Monsanto and the Farmers’ Suicide


Over at discover magazine, Keth Kloor has a post about the BT Cotton suicide narrative in India (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2014/01/07/selling-suicide-seeds-narrative/). The blog is announcing a much longer article about this problem (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/files/2014/01/GMOsuicidemyth.pdf).

I am a very big proponent of genetic engineering and believe that genetically modified crops and livestock will help us in a big way to reduce our environmental impact and to produce enough for the growing population. However, I am also a strong critic of the monopolistic practices of the GM companies (Monsanto et al.).

I acknowledge that these companies spend a lot of money to come up with their GM products. They guard their secret and even put very severe restrictions on replanting or otherwise trying to propagate the changes by the farmer herself.

Vandana Shiva is a person I admire, for her zealous fight for issues of women and poor. However, I have very grave differences with her ideology, methodology and tactic. Reading the article, which charges Ms. Shiva with the manufacturing of a crisis story, or at least, appropriating a real tragedy for her fight against globalization and genetically modified crops. I am equally or more alarmed by the fast pace of economic “liberalization” in India that vastly increases the power and resources for the rich and the business while systematically eroding the social safety nets. Giving a huge multinational corporation whatever level of power over India’s food supplies is quite a scary thought. However, as I said in the beginning, I believe as a technology, GM has a lot to offer in a country like India.

While Ms.Shiva is a particularly vociferous and a bit over the top activist, one thing the article did not mention much is about the much higher cost of farming using modern farming technologies, including GM (Typically GM seeds are of much higher cost with severe restrictions on re-seeding). The tightening of credit by the ongoing liberalization of banking (which btw, is part of the same globalization Ms. Shiva and many others are against), lower levels of social security net etc., along with the perennial Indian problems of slow infrastructure growth and uneven investment all are problems that are affecting the poor in India, of which most farmers are.

Again, I have no undue worries about the technology of genetically engineered agricultural products, the Monsanto (or any other large GM seed company) way might not be the best to provide agricultural stability in developing countries. Primary concerns are the cost of seeds and the strictly commercial nature of its availability. For e.g., in case of a crop failure, earlier a farmer could acquire locally grown seeds with very little money. But, when most farms are already growing GM (for e.g. BT Cotton), non-GM farms will fair extremely poor. It is not a far fetched conclusion that, wide spread acceptance of GM food crops owned by large multi-nationals like Monsanto can have a significant effect on the country’s food security.

The problem in India is not about the technology of GM, but the way the technology is been adopted. For e.g., if the BT Cotton was an open source technology, it would have, literally transformed Indian villages in the cotton belt.

Things are not always black and white.

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