The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left out

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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sun Jan 24, 2016 9:06 am

Beware the New “Doubly Green Revolution”: The fake moral crusade to feed the world with genetically modified crops promoted as the second “Doubly Green Revolution” is doing even more damage than the first. The bad genetics involved in has failed the test in science and in the real world.
by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho



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Bad genetics kills

When James Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for the double-helix structure of DNA, came to the UK in October 2007 to promote his new book and autobiography, Avoid Boring People: Lessons From A Life In Science, he sparked outrage among fellow scientists. He said to a newspaper reporter that [1] he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africans” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really.” That was not the first time Watson abused his position to promote what the Federation of American Scientists condemned as “personal prejudices that are racist, vicious and unsupported by science” [2]. On a previous occasion, he suggested that people with low IQ had genes for stupidity, and he would like to prevent them from being born or give them gene therapy [3] (Why Genomics Won't Deliver, SiS 26).

Within a week of this latest transgression, Watson was suspended, and subsequently resigned, from his post as chancellor of the prestigious Cold Spring Harbour Molecular Biology Laboratory.

Nonetheless, it was precisely such eugenicist, genetic determinist propaganda that Watson had used so effectively in promoting the Human Genome Project in the 1980s. And if anything significant had come out of sequencing the human and other genomes, it was to explode the myth of genetic determinism once and for all [4] (see Living with the Fluid Genome, ISIS publication). Some of us had been arguing all along that genes and environment are inseparable well before the Human Genome Project was conceived. The surprise is how readily the environment could specifically mark and change genes and genomes to influence later generations. ‘The inheritance of acquired characters’ is nowhere as evident as in molecular genetics [5] (see Life After the Central Dogma series, SiS 24). It is part of the ecological genetics of the ‘fluid genome’ emerging since the 1980s that has made genetic determinism obsolete [4]. Unfortunately, our political leaders are still being ill advised by famous scientists adhering to the old discredited paradigm.

Another Nobel laureate (Nobel Peace Price 1970) who should know his genetics better is Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution was a reductionist approach to agriculture based on using genetics to breed genetically uniform high yielding varieties (HYVs), which has brought short-term increases in crop yields, but at tremendous environmental and social costs.

Borlaug has persisted in promoting this failed approach, especially in its later incarnation of genetically modified (GM) crops, as made clear in a Nature editorial published in October 2007, “Feeding a hungry world” [6].

Far from suffering disgrace, Borlaug is showered with awards, the most recent being the US Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian honour [7]. At the presentation event, M.S. Swaminathan, father of the Green Revolution in India, gave the keynote address.

India, meanwhile, is caught in a worsening epidemic of farmers’ suicide. Its agricultural minister acknowledged in the Indian Parliament that an estimated 100 000 farmers have taken their own lives between 1993 and 2003. The introduction GM crops to the country has escalated the suicides to 16 000 a year [7] (Stem Farmers’ Suicides with Organic Farming, SiS 32).

Borlaug is doing a great deal more damage to the world than Watson based on their bad genetics. The difference is that while Watson is now a liability in attracting grants and investments for genomics and related post-human genome endeavours, Borlaug serves as the ideal mouthpiece for the biotech industry’s fake moral crusade of feeding the world under the banner of the second, “doubly-green” revolution of genetically modified crops.

Lessons from the Green Revolution

The failures of the Green Revolution are widely acknowledged [8], and even by Swaminathan himself [9], who referred to “a fatigue” of the Green Revolution: a sharp drop in the yield of grain per unit of fertilizer applied as well as a drop in yield. In India, grain yield per unit of fertilizer applied decreased by two-thirds during the Green Revolution years. And the same has happened elsewhere.

Between 1970 and 2000, the annual growth of fertilizer use on Asian rice has been 3 to 40 times the growth of rice yields [8]. In Central Luzon, Philippines, rice yield increased 13 percent during the 1980s, but came at the price of a 21 percent increase in fertilizer use. In the Central Plains, yield went up only 6.5 percent, while fertilizer use rose 24 percent and pesticides jumped by 53 percent. In West Java, a 23 percent yield increase was accomplished by 65 and 69 percent increases in fertilizers and pesticides respectively.

