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Monsanto rakes in billions while Indian farmers commit suicide
by Siv O'Neall    Axis of Logic
Entered into the database on Saturday, April 22nd, 2006 @ 18:23:29 MST


Untitled Document

There exists an enormous discrepancy between promises of relief from the colossal threat of starvation in the world on the one hand and the stark reality on the other hand. In India, in Africa, in Latin America and elsewhere, world leaders and companies – such as the giant Monsanto – hold out hollow promises of fabulous crops of genetically modified seeds while in India there are thousands and thousands of suicides among farmers who can no longer make a living on their land and there are millions of deaths from starvation in Africa. The sufferings of countless hungry and malnourished children in Africa, Asia and Latin America can not be calculated in cold figures.

Monsanto, a multinational company specializing in biotechnology, is a major producer of GM seeds and pesticides and it has for decades promised blue skies and end of hunger to starving people in the developing world. However, this multinational is just one of an ever-increasing number of biotech companies that have appeared all over the world.


“Who will make hunger history?

With an estimated 24,000 people succumbing globally to hunger every day, more than 120 million people could perish by the year 2015 from this shameful scourge. In Gleneagles, however, the leaders of the world's richest economies did not even provide lip-service to the hungry and malnourished.”

- Devinder Sharma
3 August 2005



Bt Cotton Creates Three Times the Earnings for Indian Farmer Benefits of Bollgard – Biotech crop could boost living standards for millions.

“In the field trials, Shankarikoppa [an Indian farmer quoted as an example for the success of genetically engineered seeds] was impressed by the yield gains and reduced spraying from the biotech seeds supplied by Mayhco, the Indian biotech company that is partially owned by Monsanto. Since then, the Indian government has approved three hybrids of biotech cotton for commercial planting. Shankarikoppa was one of the first to plant biotech cotton commercially.

"With biotech cotton, I make two to three times what I used to with the old, traditional seeds," Shankarikoppa said. "And I spray 80 percent less now than I did before."”

The GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee) approved Bt cotton seed from Monsanto in 2004 after some farmers had found that they yielded several times more than ordinary cotton seeds and require less insecticide treatment.



But the FAO report ignores what is actually happening on the ground, as Bt cotton fails to deliver benefits to small-scale farmers around the world. Today, two new studies on Bt cotton in India and West Africa by the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Coalition in Defence of Diversity and GRAIN provide more evidence of Bt cotton's failure in the fields and of the FAO's failure to defend the interests of small-scale farmers. They come at a time when FAO's Director General received a letter signed by over 650 organisations, expressing their outrage and disagreement with the FAO report."


Thanks to worldwide renowned activists and writers such as Devinder Sharma, Arundhati Roy and Vandana Shiva, all three based in Delhi, who have been passionately outspoken on the subject of genetically modified cotton and corn, we now seem to be getting closer to the day when GMO seeds will be banned and will no more ruin the lives of poor farmers. Bt cotton and Bt corn have had a molecule added to the seeds that make them resist even the strongest herbicides, such as Roundup. The promises of such crops were bright, but the results have been disastrous. The only people who have won out in this cruel game of putting at stake the lives of poor farmers in India and Africa, Indonesia and Latin America are the stockholders and the CEOs of the huge companies who have made enormous profits from the sale of these products and the holding out of false promises. Prominently among those multinationals is Monsanto.

Interview with Vandana Shiva, Environmental activist – India (by Sue Wheat)

“Vandana Shiva [… ] argues with clarity and commitment - defending her views with an array of well-marshaled statistics and examples. Ms Shiva believes that Western society is mesmerized by a dangerous and pervasive myth: the belief that economic growth and the power of technology will inevitably combine to relieve mass poverty.

'Everything we have been taught in contemporary times is that monocultures are necessary, to increase both production and growth. But this kind of thinking is really one-dimensional. It negates our true human and ecological state, which is diversity. And we destroy this at our peril. Let me give you some examples.

