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“For I was hungry and you gave me food.” Matt. 25:35

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Farmer suicides in India

By Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva published a longer version of this article, titled “Seed Monopolies, GMOs and Farmer Suicides in India,” in May 2013.

farmers in India

A little-talked-about genocide is taking place in India. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, since 1995 more than 290,000 small farmers of India—the most resilient and courageous people I know—have committed suicide.

As an Indian woman, as a scientist and an environmentalist, and, most importantly, as a human being, I am deeply concerned about the desperation created by a debt trap and by corporations that profit from selling costly chemicals and nonrenewable seeds.

When we talk about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we’re not talking about a thing or a disembodied technology. We’re talking about a set of relationships, a series of human lives set in a context of seed monopolies and the destruction of alternatives. It was the life of one particular person, after all—an indebted farmer in Warangal who committed suicide after shifting to GM hybrid cotton—that led me to begin studying these suicides in the first place.

It’s not just the GM technology that’s at fault; it’s the economic practices that surround the technology. Farmers are not choosing GM cotton. They simply have no alternatives. Other options have been wiped from the market. Local varieties have mysteriously stopped being released. And most Indian companies are locked into licensing agreements with Monsanto and can only sell Monsanto’s cotton seeds.

Those who dispute the relationship between farmer suicides and seed monopolies often reference studies that look at data from across all of India instead of focusing on the cotton areas where these monopolies have the most effect. It is equivalent to declaring that a patient suffering from throat cancer is fine by looking at the health of cells of the entire body instead of focusing on the cancerous cells in the throat.

In the cotton area of Vidarbha, Maharashtra, for instance, farmer suicides have risen from 52 in 2001 to 927 in 2012. But even this figure is misleading. It hides the lives ruined as collateral damage. Every suicide ruins the lives of an entire family, usually eight or nine people. With the husband’s death, a new vicious cycle of debt is set in motion, as the widow works round the clock to pay back her husband’s debts and to make ends meet.

That one widow transforms an academic debate over statistics into a social debate about lives unnecessarily extinguished for profit.

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