Monsanto and India: distinguishing between stakes and culpability
We conclude our Monsanto series with a final blog on the multi-national’s effects in India. Especially with Prince Charles having drawn attention to the crisis as early as 2008, much controversy and accusation has been thrown around by both the company and organic enthusiasts. The controversy in a nutshell could be frased as, “which factors precisely are to blame for the suicide rate increase in India?” As muddled as things have been, it becomes necessary to clarify as much as possible.
Multiple factors likely at play in suicide rate and farming failures
Studies have sourced draughts, untimely rains, rural poverty, and others say that Monsanto is the principal culprit. All of the former factors undoubtedly have a direct and profound, negative impact on farmer suicide rates as well as the impoverishment of the farmers in a more general, yet still very grave sense. It’s difficult to quantify, let alone pinpoint, the source of the farming suicide rates, yet it remains safe to say the Monsanto GE product has only significantly agitated the case.
Monsanto’s product hardly “magic”
Monsanto promised India a biotech cotton product that would be nothing short of “magic.” What Indian farmers got didn’t even live up to being “pest-proof” as promised. To the extent to which this directly caused how many farmers to take their own lives is difficult to determine; what can be established, however, is that Monsanto has followed its own footsteps in a long history of choosing the betterment of its name and bottom line over the livelihood of its clients or those befallen to the consequences of the company’s decisions. Such fantastical promises worked out better for Monsanto’s strategy than the success of the farmers.
Farmer suicides is not the sole issue
Indian farmers are forced to pay 1,000 percent more for genetically engineered (GE) seeds. Additionally, whereas with organic seeds Indian farmers even after a season with little to no product can still salvage the seed for sewing next season’s crop, the Monsanto seed is genetically engineered to yield a seedless crop, leaving the farmer with no choice but to buy additional seed. Antagonizing the draught issue, Monsanto crops require twice as much water as the traditional product. With the government having aggressively pressured Indian farmers over the last decade to convert to the Monsanto seed, the farmer has found himself in a debt trap, unable to benefit from India’s Green Revolution.
Finally, it should be noted that the Monsanto clients in India are not the only ones being affected. Early this year, Dr. Vandana Shiva controversially tweeted the genetically modified organism imposition in India to rape. Sayer Ji clarifies and defends Dr. Shiva’s claim by noting that
… many GMO crops are wind and insect pollinated, their pollen (and the transgenes they carry) easily evade containment and are capable of traveling great distances. For instance, if pollen from genetically modified corn reaches a receptive non-GMO corn plant, transgenes will be forcibly integrated (through sexual reproduction) into the germline of their offspring, rendering them and all their future offspring permanently GMO. This could therefore be defined as a form of ‘bio-rape.’
As the product pollinates and yields a crop carrying the transgene to the unknowing, faultless farmer, he then becomes liable to Monsanto as using their patented product outside of contract. Just as the culpability for farmer suicide rate increases in India may not be Monsanto’s sole responsibility, the consequences are not limited to Monsanto farmer suicides or even Monsanto farmers themselves.