Photo Essay : - Monsanto in India, 2006
MONSANTO COVETS THE WHITE GOLD
Andra Pradesh, july - december 2006
In a move to compete with its two principal rivals (China and The US) and to appease struggling farmers, the Indian government gave the green light to the American agro-industrial firm MONSANTO in 2002.
MONSANTO and the leading Indian seed producer Mahyco have together marketed a new hybrid, Bt cotton (Bacillius thurengiensus). The companies promised local farmers large profits, without needing to purchase additional pesticides. A significant factor as cotton is the most pesticide intensive of all arable crops.
India is the third largest producer of cotton with a 12% world market share. The country has more land acres of cotton than any other. 60 million people are dependent on cotton farming and the textile industry.
The Warangal region is in the heart of the cotton producing Deccan Plateau in Andhra Pradesh. Here and in other states (including Maharastra, Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka) local growers have been lured by the attractive advertising campaign. Driven by bad harvests and ever increasing debts from buying extra pesticides, more than 90% of farmers have turned to genetically modified seeds as the “miracle” solution. But Bt cotton was not developed for this ecosystem, ie. alongside the climate and predatory insects. Many farmers have had a nasty surprise and have been obliged to use pesticides not properly adapted for cotton. Some find themselves submerged in debt from banks and increasingly high interest rates from private money lenders. Unable to survive and in the face of despair, some small farm owners see no other way out than to end their own lives. While suicide amongst cotton farmers has existed for years, this problem is far from being solved.
At the same time, owners of large farms who have the financial means to purchase pesticides and build wells to combat the recent
drought, the use of GM seeds remains the best current solution. But these farmers are unaware of the long-term damage caused by Bt. The increasing use of GM seeds in India is causing irreversible damage to the environment, in particular depleting soil minerals. The first cases of poisoning and death of cattle that graze in cotton fields have been listed in this area.
In May 2006, Chinese companies got their licences from the Indian government and with this the opportunity to promote new GM seeds. Since 2004, fourteen companies have bought the Bt licence from Monsanto to develop and commercialize new hybrid seeds. The Indian company Mahyco and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research are already working on new GM crops (such as rice, cereals and vegetables).