However, it is the absolute drop in yields despite high inputs of fertilizer that finally punctured the Green Revolution bubble. By the 1990s, after dramatic increases in the early stages of the Green Revolution, yields began falling. In Central Luzon, Philippines, rice yields rose steadily during the 1970s, peaked in the early 1980s, and have been dropping gradually since. Similar patterns emerged for rice-wheat systems in India and Nepal.

Where yields were not actually declining, the rate of growth has been slowing
rapidly or leveling off, as documented in China, North Korea, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Since 2000, yields have fallen further, to the extent that in six out of the past seven years, world grain production has fallen below consumption. And consumption is increasing not as much by growing population as by by rising demand for biofuels in recent years [10] (see Chapter x). As a result, world grain stocks have dropped to their lowest since records began 30 years ago, and food prices have shot up worldwide.

The Green Revolution was an industrial style agriculture that packaged HYVs with fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation. And given optimum inputs, these HYVs did indeed increase yields dramatically, especially in the short term. In the longer term, Green Revolution agriculture depleted and degraded the soil, yields fall even as more and more fertilizers are used. Similarly, pests develop resistance to pesticides, and greater amounts have to be applied. Farmers and the general public become increasingly at risk from the toxic effects of pesticides and fertilizers that contaminate ground water.

At the same time, heavy irrigation resulted in widespread salination of agricultural land, while aquifers are pumped dry. It is estimated that 6 percent of India’s agricultural land has been made useless as a result of salination [8], and nearly a fifth of the sub-continent is withdrawing more water than is being replaced by rain [11]. In the Punjab, home of the Green Revolution, nearly 80 percent of groundwater is now “overexploited or critical.”

The high costs of fertilizer and pesticide put small farmers at a disadvantage right from the start, driving them off the land while big farmers grow bigger, thereby deepening the divide between rich and poor.

But even for those farmers who manage to keep going, the spiralling costs of more fertilizers and pesticides, and diminishing income due to falling yields, or massive crop failures from drought, pests, and diseases, to which the genetically uniform HYVs are especially susceptible, soon plunged farmers deeper and deeper into debt. For many of these farmers, the only exit from debt is suicide. This sorry tale has been told over and over again [12].

It is clear that the Green Revolution’s success in raising yields has failed to reduce poverty or hunger. India’s 26 m ton grain surplus in 2006 could feed the 320 million hungry people in its population, but starving villagers are too poor to buy the food produced in their own countryside [11].

The Green Revolution also led to the loss of indigenous agricultural biodiversity. This severely compromises food security for small farmers, as the indigenous varieties are more resistant to pest, disease, and drought than the genetically uniform HYVs. Monoculture HYVs also reduce the nutritional value of foods as soils become depleted of essential micronutrients. In Bangladesh, the promotion of Green Revolution rice led to a loss of nearly 7 000 traditional rice varieties and many fish species. In the Philippines, more than 300 traditional varieties disappeared.

Instead of learning from the failures of the Green Revolution, Borlaug, Swaminathan, and the biotech industry are offering the world a second “doubly green” revolution [8] in GM crops, and they are taking it to Africa with the help of corporate charities that are doing more harm than good in the world [13] (Philanthropy Gates Style, SiS 35).

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

Bill & Melinda Gates and the Rockefeller Foundation announced a joint $150 million Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The creators of AGRA claim the initiative will bring benefits to the Africa’s impoverished farmers who have been bypassed in the first Green Revolution. Bill Gates is a confessed enthusiast for biotechnology [12], while the Rockefeller Foundation is notorious for having invested in creating The 'Golden Rice' , genetically modified to produce pro-Vitamin A, and aggressively promoted “to salvage a morally as well as financially bankrupt agricultural biotech industry” [14].

But, as pointed out by the Food First Institute [11], the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which brings together the key Green Revolution research institutions, has invested 40 to 45 percent of their £350 million annual budget in Africa; if not in the Green Revolution, in what? And if in the Green Revolution, it must have failed Africa, and not bypassed it.

The Green Revolution failed because it did not address the main causes of poverty and hunger, on the contrary it contributed to increasing hunger and poverty in the midst of plenty.

