To the farming families of India, this seemed like a dream come true. The promise of bigger crops and more money caused a huge adoption to the genetically modified seed system. But the farmers didn’t realize all of the implications by committing to this new farming technology that was aggressively marketed.
The World Bank‘s structural adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Syngenta. The World bank was also investing in India’s agriculture market with the use of micro-loans to help bring in these new hybrid and genetically modified seeds technologies.
Saving seed is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable traits. So the genetically modified seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year. Political pressure was also applied in efforts to promote the uptake of GM seeds,traditional varieties were banned from many government seed banks.
Says global justice activist Vandana Shiva: “Under globalization, the farmer is losing her/his social, cultural, economic identity as a producer. A farmer is now a ‘consumer’ of costly seeds and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations through powerful landlords and money lenders locally.”
The price difference for the genetically modified seeds is staggering, usually at least 1000 times more than traditional seeds. In addition to the huge seed costs, large amounts of herbicide must be purchased with the crops planted. This in effect locks the farmers into a farming method that spirals into increased poverty and indebtedness.
Year after year, the debt increases until the interest on the loans becomes overwhelming. In desperation, farmers are compelled to sell body organs such as kidneys or even commit suicide. Since 1997, 182,936 Indian farmers have taken their lives and the numbers continue to rise. According to a recent study by the National Crime Records Bureau, 46 Indian farmers kill themselves every day – that is roughly one suicide every 30 minutes – an alarming statistic in a country where agriculture is the economic mainstay.
Shrikrishna Kalamb was a farmer with a large family that started with the promises of the genetically modified “magic seeds”. But the dream became a nightmare as the strain of financial debt increased year after year.
Not willing to burden his family, Shrikrishna wrote about his feelings of despair in his poetry, over 50 poems, that were later discovered by his family. Two days before he committed suicide by hanging himself on March 24, fifty-year-old farmer of five acres Shrikrishna Kalamb penned his last poem….
My death will be like untimely rain.
The cotton in black soil is like a poem to me
Its roots as sweet as sugarcane…
Dr. Vandana Shiva. Indian physicist, ecological campaigner, women’s rights activist and writer, she has received numerous awards for her commitments. She founded Navdanya International to defend and protect nature and the rights of people to access to food and water and dignified jobs and livelihoods.