Bt Cotton and Farmer Suicides in India
November 8, 2008 12:28 PM   Subscribe

A recent study shows that farmer suicides in India have not increased due to introduction of GM crops The Washington based research organization IFPRI claims that "Bt cotton is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the occurrence of farmer suicides. In contrast, many other factors have likely played a prominent role." Their study has been wielded in the empirical arms race by big pharmaceutical corporations such as Monsanto against NGOs that oppose GM modified crops in India such as Gene Campaign and activists such as Vandana Shiva.
posted by bodywithoutorgans (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, that's hardly a ringing endorsement of GM crops, is it? "Monsanto, NOT driving farmers to suicide!"
posted by lunasol at 12:45 PM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

See what awful things happen when you don't pirate!

But seriously, if you don't like Monsanto exploiting people, then break their patents and produce non-crippled versions.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:04 PM on November 8, 2008

What a bizarre claim. Getting shot in the face is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for the occurrence of death, but I bet there's a relationship.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:04 PM on November 8, 2008

"destroying your society and stealing your seeds won't necessarily drive you to kill yourself. Grow a pair, farmers!"
posted by eustatic at 1:10 PM on November 8, 2008

I was going to say something snarky, but all four comments already on this post pretty much sum up my feelings.

So, uh... your mother!

must get a hit of snark before the DT's set in...
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:12 PM on November 8, 2008

This sounds like a massive failure of communication. If the Bt cotton is so terrible a variety then in an agricultural sector with even a modicum of free communication, it would quickly fall out of use in favor of better varieties. The only argument for Monsanto's responsibility for increased farmer suicides in the links provided is that Monsanto lies about the properties of Bt cotton.

So either farmers are not able to communicate with each other, or Monsanto is coercing the farmers into using their strain of cotton, and I didn't read anything in this post about coercion. This is a sad, strange situation, and I feel like I don't have the whole story here.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:32 PM on November 8, 2008

Some important anti-GMO activist once said "I'm not afraid we'll make new mistakes, I'm afraid we'll perfect the old ones". Bt cotton definitely has advantages, but Monsanto uses their patent monopoly to lock-in the farmers.

Imagine your town has been growing cotton for generations, so you've breed cotton that grows well in your setting. You've always traded seeds with foreigners looking for advantages, mixing these with your standard stock. Imagine now half the farmers in your village try Bt cotton with Monsanto's low introductory rate; well they find advantages mix the seeds into their own. But now all their seeds are contaminated with Monsanto's IP. So they must keep buying licenses from Monsanto. Soon the whole town must buy licenses since the fields cross fertilize.

Cargill and Monsanto have many many more tricks than this, but the basic point is always to trap the farmers. Ideally such criminal behavior needs to result in all Monsanto's patents being voided.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:45 PM on November 8, 2008

Minor quibble, but is Monsanto really a "big pharmaceutical corporation?" Agricultural for sure.

I find them to be pretty evil, so do a lot of people.

On google:

search "monsanto evil" you get 235,000 results.
search: "Monsanto bad" you get 683,000 results.
search: "Monsanto soulless" you get 3,670 results.

Obviously do the search without the quotes.

Surprisingly, this is way down from when I ran this little experiment back in May.

On May 30:

Evil: 317,000
Bad: 1,270,000 hits.
Soulless: 5,330 hits.

I have nothing against GM crops, but I do find gene patenting to be dangerous and unethical. Denying farmers the ability to store their own seed for reuse is plain evil. Having a company legally in control of the food supply is stupid.

I wrote Monsanto one of my letters back in May (the only reason I actually have the google numbers). They didn't respond. read it if you like: self link.

I don't know why these numbers would go down, but if you spend any time on the results, you get a pretty negative picture of this company. Hell, even "pedophile lawyer" only returns 321,000 results on google.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:01 PM on November 8, 2008

Mmmm that does sound underhanded. Too bad the Indian government can't protect the farmers against such cruel patent practices.

There is something that still doesn't hang together about this. If your village has depended on cotton for generations, and you've always traded with foreigners to try to find better varieties of cotton, why was there such a disaster this time? Surely Monsanto's Bt cotton wasn't the first cotton variety to do poorly? Why would an experienced cotton farmer who had tried many varieties of cotton in the past foolishly replace his/her entire crop and risk everything? Why not plant a small area with the new cotton in the first year to make sure the new kind is better?

I'm sure these questions reflect much more on my ignorance about Indian cotton farming than anything about the situation, but I'm curious.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:12 PM on November 8, 2008

Not sure if it was Monsanto, but you also have companies like this swooping into another country, taking their produce, tweaking it, licensing it, then requiring the farmers to pay to raise the product they've been raising for centuries. This has happened with some Mexican corns.

The United States then uses treaties to make sure compliance is enforced.

Kembrew McLeod has a section in his book, "Freedom of Expression" where he compares seed storing to illegal MP3 downloads as far as the law is concerned.

And like someone above pointed out, if the company happens to give away cheap seeds to everyone around you, and your crop starts to show Monsanto's Intellectual Property, then you need a license to grow your own food (or cotton). Screwed up for sure, but you're talking governments that can't afford to fight these things, much like the poor can't afford to take a landlord to court.

There was even a case where one of these companies deliberately contaminated a farmer's crops, then sued him for not having a license. The was an organic farmer now suddenly growing what he saw as tainted food.

Not a lot of farmers can afford to take Monsanto to court.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:27 PM on November 8, 2008

That sucks. Ok, you put Monsanto over my (attenuated) bar for being an evil corporation. Ironic that its name is sort of a portmanteau of "my saint".
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:28 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

In the south of France, Monsanto is said to be a modern avatar of Mephistopheles, except that it won't allow faustian seeders to keep their souls.
posted by nicolin at 1:58 AM on November 9, 2008

I'd like to understand how a study can possibly claim to have discovered other "reasons" for a completely cultural phenomenon? how are causal inputs and cultural manifestations possibly modelable?
posted by yonation at 6:08 AM on November 10, 2008

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