Overcoming poverty and hunger requires the redistribution of land and resources to enable farmers to grow food; they also need a fair and stable market, and ecological farming systems that free farmers from the shackles of expensive inputs of fertilizers and pesticides [15] (Organic Farmer Who Values His Freedom Above All , SiS 28). This is especially true for sub-Saharan African countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Mali where the area of unused, good quality farmland is many times greater than the area actually farmed. It is also the case in Zimbabwe and South Africa where the majority of farmers have been excluded from access to minimally acceptable farmland [11].

Borlaug claims to have reduced hunger in the world through the Green Revolution, and many of his critics are willing to give him credit for that. But this too turns out to be a myth.

In the two decades from 1970 to 1990 spanning the Green Revolution, the total food available per person in the world rose by 11 percent while the estimated number of hungry people fell from 942 m to 786 million, a 16 percent drop.

However, if China is left aside, the number of hungry people in the rest of the world actually went up by more than 11 percent, from 536 to 597 million.

In South America, while per capita food supplies rose almost 8 percent, the number of hungry people went up by 19 percent. In South Asia, there was 9 percent more food per person by 1990, but there were also 9 percent more hungry people.

In China, the number of hungry dropped dramatically from 406 million to 189 million (a fall of 54.4 percent). As Food First Institute says [8], “ [it] almost begs the question: which has been more effective at reducing hunger-the Green Revolution or the Chinese
Revolution, where broad-based changes in access to land paved the way for rising living standards?”

The real causes of hunger in Africa

The growing hunger in Africa is largely due to the increased impoverishment of the rural people who once grew food, but have now left farming. Today’s African farmers could easily produce far more food than they do, if they can get credit to cover production costs, or find buyers or obtain fair prices to give them a minimum profit margin [11].

Rural Africa has been devastated by 25 years of ‘free trade’ policies imposed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, the US and EU [11]. The forced privatisation of food crop marketing boards - which once guaranteed African farmers minimum prices and held food reserves for emergencies - and rural development banks - which gave farmers credit to produce food – left farmers without financing to grow food and without buyers for their produce. Free trade agreements have made it easier for private traders to import subsidized food from the US and EU than to negotiate with thousands of local farmers. This effective dumping drives local farm prices below the costs of production and puts local farmers out of business.

A new technology package with GM crops is not going to make any difference to the social and structural problems, and judging by India’s recent experience, it would make things much worse [7]. It will further narrow the genetic base of indigenous agriculture, increase farmers’ indebtedness in paying for patented seeds, increase farmers’ vulnerability as GM varieties are more susceptible to crop failures, and bring extra environmental and health risks (see GM Science Exposed. [16], ISIS CD book). The “doubly green” revolution can only exacerbate poverty and hunger in Africa

So what does Africa need instead? This has been so obvious it hardly needs saying, as all forms of sustainable, agro-ecological farming systems around the world, including Africa have been staging a successful revival since the late 1980s [17] (The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World, ISIS Publication). But it will be instructive to learn from Cuba’s experience, particularly in the light of freeing agriculture from its dependence on fossil fuels.

Lessons from Cuba: agriculture without fossil fuels

Cuba is where agriculture without fossil fuels has been put to its greatest test, thanks to the collapse of trade with the former socialist bloc; and it has passed with flying colours [18-20].

Before 1989, Cuba was a model Green Revolution farm economy, based on huge production units, and dependent on vast quantities of imported chemicals and machinery to produce export crops, while over half of its food was imported. The Cuban government’s commitment to equity, and favorable terms of trade offered by Eastern Europe, ensured that Cubans were not undernourished [11]..

The collapse of the socialist bloc and the tightened US trade embargo exposed the vulnerability of Cuba’s Green Revolution model, and it was plunged into the worst food crisis in its history. Cuba lost 85 percent of its trade, including both food and agricultural inputs, and without those inputs, domestic production fell, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in caloric intake in the early 1990s. Cuba was faced with a dual challenge of doubling food production with half the previous inputs.