'The "Green Revolution" was supposed to bring Western technology to the aid of Third World farmers. But instead of wealth the new high-yielding seeds brought poverty and environmental destruction. These capital-intensive technologies also led to an economic monoculture. Institutions like the World Bank loaned money around the world to every developing country to do the same thing.

'But uniformity is not nature's way; diversity is nature's way,' she explains. Soon, she adds, there was a backlash. 'When Third World farmers began to grow single crops, plants that for centuries had provided communities with essential vitamins were suddenly declared "weeds" and doused with pesticides. In some villages in India blindness increased severely because the so-called "weeds" had been the community's only source of Vitamin A... Genetic changes to shorten the height of grain increase yield led to a scarcity of straw; that meant less humus, depleted soils and eventually fewer grazing animals.

The end result of all this was not more but less food. Reducing the financial support for farmers will only make it easier for multinational corporations to tighten their grip on global markets.

'Open-door policies,' she says, 'will remove all restrictions on imports and exports, inevitably converting Third World's subsistence food production into a market for big business.' It's not surprising that peasant movements worldwide oppose these kinds of open markets. 'For them maintaining diversity is a matter of survival. There will be no Indian culture if there are no Indian farmers to regenerate and continue that culture.'

Diversity, she insists, cannot be maintained by foreign corporations whose main aim is optimum yield from one product in order to gain maximum profit. The names of the six corporations that control the global grain trade roll off her tongue: Cargill, Continental Grain, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge, Andre and Mitsui Cook. These companies market the high-yielding seeds that are the heart of the 'Green Revolution'.

Ms Shiva argues that these new seeds are not all they're made out to be. 'In India I've discovered that farmers can grow more grain and lose money. In the group of farmers I worked with those planting their own seeds earned 3,000 rupees a year. Others planting Cargill's "new improved" hybrid seed netted only 297 rupees after the harvest because most of their earnings were used to pay for inputs like fertilizer and pesticides.'”

Excerpts from Arundhati Roy:

Darkness Passed....

“Meanwhile, economists cheering from the pages of corporate newspapers inform us that the GDP growth rate is phenomenal, unprecedented. Shops are overflowing with consumer goods. Government storehouses are overflowing with grain. Outside this circle of light, the past five years have seen the most violent increase in rural-urban income inequalities since [India’s] independence [in 1947]. Farmers steeped in debt are committing suicide in hundreds; 40% of the rural population in India has the same foodgrain absorption level as sub-Saharan Africa, and 47% of Indian children under three suffer from malnutrition.”

Baby Bush Go Home: Arundhati Roy on Massive Protests Against Bush's Visit to India

“And yesterday on the streets, while I was there, there were, you know, 53 widows, from my state of Kerala, of farmers who have committed suicide because of the closing net of debt around them. Tens of thousands of farmers have committed suicide. And yet, you know, he arrived here with these corporates like ADS and Cogentrix and Unocal. All of them have such dubious records. It's really unbelievable, and yet if you see the way the CEOs and the corporates are falling over him -- and I have to mention this, that they couldn't find a public space in India for Bush to speak, so he ended up -- the meeting was organized in the Delhi zoo, in the walls of the Purana Qila, which houses the Delhi zoo, where he was going to speak to some rich people and some corporate people.”

Interview with Devinder Sharma (journalist turned writer)

The politics of food and agriculture

From British Colonialism to WTO Rules and Privatization

Implications of the WTO for agriculture

“Hunger in India is at a level today that [is] very shameful. We have this hunger existing at a time when we have a mounting food surplus. We have an unmanageable food surplus, which is a record in history, and we also have a record number of hungry with us today.

"This paradox forced me to get into this issue of hunger. There are two ways of looking at it. One, of course, is the grassroots effort that one can do to bring people out of hunger. The other, to my understanding, is that hunger is the result of policies, national and international. The basic idea, or the basic focus, today, is to keep one half of the world hungry, because you can only exploit the hungry stomach. You cannot exploit a full stomach, somebody who is very happy and fed. That is the world’s effort. And that is very shocking and demeaning, shameful.

That is the focus of my work.”

