The Somali pirates terrorize the Gulf of Aden. In India, Monsanto terrorizes one of basic sources of human survival – food. But this may change. After years of cajoling with Monsanto, the Indian government finally threw in the towel. In 2010, it banned commercial approval of GM seeds “indefinitely” to prevent Monsanto from “frankencroping” basic crops like brinjal. Most importantly, the Indian government filed a “biopiracy” suit against Monsanto to curb its appetite for flooding the Indian market with “patented” artificial seeds.
At the center of this suit is brinjal or eggplant, a common crop that farmers across India grow. The Indian government alleged that Monsanto has developed its own lab-grown version of brinjal or known as Bt brinjal in an attempt to “re-engineer them into patented varieties.” There are about 2500 varieties of brinjals in India. Indian farmers and proponents of organic food growers smelled blood. Natural News reported that, “Besides successfully overturning the attempted approval of Bt brinjal, these freedom fighters have also successfully destroyed several attempted Monsanto GM test fields.”
The Killer Seeds
For decades, the U.S. agri-business giant has been selling its genetically modified (GM) seeds to the Indian farmers through favorable government regulations and market monopoly. The irony is GM seeds have not been effective in India and the consequences are not as rosy as what Monsanto had promised to deliver. Scathing reports of mass suicides of the Indian farmers broke out as recently as three years ago when scores of farmers took their own lives in order to escape the burden of high price and failure of Monsanto’s GM seeds. Monsanto offered its GM seeds to the farmers of India with hopes of reaping plentiful crops. Plain and mostly uneducated farmers thought Monsanto has come to provide a “magic” formula that would transform their lives. They had no idea what was coming.
Monsanto’s seeds in India did not produce what the company had promised and farmers hoped. The expensive seeds piled up debts and destroyed farming fields. In many instances, the crops simply failed to materialize. The farmers were not aware that the GM seeds required more water than the traditional seeds. And lack of rain in many parts of India exacerbated the crop failure. With no harvest, the farmers could not pay back the lenders. Burdened with debts and humiliation, the farmers simply took their own lives, some by swallowing poisonous pesticides in front of their families. To date, an estimated 200,000 farmers have committed suicide all over India.
To add to the misery, wives inherited the debts along with the fear of losing their homes and lands. With no money coming in, they also had to pull their kids from the schools. The mass suicide among the Indian farmers is known as the “GM genocide.”
In a country of more than 550 million farmers who are largely poor and uneducated and the agriculture market rife with inefficient business practices, the Indian government sought to reform the market by eliminating subsidies and loans to the farmers. The government reform did not help the farmers. With pressure from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Indian government has “forced market liberalization on India which means the elimination of government subsidies and government-backed loans to farmers.”
The new regulations to “liberalize” the market actually helped Monsanto and its subsidiaries in India to expand and control their GM seed business. Monsanto and its subsidiaries and partners not only dominated the seed market, they raked in large profits at the expense of ineffective seeds and lives of the Indian farmers.
Using its colossal market power, Monsanto craftily penetrated into the Indian markets. Monsanto convinced the Indian government that its GM seeds would produce better crops. According to a report by Farm Wars, one former Managing Director of Monsanto claimed that Monsanto manipulated research data “to get commercial approvals for its products in India.” Indian regulatory agencies, instead of verifying the data, simply remained compliant with the findings of what Monsanto presented. “They did not even have a test tube to validate the data and, at times, the data itself was faked,” the Farm Wars report says.
Government regulations worked in favor of Monsanto to monopolize the Indian seed market. To cite an example, “Prime Minsiter’s Office” in India pressured various state governments like Andhara Pradesh and Rajasthan to sign MOUs with Monsanto to privatize the seed market. Through these “vested interests” with the Indian government, Monsanto eventually has monopolized the GM seed market for more than a decade. Unable to purchase traditional seeds, the farmers had to pay a hefty price for the expensive GM seeds. Many farmers had to borrow money from the local lenders to buy Monsanto’s seeds. To cite an example of how expensive the GM seeds are, 100 grams of GM cost $15 to the farmers compared with $15 for 1000 grams of traditional seeds.
Vandana Shiva, a renowned scientist and activist in India, wrote that Monsanto had also planned to control water in India. Its aim was to control water supply through privatization. In other words, Monsanto sought to profit from water, a lifeline of Indian livelihood. By seeking control of water, Monsanto also seized the opportunity to benefit from the scarce water supply that plagues communities throughout India.
Manipulation and Misinformation
The failure of Monsanto’s GM seeds was palpable. The farmers held onto their hopes for better crops after they had planted the “magic” seeds. Their crops never came. Throughout the villages in India the harvest from the GM seeds failed. The parasites destroyed the so-called “pest-proof” GM seeds. Monsanto uses methods of manipulation and misinformation to reap their own benefits and profits at the cost of the farmers who rely on organic methods to grow their crops and animals, a tradition that existed in India for centuries. By a contractual clause, the farmers could not save Monsanto’s GM seeds for reuse after the first season.
Whether or not the farmers understood this legal binding would merit an examination to underscore the extent of Monsanto’s market power and conniving business practices. Misleading and forcing farmers to buy the GM seeds through government policy and market monopoly must be purged as part of reforming the Indian agricultural market.
Mahatma Gandhi declared “quit India” against the British colonization in India. Some 60 years later, a group of activists are using the same message against Monsanto. Public perception against Monsanto has been growing stronger. And that is a single big force to bring about agricultural reform in India. The Indian farmers have destroyed Monsanto’s many test farming sites. The anger of the masses has not spared Indian government. Organized groups have actively spoken against the “incompetence and irresponsibility of the Union government to gamble with the future of Indian agriculture.”
The Indians certainly have risen against a corporate giant. Leaders and luminaries around the world have spoken as well. To cite an example, Prince Charles has expressed his contempt for the “bio-tech leaders” and “politicians” who have caused suicides among the Indian farmers. His charity organization promotes “long-term benefits of sustainable agriculture” that would provide “decent returns” to the farmers.
But what does the future really hold for Monsanto’s GM seeds in India? The 2010 ban on Monsanto’s GM seeds was a positive step forward by the Indian government to save the lives of the farmers and its farming communities. Only time will tell how long the effects of these policy changes will last. In a country where money, politics, and business often go hand in hand, farmers may now be at the mercy of their own fate.