But by 1997, Cubans were eating almost as well as they did before 1989, with little food and agrochemicals imported. Instead, Cuba concentrated on creating a more self-reliant agriculture: a combination of higher crop prices paid to farmers, agroecological technology, smaller production units, and urban agriculture.

The way Cuba responded was an inspiration to the rest of the world. It began with a nation-wide call to increase food production by restructuring agriculture. It involved converting from conventional large-scale, high input monoculture systems to smaller scale, organic and semi-organic farming systems. The focus was on using low cost and environmentally safe inputs, and relocating production closer to consumption in order to cut down on transportation costs.

Urban agriculture was a key part of this effort. A spontaneous, decentralized movement had arisen in the cities. People responded enthusiastically to government initiative. By 1994, more than 8 000 city farms were created in Havana alone. Front lawns of municipal buildings were dug up to grow vegetables. Offices and schools cultivated their own food. Many of the gardeners were retired men aged 50s and 60s, and urban women played a much larger role in agriculture than their rural counterparts.

By 1998, an estimated 541 000 tons of food were produced in Havana for local consumption. Food quality has also improved as people had access to a greater variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Urban gardens continued to grow and some neighbourhoods were producing as much as 30 percent of their own food.

The growth of urban agriculture was largely due to the State’s commitment to make unused urban and suburban land and resources available to aspiring urban farmers. The issue of land grants in the city converted hundreds of vacant lots into food producing plots, and new planning laws placed the highest land use priority on food production.

Another key to success was opening farmers markets and legalising direct sales from farmers to consumers. Deregulation of prices combined with high demand for fresh produce in the cities allowed urban farmers to make two to three times as much as the rural professionals.

The government also encouraged gardeners through an extensive support system including extension agents and horticultural groups that offered assistance and advice. Seed houses throughout the city sold seeds, gardening tools, compost and distribute biofertilizers and other biological control agents at low costs.

New biological products and organic gardening techniques were developed and produced by Cuba’s agricultural research sector, which had already begun exploring organic alternatives to chemical controls, enabling Cuba’s urban farms to become completely organic. In fact, a new law prohibited the use of any pesticides for agricultural purposes anywhere within city limits.

Cuba did not invent urban agriculture. It has been a worldwide movement since the 1970s, and by 1999, an estimated 14 percent of the world’s food was produced in urban areas. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of sustainable development, as more and more of the populations worldwide are becoming urbanized. It presents both a challenge and an opportunity for town planning and design to transform the concrete jungle into habitats surrounded by open fields and gardens, which can attract and support wildlife at the same time. Imagine growing up in cities with urban agriculture instead of existing slums and soulless housing estates. (See Organic Cuba without Fossil Fuels [21], SiS 37 for further details.)

Food Sovereignty for all

Today, across Africa, Latin America and Asia, farmer-to-farmer movements, farmer-led research teams and farmer field schools have already discovered how to raise yields, distribute benefits, protect soils, conserve water and enhance ago-biodiversity on hundreds of thousands of smallholdings in spite of the Green Revolution [11]. A survey of 45 sustainable agricultural projects/initiatives spread across 17 African countries covering some 730 000 households revealed that agro-ecological approaches substantially improved food production and household food security. In 95 percent of the projects, cereal yields improved by 50 to 100 percent, with additional positive impacts on natural, social and human capital.

The concept of food sovereignty developed by La Via Campesina and brought to the public debate during the World Food Summit in 1996 has gained tremendous popularity and support. It is stated as follows [22]: “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture; to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self-reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their market; and to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources. Food Sovereignty does not negate trace, but rather it promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to food and to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production. ”

Food sovereignty is opposed to patenting seeds [11]; it also includes agrarian reform, with limit on the maximum farm size, equitable local control over resources such as seeds, land, water and forests. The Food Sovereignty approach is increasingly taken seriously by other sectors such as organisations representing consumers, urban poor, indigenous peoples, trade unions, environmentalists and human rights activists, researchers and other experts. It also forms the basis for collaboration between the FAO and farmers groups and other civil society actors, as announced by FAO Secretary General Jacques Diouf at the 2002 World Food Summit.

