Thursday, January 11, 2007

INDIA DYING – The suicide crops

INDIA DYING – The suicide crops

December2006. One farmer commits suicide every height hours in the Vidarbha, region in east of Maharashtra, cotton belt of India. Outward sign of a deep land crisis unequalled since the Green Revolution of the 70s, the disastrous situation went from 122 suicides in 2002, 622 in 2004, to more than 1300 in 2006… leaving behind it entire families in a deep despair and hundred of villages very worried. A crisis with pure political origins.

Monsanto, the american multinational company of biotech business receives in 2002 New Delhi’s authorisation to cultivate and put on the market its genetically modified seeds called the Bt Cotton. This kind has actually already been experimented by the firm for five years on the indian lands, and an important contamination in 2001 has obviously sped up the authorisation process. Follows an intense marketing and advertisement campaign. The farmers jumped on this grain of hope.

But it is expensive. To cultivate Bt Cotton is four times more expensive than the traditional seeds.

Then the expected yield is not always there. This variety needs a good irrigation - between 1960 until nowadays, the irrigation surface of Maharashtra state went from a small 10,5% to a pitiful 16% among which 57% would go to only 2% of the peasants, sugar tycoons, often very rich land owners and politically well connected.

The buying price of the quintal during the harvest as opposed to the electoral promises has gone down again compared to the year before... The State has put an end to its policy of public aid since two years, it doesn’t guarantee the buying at the fixed cost of the production. Now, the prices are based on the world rates. But American subsidized cotton that arrives in India is 40% less expensive than the local one. The custom barrier has gone down to 10%, the one on sugar is still 60%. It’s complete cynicism considering that the buyers are more and more the people selling the seeds…and the private money-lenders themselves! A merciless stranglehold. In the best of cases, the production will cost 20% more than the selling price.

The public land credit has considerably gone down into the countryside and the peasants have to turn to the money-lenders, using an exorbitant interest rate.

The great majority of the peasants who ended up excessively indebt or who committed suicide had gone to transgenic cotton, or pirate copies.

« India is taking the direction of wiping out smallholding farming (about 3/4 of the 60% of farmers in the country) in favour of corporate farming. That’s what the decks are being cleared for. The indian farmers are the last surviving body of small farmers in the world. They’re being finished. The agricultural policy is one of calculated neglect and gutting of agriculture. (…) What is Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar doing for farmers ? He wants us all to be out of business and hand over the land to US companies on contract. » P. Sainath Rural Affairs Editor at The Hindu (national daily).

The urban-rural divide is now there. In the indian way it means the creation of a land elite, like it is done in the schooling system. And just let the others manage themselves…

In India, where the song of the sirens of the economical power to be, of India’s century, of the worldwide influence, echoes in the cities, the image of world economical power with 60% of farmers seems indeed absurd.

According to a study published in March 2002 from NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation), 40% of the Indian peasants want to quit their job. The high authorities certainly couldn’t expect better.
Johann Rousselot / Oeil Public Agency
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