Viviane Dalles

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).

17.07.06. Cotton factory, Gore kunta, Warangal. Cotton is taken out of the bags to be compressed. Cotton will then be exported to other areas of India or abroad to make clothes (mainly to Bangladesh, the United States, China or Australia...).
  
17.07.06. Cotton factory, Gore kunta, Warangal.
  
13.12.06. Seed shops, Warangal. These salesmen establish the link between the seed-producers and farmers. The farmers are inexperienced with the new hybrid seeds on the market so they often trust the salesmen. The farmers always think that the latest hybrids are the best.
     
  
14.07.06. Dasroo thanda, Warangal. When I asked small farmers why they still cultivated Bt cotton, despite previous losses, they said, ‘ ..we buy Bt cotton because the seeds cost only 750 rupees (14 euros) this year, in previous years they cost 1,880!’ The farmers are inexperienced with the new hybrid seeds on the market so they often trust the salesmen.
  
19.07.06. Shyampetaveli, Warangal, . Vijaya, 22, and her husband Avalu, 28, cultivated cotton Bt on their 5 acres of land. Due to unbearable debts and recent bad harvests, Avalu committed suicide by swallowing pesticide in 2005. Vijaya remains alone with her two daughters, Venalla, 5, and Navyer, 2. In order to provide for her family, she works in the fields where she earns 100 rupees a day in paddy fields (rice) or 25 rupees in cotton fields. She owes the bank 1 lackh rupees. She wants to keep her land for her daughters’ dowries. In the countryside, a widow with two children cannot remarry because the men refuse to support the children from a previous marriage.
  
14.07.06. Panthula Palle, Warangal. Lalitha Gone, 24 years, owned 4 acres with her husband. In 2005 due to unbearable debts followed by heavy losses, her husband hanged himself. Now she is reduced to being a labourer on her land confiscated by the moneylenders. She has no means to repay her debts which now total 255,000 rupees (€4,555).
     
  
10.12.06. . Pantelguden, Warangal. P. Sriramulu, 35, owns 2 acres and cultivates Bt cotton Mahyco Bollgard. This year the harvest has been very bad. On average, the farmers harvest the cotton 4 or 5 times between November and March. P. Sriramulu’s plants yielded only once. He owes the bank 10,000 rupees (€ 176) and a moneylender 50,000 (€ 883 euros). Despite this situation,  if the same company sells a new hybrid seed the next year, he will buy it. The farmers always think that the latest hybrids are the best.
  
In this village, when farmers cultivated non-Bt cotton, they collected an average 735kg. Since the arrival of Bt cotton in 2002 they only harvest 100kg. The farmers are don’t know the new hybrid seeds on the market so they often trust the salesmen.
  
12.12.06. Shyampetavelli, Warangal. Since 2002, 90% of farmers have turned to GM seeds as the “miracle” solution. Woman working in cotton fields are paid 25 rupees a day (€ 0,44).
     
  
12.07.06. Grain Market, Warangal. Every day nearly a thousand farmers come from surrounding villages to sell their crop to salesmen elected by the local cotton factories. The price per quintal is between 1,750 and 2,500 rupees depending on quality (between € 31 and € 44).
  
Grain Market, Warangal. Every day nearly a thousand farmers come from surrounding villages to sell their crop to salesmen elected by the local cotton factories. The price per quintal is between 1,750 and 2,500 rupees depending on quality (between € 31 and € 44).
  
20.07.06. Cotton factory, Gore kunta, Warangal. Here, the cotton is separated from the seeds. The workers are paid 6 rupees an hour (€ 0,10).
     
  
17.07.06. Cotton factory, Gore kunta, Warangal. Cotton is taken out of the bags to be compressed. The workmen are paid according to output (52 rupees per bag / € 0,90).
  
17.07.06. Cotton factory, Gore kunta, Warangal. Cotton is taken out of the bags to be compressed. The workmen are paid according to output (52 rupees per bag / € 0,90).
  
The cotton is compressed. The workmen are paid according to output (52 rupees per bag / € 0,90). Cotton will then be exported to other areas of India or abroad to make clothes (mainly to Bangladesh, the United States, China or Australia...).
     
  
12.21.06. Oil Mills, Hyderabad. This factory buys Bt cotton seeds. Once the seeds are pressed, the oil will be refined and sold as ‘vegetable cooking oil’ to local shops in Hyderabad. The remaining husks (80 %) called ‘oil cake’, will be sold as cattle feed.
  
27.12.06. Vishnu Cotton Mills Ltd, Kolkata. This factory receives cotton from various states in India – Maharastra, Punjab, Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. All the varieties are hybrid. In order to obtain an optimal quality, they blend the cotton for the clothes industry or for sewing thread. Once processed, the goods will be sent abroad (Europe, the United States, Canada...). On average the workmen are paid 4,500 rupees per month (€ 80).
  
Cotton factory.