Prince Charles is right on farmer suicides
1.'Bt cotton has failed in Vidarbha', says Agriculture Minister - The Times of India
2.Prince Charles is right - Aruna Rodrigues
3.A fading cotton bumper crop -
NOTE: In yesterday's Independent on Sunday there was an attack on "Prince Charles's assertions that suicides in India have been exacerbated by the introduction of GM."
Julian Little of the GM industry front group the Agricultural Biotechnology Council described Charles's assertions as "gratuitous and deeply worrying", and complained about people "using the tragic situation faced by some farmers in India for political point-scoring".
Little also said, "Prince Charles should ensure that he looks to both the science and the facts before making such rash and inflammatory statements."
Well, here are some facts for Julian Little to ponder:
*Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti, the farmers' NGO on the ground in Vidharbha has consistently reported that it is Monsanto-Mahyco's Bt cotton that the majority of cotton farmers have been growing in Vidarbha who've taken their own lives. Vidarbha is the main cotton belt of Maharashtra - the State in India where there has been the biggest uptake of Bt cotton by farmers.
*The failure of Bt cotton in the main cotton growing area of Vidarbha has even been confirmed by the (pro-GM) Maharashtra agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat (item 1).
*Aruna Rodrigues included data on the suicide problem among Bt cotton farmers in sworn evidence before the Supreme Court of India. (item 2)
*The terrible problems with Bt cotton has also been attested to by Indian development journalist Palagummi Sainath (see item 3).
On the basis of official reports and his own on the ground investigations into the situation in Vidarbha, Sainath, who was awarded the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay award (often considered Asia's Nobel Prize) for journalism, has described the impact of multinationals like Monsanto on debt-burdened farmers in Vidarbha as "devastating".
"One of the big headaches in Vidarbha is the state propagandised and favoured the promotion of Bt Cotton. Firstly, Bt Cotton technologies are themselves suspect in a number of ways. However, promoting them in a dry and un-irrigated area like Vidarbha was murderous. It was stupid, it was killing."
Sainath also notes that the State's Agriculture Commissioner gave the Government of India a report which found that although Bt cotton is far more expensive its performance was "not satisfactory". "Despite this, Ministers, MLAs, and film stars were roped in to promote Bt cotton."
A further overview of the "Farmers' suicides in Maharashtra" from the office of the Divisional Commissioner
found that Bt cotton yields "have been unstable. When farmers invest heavily in purchasing seeds and other inputs, the net return has often been negative."
Worst of all, "In rain-fed conditions, Bt cotton has not paid good returns." This Sainath points out, "implies a disaster, since nearly 97 per cent of cotton grown in the State is unirrigated." (item 3)
1.'Bt cotton has failed in Vidarbha'
The Times of India, 11 May 2007
NAGPUR: If any proof about failure of genetically modified Bt cotton in the main cotton growing area of Vidarbha was needed, it came on Wednesday from Maharashtra agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat.
After a meeting with agriculture experts, officials, people's representatives for the coming Kharif season, Thorat admitted that the much-hyped, and high-priced Bt seeds were only adding to the burden of Vidarbha's farmers.
Thorat said the opening of Bt to more private companies was likely to bring down the prices and make it more affordable for farmers.
2..Re: Re: Charles targets GM crop giants in fiercest attack yet
I've just spoken to Kishore Tiwari [of Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti] to refresh my memory because I clearly must be accurate in what I say.
This is the story of west Vidharabha which has seen the worst suicides of Maharashtra -- approx 80% of the whole!
Since around 2000, the phenomenon of seed availability orchestrated by the industry and a compliant Regulator is that no non-Bt cotton seeds were available to farmers.
Virtually all these farmers who committed suicide also farmed cotton which means they were Bt. cotton farmers. 20% of these suicides are attributable to only Bt cotton since it was virtually their only crop.
The Tata Institute of Social Sciences which was appointed as an expert by the Mumbai High Court (in a hearing of a Writ petition filed before it) has
also attested to Bt cotton being a causative factor in farmer suicides due to higher input costs.
This data has been given in sworn evidence by me in the SC of India
3.A fading cotton bumper crop
The Hindu, November 25 2006
Claims of a cotton bumper crop in Maharashtra have faded. Farmers feel such talk was meant to push prices down further. Procurement delays could also force many to sell in distress to private buyers.
[- Photo: P. Sainath
image caption: Laxmibai Bodewar sits on her bed of unsold cotton. The yield from her 35 acres has been poor, cotton prices have tanked, and procurement is yet to begin in any serious way. She is amazed by talk of a 'bumper crop.']
