Sowing seeds of ruin

[COVERING DEPRIVATION]

By AIHIK SUR

Wardha, January 2: BT cotton which was introduced as a joint venture between Monsanto and Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. (MAHYCO), has helped big farmers but has ruined the livelihood of small landholders, according to a farm expert.

Kishore Jagtap, Project Coordinator at M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Wardha, explained, “The production of BT cotton needs three things — chemical fertilizers, water and good soil. Advertisements by companies such as Monsanto and Mahyco attracted big farmers and they started cultivating cotton.”

“The small farmers followed suit, but their production stagnated because they didn’t have enough money to spend on water,” he added.

Less than 15 per cent of the fields in Wardha is irrigated and the rest of the land is rain-fed. Therefore it becomes expensive to pump the water needed to the fields.

Even the availability of cotton seeds needed for a new crop is an issue.

Naresh Gowarikar, a farmer in Dorli village in Wardha district, says, “We used to have organic seeds, ones that our forefathers used to cultivate. Those seeds are not with the farmers anymore, they are with the companies.”

The comapnies, Monsanto and Mahyco have taken these organic seeds and treated them with chemicals which increased the yield of the crop. They then sold the seeds to the farmers at high prices.

“Nowadays, for 450 grams of BT cotton, we have to shell out Rs. 700 to Rs. 1500,” added Gowarkar.

Vijay Jawandiya, a leading farm activist in Vidarbha and President of the Kisan Coordination Committee, a coalition of farmers’ organization across the country, said “The introduction of BT cotton has enslaved the farmers. We have to buy the seeds every year.”

“There is no BT cotton production in America because the cost of labour there is $8 to $10 an hour. And this cotton is produced by crossing two male and female flowers which has to be done manually, “said Jawandiya.

Bt cotton is produced in India because the labour is cheap, he added.

Maharashtra has 38 lakh hectares under cotton cultivation, of which 98 per cent is sowed with BT cotton seeds developed by Monsanto. The cost of production is higher than the return on the investment which has led to numerous suicides by farmers.

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