Industrial agriculture, not GMO cotton, root of India farmer suicide problem

| | October 1, 2015
farmer suicides
Nature, 2013
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Since the mid-1990s, around 300,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves—a rate of about one every 30 minutes. The tragedy has become entangled in the rhetorical war around genetically modified seeds.

Some anti-GMO activists have blamed the high suicide rates directly on biotech seeds—specifically, cotton tweaked by Monsanto to express the natural Bt pesticide, which was introduced in 2002–years after the suicide problem emerged.

Nature, 2013
Nature, 2013

GMO enthusiasts, by contrast, counter that Monsanto’s patented seeds are a boon to India’s cotton farmers: They’ve boosted crop yields, driven down pesticide use, and alleviated rural poverty.

So which is it? According to a recent peer-reviewed paper from a team led by Andrew Gutierrez, of University of California-Berkeley, the situation is too complicated to be described by sound bites.

For their analysis, the team looked closely at yields, pesticide use, farmer incomes, and suicide rates in India’s cotton regions, both before and after the debut of Bt seeds in 2002.

They found that on large farms with access to irrigation water, GM cotton makes economic sense— the more expensive seeds help control pests in a cost-effective way.

But 65 percent of India’s cotton comes from farmers who rely on rain, not irrigation. For them, the situation reverses—reliance on pesticides and expensive seeds increases the risk of bankruptcy and thus suicide, the study finds.

Even so, the paper does not present Bt cotton as the trigger for India’s farmer-suicide crisis. Rather, it provides crucial background for understanding how India’s shift to industrial farming left the majority of the nation’s cotton farmers increasingly reliant on loans to purchase pricey fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds, and eventually GM seeds, making them vulnerable to bankruptcy.

Read full, original post: No, GMOs Didn’t Create India’s Farmer Suicide Problem, But…

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