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By Andrew Malone
In a small town I visited, 18 peasants had committed suicide after being swallowed up by GM debts. And this has ended up being a matter of life and death.
When Prince Charles claimed that thousands of peasants in India were committing suicide by using GM [transgenic] crops, he was branded an alarmist. In reality, as this chilling report reveals, it's even WORSE than he feared.
The children were inconsolable. Dumbfounded and fighting back tears, they huddled next to their mother as friends and neighbors prepared their father's body for cremation over a fiery bonfire raised above the cracked and barren fields near their home.
As the flames consumed the corpse, Ganjanan, twelve, and Kalpana, fourteen, faced a bleak future. Although Shankara Mandaukar had been confident that her son and daughter would have a better life under India's economic boom, they now have to face slave labor for a few pence a day. Landless and homeless, they will sink to the bottom.
Shankara, a respected peasant, loving husband and father, had put an end to his own life. Less than twenty-four hours earlier, he had drunk a cup of chemical insecticide as he faced the loss of his land due to debt. He despaired of being unable to repay a debt equivalent to two years' earnings. He couldn't find a solution.
There were still footprints in the ground where he had twisted in his agony. Other peasants looked at him - they knew from experience that there was no point in intervening - when he doubled over on the ground, screaming in pain and vomiting.
Groaning, he crawled to a bench outside his simple home, some 100 miles from Napgur in Central India. An hour later, there was no more noise. He had stopped breathing. At five in the afternoon on a Sunday, Shankara Mandaukar's life turned off.
When neighbors gathered to pray around the family home, Nirmala Mandaukar, 50, told them how she ran back from the fields to find her husband dead. "He was a kind and loving man," she said, crying softly. “But I couldn't take it anymore. The mental anguish was too great. We have lost everything ”.
Shankara's harvest failed for two years in a row. Of course, famine and pestilence are part of the ancient history of India.
But the blame for the death of this respected farmer lies with something more modern and sinister: genetically modified (GM) crops.
Shankara, like millions of Indian peasants, had previously been promised rare harvests and income if she would stop growing with traditional seeds and instead plant GM seeds. But the crops were a failure, and he was left with nothing but heavy debts and no income.
So Shankara became one of 125,000 peasants estimated to have taken their own lives as a result of the ruthless campaign that has turned India into a testing ground for genetically modified crops.
The crisis, dubbed by activists the "GM Genocide", was recently highlighted when Prince Charles claimed that the GM issue had become a "global moral issue" and that it was time to end its unstoppable March.
Speaking via video conference in the Indian capital, Delhi, he enraged the leaders of biotech companies and some politicians by condemning "the truly appalling and tragic rate of suicides of small farmers in India, the product ... of failure of many of the varieties of GM crops ”.
Powerful GM lobbyists and prominent politicians have lined up against the Prince, claiming that genetically modified crops have transformed India's agriculture, providing bigger crops than ever.
The rest of the world, they insist, will embrace that "future" by imitating them.
So who is telling the truth? To find out, I traveled to the "suicide belt" in the state of Maharashtra.
What I found was tremendously disturbing, with serious implications for countries, including the UK, making it necessary to debate whether allowing the planting of seeds manipulated by scientists is not violating the laws of nature.
Official figures from the Indian Ministry of Agriculture effectively confirm that, shaping an immense humanitarian crisis, more than 1,000 peasants kill themselves here every month.
Simple, rural people, who are taking their lives slowly dying. Most ingest an insecticide, an expensive substance that they were promised they wouldn't need when they were coerced into planting the expensive GM crops. It appears that many are massively in debt to local lenders, having gone into debt up to their eyebrows to be able to buy these GM seeds.
Pro-GM experts claim that rural poverty, alcoholism, droughts, and "agricultural concerns" are the reasons for the horrific death toll.
But as I discovered during a four-day trip through the epicenter of the disaster, that's not the whole story.
In a small town I visited, 18 peasants had committed suicide after being swallowed up by GM debts. In some cases, women had taken over their dead husbands' farms, only to end up killing themselves.
Latta Armes, 38, drank insecticide when her crops failed, two years after her husband disappeared when GM debts overwhelmed her.
He left a ten-year-old son, Rashan, in the care of relatives. "He cries when he thinks of his mother," said the deceased's aunt, completely demoralized, sitting in the shade near the fields.
Town after town, families tell how they have gone into debt after being convinced to buy GM seeds instead of traditional cotton seeds.
The price difference is outrageous: 10 pounds [*] per 100 grams of GM seeds, compared to what traditional seeds cost: less than 10 pounds per thousand times the previous amount.
But GM vendors and government officials had promised farmers that these were “magic seeds,” producing better crops free from parasites and insects.
Indeed, in order to promote the consumption of GM seeds, many government seed banks prohibited the sale of traditional varieties. The Indian government, desperate to escape the devastating poverty of the post-independence years, agreed to allow new biotech giants, such as US market leader Monsanto, to sell their new creations in seeds.