Amelia Gentleman in her article on April 19, 2006, looks into this enormous threat to the world and to the relief of world hunger in her excellent IHT article. (Amelia Gentleman, a long-time foreign correspondent and deputy foreign editor for The Guardian newspaper of the U.K., moved to Delhi in February 2005 to join the International Herald Tribune as New Delhi correspondent.)

Despair takes toll on Indian farmers

Monsanto has claimed that their Bt cotton (resistant to boll weevil) requires only two insecticide treatments instead of the usual 6 to 8 treatments. They also promised larger crops but, on both accounts, the farmers were hugely disappointed. In thousands of cases over the past year, desperate farmers were driven to suicide. The already indebted farmers found no way out of their desperate situation.

Amelia Gentleman writes:

“The modified seed sold for about four and a half times the cost of normal seed, but many farmers opted to buy it because they believed it was indestructible and would give a higher yield."

She continues:

“Yogesh Chand Nanda, a member of the commission, said: "There is a problem in Indian agriculture right now. During the 1990s, profitability went down - the cost of farming rose, wages increased, the price of seeds and fertilizers went up, but the returns were lower. A large number of people who used to be subsistence farmers have moved toward commercial farming - exposing themselves to much greater risks."

They were devastated when many of the Bt cotton plants were afflicted in November with a reddening that destroyed much of the crop.”


Monsanto Terminator Technology -- Worldwide Famine & Starvation

“Monsanto is in the process of acquiring and patenting their newest technology, known as "Terminator Technology." This technology is currently the greatest threat to humanity. If it is used by Monsanto on a large-scale basis, it will inevitably lead to famine and starvation on a worldwide basis.

Billions of people on the planet are supported by farmers who save seeds from the crops and replant these seeds the following year. Seeds are planted. The crop is harvested. And the seeds from the harvest are replanted the following year. Most farmers cannot afford to buy new seeds every year, so collecting and replanting seeds is a crucial part of the agricultural cycle. This is the way food has been grown successfully for thousands of years.

With Monsanto's terminator technology, they will sell seeds to farmers to plant crops. But these seeds have been genetically-engineered so that when the crops are harvested, all new seeds from these crops are sterile (i.e. dead, unusable). This forces farmers to pay Monsanto every year for new seeds if they want to grow their crops.

In less rich countries, hundreds of millions of people rely heavily on small farms which produce foods for the region. If these farms begin to use Monsanto's terminator technology, and cannot afford to buy new genetically engineered seeds from Monsanto the following year, many of the people in the region may starve. Under normal circumstances, food could be brought in from other regions. However, many of those other regions will likely have the same problems with famine due to Monsanto's terminator technology.”

Hunger, food aid and GMOs

“Civil society groups in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean have joined together to denounce the presence of GMOs in food aid being distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP). The group has urged the WFP to immediately recall all the food aid containing GMOs.”

Monsanto's Bt corn: burden not boon

“The Greenpeace report entitled "The Economics of Bt Corn: Whose Interest Does It Really Serve?" details the exorbitant cost of planting GE corn over conventional varieties. [In the Philippines] Bt corn seeds can cost as high as P4,400 to P4,900 per 18-kg bag; in contrast conventional corn varieties cost a lot lower, starting from P1,500 for conventionally bred hybrid seeds to as low as P460 for Open Pollinated Varieties (OPVs).

Bt corn varieties also require higher fertilizer inputs, which makes it clear from the beginning that planting Bt corn comes at a huge premium that most farmers cannot recover from.”

Contradictory messages concerning GMO seeds

The following excerpts may to some extent clarify the seemingly contradictory reports, less fertilizer needed – more fertilizer needed; yield somewhat higher – yield distinctly lower, etc. It appears to be a fact, however, that study results have proved to be somewhat contradictory, possibly due to initial bias and also very likely to varying basic conditions in the different studies.

Stink bugs on Bt cotton or "Bt cotton versus Bio cotton"
08.2005, Saro G. Ratter ...

