Monday, May 11, 2009

Of GM Cotton Seeds, Farmer Suicides and Prince Charles

I am back after a short holiday in Kerala, more of a working holiday, to settle some property matters with my brother. The trip was undertaken by air and while up there (28,000 ft, minus 52 degrees outside, aircraft flying at 500 plus kms per hour), I couldn't but wonder at the beauty of the world below me. The serene beauty, the accumulation of white tufts of clouds of various shapes (spires, towers, hills, peninsulas, etc.), the bluishness that ranged from magenta to mauve and beyound made me wonder why we are destroying the world at such a rapid pace, so much as to be unforgivable. Most leaders of nations and business travel by air in safely cocooned air-conditioned spaces and in cars similarly cooled by artificial means. But what happens to the farmer who toils in the hot earth down below to make a living and produce food for us to consume is something pitiful and a pathetic reminder of the rape that our dear planet is facing.

What suicides? One may ask. They drink and commit suicide, that being the popular perception, albeit a cliched one. No. The implications are much deeper. We have plundered the earth and depleted its natural water and forest cover and on top of it have interfered with the lives of farmers, which we had no business to do. The movie 11th hour (www.11thhour.com) is a chilling documentary film that details the harm we have done and as Leonardo Dicaprio rightly says in the film, "we are facing a convergence of crisis." See it, it will change your life, maybe!

I have been following the plight of farmer suicides in Vidarbha and other regions of the country for some time, as a part of an article I had written for an online news portal some years ago. The issue is of the use of Genetically Modified (GM) BT cotton seeds which are said to increase production of cotton. However, what it has turned out to be is a genocide of farmers (around one farmer committing suicide every half hour), because the farmers have been misled by the GM BT cotton peddling multinationals. They were not told the following according this article in Dail Mail:

1. Far from being 'magic seeds', the GM pest-proof 'breeds' of cotton have a tendency to be devastated by bollworms, a voracious parasite.

2. The farmers were not told that these seeds require double the amount of water. With depleting water levels around rural India the plants just wither and die.

3. Plants grown using GM seeds do not produce seeds that farmers can re-plant. That is to say, GM seeds contain so-called 'terminator technology', meaning that they have been genetically modified so that the resulting crops do not produce viable seeds of their own. So each time the farmer has to go to the company to buy their seeds at exorbitant rates. It's all about branding their product, you see?

4. Unscrupulous traders sell faux-GM-cotton-seeds at low prices, but these seeds are prone to disease, a fact unknown to farmers.

According to the abovementioned article Prince Charles is concerned by the suicides (Imagine! Prince charles, and not union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, minister from Maharashtra, where Vidarbha is situated!) that he has set up the Bhumi Vardaan Foundation to aid the farmers in distress.

Why, oh, why has it to be a foreigner who brings such tragedies at our doorsteps to our attention? What were the well-turned-out and voice-modulated talking parrots of the Indian electronic media doing? Couldn't they drag their huge vans with dish antennas and hyper-active reporters to Vidarbha and film even one such suicide?

From 28,000 feet above the earth the earth looks beautifully complacent and covered in a bluish haze. For how long I wonder!

(Hat tips to Kamayani Bali Mahabal for her post on Facebook, which led me to write this post.)

2 comments:

sreelatamenon said...

Very topical and quite succintly put.But haven't you realised that India has and will always react only to the foreigners' beat? Till then she lies passive revelling in her indolence!
regards
sreelata menon

John said...

Sreelata, thanks for comment. It is sad that we wake up only when someone from abroad points it out and makes a noise. I mean, wake up, if at all.

John