In exchange for allowing Western companies access to the second most populous country in the world, with more than 1 billion people, the International Monetary Fund made loans to India in the 1980s and 1990s, helping launch a revolution. economical.
But while cities like Mumbai and Delhi have come a long way, the lives of peasants have regressed to the Middle Ages.
Although the areas of India where GM seeds have been planted have doubled in two years - to 17 million acres [**] - many farmers have paid a terrible price.
Far from being "magic seeds", pest-proof varieties of GM cotton plants have been devastated by worms that attack the cocoons and are a voracious parasite.
Nor did they tell the farmers that these seeds would require twice the amount of watering. And this has ended up being a matter of life and death.
Due to the drought suffered during the last two years, many GM crops atrophied and died, leaving farmers with crippling debts and no means to pay them.
Having borrowed from traditional lenders at predatory rates, hundreds of thousands of small farmers have had to face the loss of their land as expensive seeds fail, while those who could still fight faced a new crisis.
In the past, when harvests failed, farmers could still save seeds and replant them the following year. But you can't do that with GM seeds. And it is because GM seeds contain so-called “kill technology”, which means that they have been genetically modified so that the resulting crops do not produce usable seeds.
As a consequence, farmers have to buy new seeds every year at the same prohibitive prices. For many, that means the difference between life and death.
Take the case of Suresh Bhalasa, another peasant who was cremated this week, leaving a widow and two children. As night fell, after the ceremony was over and as the neighbors went out of their houses as the sacred cows returned from the fields, his family had no doubt that their problems originated at the time they were encouraged to buy BT Cotton, a genetically modified plant created by Monsanto.
"Now we are ruined," said the 38-year-old's widow. “We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton seeds. Our harvest failed twice. My husband became very depressed. He went to the field, lay down among the cotton and swallowed insecticide. "
The villagers put him in a rickshaw and took him to the hospital on goat tracks. "He shouted that he had taken the insecticide and that he was very sorry," he said, while his family and neighbors came to his home to express their solidarity. "When they got to the hospital he was already dead."
Asked if the dead man was a “drunk” or suffered from other “social problems,” as pro-GM officials allege, the quiet and dignified group of peasants exploded in anger: “No! No! ”Exclaimed one of the dead man's brothers. “Suresh was a good man. He sent his children to school and paid their taxes. "
“He was suffocated by those magic seeds. They sell us the seeds saying they won't need expensive pesticides but they do. We have to buy the same seeds from the same company every year. They are killing us. Please tell the world what is happening here. "
Monsanto has admitted that the exorbitant debt had been a "factor in the tragedy." But noting that production had doubled in the past seven years, a spokesperson added that there were other reasons for the recent crisis, such as "untimely rains" or drought, adding that suicide bombers had always been a part of life. rural india.
Officials also state that polls say that the majority of Indian farmers want GM seeds, no doubt encouraged by aggressive marketing campaigns.
During the course of my inquiries in Maharashtra, I came across three "independent" investigators scouring villages to find out about suicides. They insisted that GM seeds were only 50% more expensive, only to conclude that the difference was 1,000%.
(A Monsanto spokesperson later insisted that their seeds “only cost twice” the price of “official” non-GM seeds, but admitted that the difference could be huge if the cheaper traditional seeds were sold by traders. unscrupulous ”, who often also sell“ fake ”GM seeds, prone to pests).
Faced with rumors of impending government compensation to stem the wave of deaths, many farmers said they were desperate for any help. "We want to overcome our problems," said one. "We just want you to help us to end this chain of deaths."
Prince Charles is so shocked by the plight of peasant suicides that he is setting up a charity, the Bhumi Vardaan Foundation, to help those affected and promote Indian organic crops instead of GM crops.
Peasants in India are also beginning to fight back. In addition to taking GM seed dealers hostage and organizing mass protests, the government of one of the states is taking legal action against Monsanto over the exorbitant costs of GM seeds.
All of this is already late for Shankara Mandaukar, who was about 80,000 rupees (about 1,000 pounds) in debt when she took her own life. "I told him we could survive," said his widow, with her children beside her as darkness invaded everything. “I told him that we could find a way out. He replied that he preferred to die ”.
But the debt did not die with the death of her husband: unless she can find a way to pay it back, she will not be able to afford to take her children to school. They will lose their lands, having to join the hordes that beg by the thousands on the side of the road throughout this vast and chaotic country.
Precisely the cruelest of all is that it is young people who suffer the most from the "GM Genocide", the same generation that was supposed to emerge from a life of harshness and misery thanks to those "magic seeds".
Here in the suicide belt of India, the cost of the genetically modified future is murderously high.
N. of the T .:
[*] Around 15 euros.
[**] 1 acre = 4,048.8 square meters.
Andrew Malone at Global Research - Link to original text: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=10829
Translated from English for Rebelión by Sinfo Fernández - http://www.rebelion.org