"BUMPER CROP? Where are you living?" Mohan Maratrao Patil wants to know. "My family has 45 acres here in Yavatmal - and all we've managed is 80 quintals of cotton so far. At best, we'll get another 80. We've lost lakhs of rupees." That his lands are irrigated has not helped. "Find me the farmer who has had that great harvest." Mr. Patil, a Bt cotton grower in Vanjiri, scoffs at the notion of a bumper crop.
The idea was aired by the Government of Maharashtra itself. The State's Minister of Marketing, Harshvardhan Patil, told the press more than once that he expected a huge rise in cotton production this year. Some reports had him predict a 'bumper crop' of 350 lakh quintals. Others had him peg it at a more modest 300 quintals. Either way, this would mean a huge increase of 30-40 per cent over the official estimate for last year.
On the ground, in any of the six 'crisis' districts of Vidharbha, this 'bumper crop' is hard to spot. Farmers report huge losses. Official reports tend to confirm their claims. "The State would be lucky to see a yield of 160 lakh quintals this year," says Vijay Jawandia in Wardha. A leading farm activist of this region, Mr. Jawandia believes "the only purpose this kind of bumper crop propaganda serves is to depress already low prices."
"It's the oldest story," says Mr. Patil. "When the crop is in the farmers' hands, all sorts of things are said and done to depress the price. Once it is with the traders, you will see the price improve." The implications are grave for most of the region's 1.7 million farm families. Close to half a million of them - more than two million people - have been recorded by a government survey as facing "maximum distress."
The Minister appears to have based his claim on the estimates of the Cotton Advisory Committee. That body felt Maharashtra would see a yield of 70 lakh bales this year. (That is about 350 lakh quintals.). The Agriculture Department may not contest that claim in public. But top officials say the yield won't exceed 40 lakh bales (200 lakh quintals). The gap between the two claims is a massive 150 lakh quintals. Which, Mr. Jawandia points out, "could be the final production figure in toto."
Also, as a senior official in Amravati told The Hindu : "Almost 3.5 lakh hectares were severely hit by floods and excessive rainfall in this division. Both cotton and soybean have been hurt." There were other problems, too. "Everybody was down with chikungunya," say farmers across the region. "It was very tough to get labour when we needed them most." With some farmers having switched to soybean this season, it gets even harder to see where the 'bumper crop' can come from.
"One aim, of course, is to depress prices," says Kishore Tiwari of the Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS). "You will find mill owners associations and the like always predicting a bumper crop. They do not have the machinery or means to make such estimates, but they will. It pushes the price down. Yet, this bumper crop campaign has another purpose. It aims to boost the image of Bt cotton, which has fared badly. The idea is to say, even on less acreage, there's much more yield - thanks to Bt."
Many share his mistrust. This is one State where the Government has gone out of its way to promote Bt cotton. Even though some top officers have expressed grave doubts over this path. This is not new. Last year, the State's Agriculture Commissioner gave the Government of India a report that said "no significant differences were observed" between Bt and non-Bt varieties of cotton. Except, of course in terms of the price of Bt cotton seed - which the report found was not "a justifiable cost." Some basic myths were undermined. "On an average 3 to 5 sprayings were given to both Bt and non-Bt. The attack of sucking pest was reported on both." It also said its field officers found Bt cotton's performance "not satisfactory." And that in some cases, "non-Bt varieties yield better than Bt varieties." Despite this, Ministers, MLAs, and film stars were roped in to promote Bt cotton.
This year, the latest overview of the "Farmers' suicides in Maharashtra" from the office of the Divisional Commissioner, Amravati, begins more tactfully. It says results from Bt cotton "have been mixed." It then goes on to spill the beans. "In rain-fed conditions, Bt cotton has not paid good returns." Which implies a disaster, since nearly 97 per cent of cotton grown in the State is unirrigated. "Though the use of Bt cotton in Maharashtra is increasing," says the overview, "the yields have been unstable. When farmers invest heavily in purchasing seeds and other inputs, the net return has often been negative."
Mr. Patil and his neighbour agree. "What do I do?" asks Laxmibai Bodewar. "First, we've taken a blow, getting much less than our 35 acres should have given us. Now we are unable to sell what we have. The price has collapsed. And there is no procurement." She talks to us sitting on a giant bed of cotton. Part of the 100 quintals she's stuck with at home. Ms. Bodewar, too, is a Bt cotton grower.
For a State sitting on a 'bumper crop,' the action has been slow. Never mind a yield of 350 lakh quintals of cotton. Official procurement has not even touched one lakh quintals as yet. "The delay is deliberate," says Mr. Tiwari of the VJAS. "This is forcing farmers to sell what little they have to private traders. To deflect criticism, they will step up procurement just before the start of the Assembly session on December 4. By that time, many will have sold in distress. Then they will say - farmers are getting a much better price on the open market. So let us wind this up altogether. That is the game."