“Many reports appeared in the medias about huge economic and ecological benefits of Bt cotton, especially in developing countries like India and South Africa. Some even presented the GM crops as the new "Green revolution" that will finally help to reduce the hunger in the world. Many scientists, politicians and other decision makers are tempted to believe these promises. GM cotton is used to introduce this technology in developing countries. But there are more and more reports of long term studies coming up that draw a different picture. New pest problems developed after some seasons and most cotton growers can not realise economic gains with the Bt cotton varieties. This contribution reviews these critical reports about GM cotton ...”


On 3rd of June 2005 the Andhra Pradesh government banned further sale of Monsanto Mahyco Bt cotton varieties in the state. For news coverage of the ban see: ‘Angry Andhra uproots Monsanto - Indian state bans corporate bully’

The ‘Times of India’, June 04, 2005 reported that Monsanto's cotton has deficiencies: New research into Monsanto’s Bt cotton cultivation in Maharashtra by scientists at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE) shows the costs are significantly higher than for non-Bt cotton. They also report numerous complaints of Bt cotton suffering from bollworm and other pest/disease attacks. The researchers recommend that the government should investigate and that if they find Bt cotton is being damaged by bollworm attack, they should not only help the farmers get proper compensation but should also penalise "the companies for making false propaganda about their seed varieties".”


The mentioned ISIS press release "GM Cotton Fiascos Around the World" states about the experiences in China: "...a Chinese researcher reports that the technology will not only be useless within six to seven years, but ‘could cause a disaster’. Liu Xiaofeng, a researcher from Henan, …, told Reuters that the cotton bollworm is indeed developing resistance and will not be susceptible to Bt cotton after 20-30 generations, or in six to seven years. Moreover, Bt cotton does not effectively control secondary pests such as Lygus bug ...”

“Conclusion: The mentioned reports show that many success stories about GM cotton are based on very short term studies or isolated cases. Scientists and the industry are drawing a wrong picture. Long term studies and the experiences of farmers after several years indicate that economical and ecological benefits can not be realised by most farmers. The reports should be used to warn the decision makers of developing countries and the development policy to introduce this technology in other developing countries (e.g. like Bt cotton in West Africa).”

More evidence against the biotechnical industry

“South Africa Study Shows Failure of Genetically Engineered Cotton

"In addition to several comprehensive reports in India detailing how Bt cotton has been a total failure, a five-year study from South Africa also shows how GM cotton has destroyed small farmers.

"The Biowatch South Africa study looks at the small farmers of the Makhathini Flats in Kwazulu-Natal, the same farmers that were widely promoted by Monsanto as a huge GM success story in Africa.

"But a close and long-term look at the data shows how Monsanto’s claims were premature at best, or deliberately misleading at worst.”

“The findings include:

Out of 3,000 farmers who originally grew Bt cotton, only 700 continue to do so (an 80% dropout rate), which does not suggest that the crop has been a success.

Farmers who grew Bt cotton are now in an average of $1,300 debt as a result.

There has been no reduction in the use of pesticides. Now stink bugs have emerged as a major problem, as in other parts of the world where Bt cotton is grown.”


Will the fight against the worldwide and deadly attack on farmers by companies like Monsanto finally be won and the lives of millions be saved?

It seems very likely that the GMO hoax is sufficiently on the decline that it might be safe to say the multinationals have lost the fight in this criminal attempt to make a fortune at the expense of the lives of poor farmers and starving people all over the world.

Thanks to the continuous fights led by dedicated women and men, in India and elsewhere, the world appears to have finally awakened to the fact that GMO seeds, far from bringing solutions to the problems of death and suffering from famine in the world, will instead exacerbate the problem multifold, while at the same time, needless to say, they have made billions for the transnational biotechnical corporations.

The fight is far from won though. The WTO, energized by the Bush administration, is putting enormous pressure on the European Union to make Europe revoke its ruling against the spread of genetically-engineered plants and foods.

Is the health of the planet going to win in the end or will destruction and callous private gain be the winners?

Siv O’Neall is an Axis of Logic columnist, based in France. She can be reached at