by transnational agrichemical giants like Bayer, Dupont, and Monsanto, is around rs 8000 to 15,000 per litre.
Simultaneously, the output and fertility of the land has decreased, as the soil is weakened by continual sowing and resowing with the same, chemically dependent cotton crops. Soil has no chance to replenish itself as it is not possible to plant alternative crops due to high outlays. Overuse and over-reliance on scarce water supplies means that irrigation becomes increasingly difficult.
As one farmer observes, ‘You keep sowing an unprofitable crop and your loss keeps growing. Those who accumulate heavy losses, when the banks shut their doors, go to moneylenders. If the debt is unpaid the moneylenders take their land, and house.’
And if the cotton crop survives and the market price is reasonable, the corporate lobby applies pressure to government, and cotton is imported. Local rates crash again and more farmers die. A report submitted to the Indian parliament suggested that there were around 291,000 farmer suicides from 1995 till Aug 2011... about one suicide every 30 mins.
Countries like the US, which gives $4 billion subsidy to its cotton farmers, are constantly scouting for new markets. Under pressure from the WTO (World Trade Organisation), the Indian government removed all quantitative restrictions on imports. Cheap cotton from rich countries benefitting from substantial subsidies, made cotton production even less profitable for Indian farmers.
|The local cotton market...competing with US$ 4 billion subsidies|
And the trend of expensive Bt cotton continues to this day. Vivekananda Nemana of the blog India Ink reports that at a recent UN summit on GMOs in Hyderabad, south India, organised by the pro-biotechnology International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), representatives from the group said GM cotton was a success. Farmers no longer suffered from bollworms, which once ruined large sections of their crop, and saved time and money.
The farmers themselves told a different story. According to one, T Venkatesh, ‘We’re getting higher yields, but we’re not better off. Our costs have gone up much faster than the price of cotton.’
Another farmer, Srinivas Reddy agreed. ‘We buy our seeds on the black market and we pay three, sometimes five times as much as we did for normal seeds. But nobody is selling non Bt seeds anymore.’ Costs for farmhands and pesticides had also gone up, he said.
In June 2013, the news magazine India Today reported that Andhra Pradesh faced an acute shortage of Bt cotton seeds, driving up black market prices to as high as 2,000 rupees per packet and leading to a profusion of bootlegged seeds.
Though proponents of GM agriculture, as well as some independent studies, say that higher yields offset the costs of the seeds, farmers have seen other costs rise as well. The Andhra farmers said their crops were now affected by aphids, which replaced the bollworms that Bt cotton was designed to resist. The new pesticides require fewer applications, they said, but are far more expensive.
‘The old pesticide used to cost us 200 rupees per litre,’ said one farmer, who has been planting Bt cotton for six years. ‘Now I have to pay between 2,000 to 3,000 rupees. And I need to apply it more and more every year.’
Some critics of GM seeds see a never-ending cycle of rising costs – and debts – for farmers.
‘Farmers buy the seeds, and the costs of the pesticides, which they buy from the same companies, are probably tenfold what they used to pay,’ said Shivani Shah, a campaigner for Greenpeace in India. ‘So it’s creating a system of dependency. It is a deliberate idea of increasing costs and increasing royalties – there is no intention of reducing those costs through economies of scale.’
Lim Li Ching, a researcher with the Third World Network, a nonprofit devoted to developmental issues, said the increased costs from the rise of aphids was an expected turn of events. ‘As ecologists have pointed out from the start, you take out a target pest, you’re likely to have secondary pests coming because that’s how ecology works: you vacate one niche, you’ll have another niche take its place,’she said.
Higher seed and pesticide costs have left small farmers in India – and other developing countries – more vulnerable to failed monsoons and other climate change-related dangers.
For small farmers, the consequences can be tragic. When weak monsoon rains led to crop failures in 2005, hundreds of debt-ridden Bt cotton farmers in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra committed suicide by drinking pesticide. A PBS documentary on the suicides by Chad Heeter reported that the indebtedness was largely due to expensive GM seeds and pesticides. And each growing season, the suicides of indebted cotton farmers continue.
As a small business, trying to carve a niche in the competitive fashion industry, Nukleus understands the plight of small scale farmers. We acknowledge and honour the persistence of farmers who switch from chemically-dependent GM/Bt cotton to organic cotton...a process that takes three years, in which they will have little or no income. These farmers, like Nukleus and our fans have a vision of a better, more sustainable world, in which cotton does not cost the earth.
We salute and support the organic cotton farmers of India, who are struggling so valiantly to make a decent living for themselves and their families...and we salute our fans who make this possible. Buying organic cotton items may cost a little more, and we are all financially challenged. But spending a little more cash is an investment in our health, and the future, for ourselves and the planet...because we’re worth it.