The research, led by Professor Andrew Gutierrez of U.C. Berkley, found that the high cost of BT cotton seeds supplied by multinational corporation Monsanto and increased insecticide use has forced India’s farmers into such financial hardship that they are taking their own lives.
Of the nearly 600,000 suicides that took place in the four rain-fed, cotton-growing states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra between the years 2001 and 2010, more than 80,000 were farmers, the study said, pointing out that suicides decrease with increasing farm size and yield but increase with the area under BT cultivation. The drought-prone Maharashtra, in particular, is known as India’s “suicide belt.”
“Farm size and yields are measures of poverty and risk, while the increase in BT area is a surrogate for high costs of BT technology adoption and continued use of insecticide,” the author said in a statement, suggesting that unpredictable weather, increased usury costs and substandard planting densities have also influenced the economic distress triggering the suicides.
BT cotton was introduced to India by Monsanto in 2002 to protect the yield potential of the crop from damage by the pink bollworm and other lepidopteran pests. By 2012 there were more than 1,128 hybrid varieties grown in more than 90 percent of the country’s cotton areas. And while BT adoption in irrigated locations is likely the reason why India looks set to overtake China as the world’s largest cotton producer, the study argued that it’s come at the high cost of human life in low-yield, rain-fed settings.
“The publication of thorough holistic analysis of the Indian cotton system is important for understanding what is leaving farmers without any hope of sustaining a livelihood for themselves and their families,” the study concluded, recommending that such alternative systems as high-yield, short-season local and organically grown varieties be put in place instead.