Given appropriate land reform and institutional support in finance and marketing, there is no doubt that farmers in Africa, India and elsewhere can free themselves from the cycle of indebtedness, increasing poverty, hunger, malnutrition and ill-health, especially with zero-input organic farming methods based on indigenous crops and livestocks [23] (see Dream Farm 2, Organic, Sustainable, Fossil Fuel Free, in Food Futures Now, ISIS Publication). The really green revolution has started in Ethiopia a few years ago, when the government adopted organic agriculture as a national strategy for food security. Crops yields have doubled and tripled while reversing the damages of the failed Green Revolution [24] (see Greening Ethiopia for Self-sufficiency series, SiS 23).
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Thu Feb 04, 2016 5:50 am

The Largest Wave of Suicides in History
FEBRUARY 12, 2009



The number of farmers who have committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2007 now stands at a staggering 182,936. Close to two-thirds of these suicides have occurred in five states (India has 28 states and seven union territories). The Big 5 – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh– account for just about a third of the country’s population but two-thirds of farmers’ suicides. The rate at which farmers are killing themselves in these states is far higher than suicide rates among non-farmers. Farm suicides have also been rising in some other states of the country.

It is significant that the count of farmers taking their lives is rising even as the numbers of farmers diminishes, that is, on a shrinking farmer base. As many as 8 million people quit farming between the two censuses of 1991 and 2001. The rate of people leaving farming has only risen since then, but we’ll only have the updated figure of farmers in the census of 2011.

These suicide data are official and tend to be huge underestimates, but they’re bad enough. Suicide data in India are collated by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a wing of the Ministry of Home Affairs, government of India. The NCRB itself seems to do little harm to the data. But the states where these are gathered leave out thousands from the definition of “farmer” and, thus, massage the numbers downward. For instance, women farmers are not normally accepted as farmers (by custom, land is almost never in their names). They do the bulk of work in agriculture – but are just “farmers’ wives.” This classification enables governments to exclude countless women farmer suicides. They will be recorded as suicide deaths – but not as “farmers’ suicides.” Likewise, many other groups, too, have been excluded from that list.

The spate of farm suicides – the largest sustained wave of such deaths recorded in history – accompanies India’s embrace of the brave new world of neoliberalism. Many reports on that process and how it has affected agriculture have been featured right here, on the Counterpunch site. The rate of farmers’ suicides has worsened particularly after 2001, by which time India was well down the WTO garden path in agriculture. The number of farmers’ suicides in the five years – 1997-2001 – was 78,737 (or 15,747 a year on average). The same figure for the five years 2002-06 was 87,567 (or 17,513 a year on average). That is, in the next five years after 2001, one farmer took his or her life every 30 minutes on average. The 2007 figures (detailed below) place that year, too, in the higher trend.

What do the farm suicides have in common? Those who have taken their lives were deep in debt – peasant households in debt doubled in the first decade of the neoliberal “economic reforms,” from 26 per cent of farm households to 48.6 per cent. We know that from National Sample Survey data. But in the worst states, the percentage of such households is far higher. For instance, 82 per cent of all farm households in Andhra Pradesh were in debt by 2001-02. Those who killed themselves were overwhelmingly cash crop farmers – growers of cotton, coffee, sugarcane, groundnut, pepper, vanilla. (Suicides are fewer among food crop farmers – that is, growers of rice, wheat, maize, pulses.) The brave new world philosophy mandated countless millions of Third World farmers forced to move from food crop cultivation to cash crop (the mantra of “export-led growth”). For millions of subsistence farmers in India, this meant much higher cultivation costs, far greater loans, much higher debt, and being locked into the volatility of global commodity prices. That’s a sector dominated by a handful of multinational corporations. The extent to which the switch to cash crops impacts on the farmer can be seen in this: it used to cost Rs.8,000 ?($165 today) roughly to grow an acre of paddy in Kerala. When many switched to vanilla, the cost per acre was (in 2003-04) almost Rs.150,000 ($3,000) an acre. (The dollar equals about 50 rupees.)

With giant seed companies displacing cheap hybrids and far cheaper and hardier traditional varieties with their own products, a cotton farmer in Monsanto’s net would be paying far more for seed than he or she ever dreamed they would. Local varieties and hybrids were squeezed out with enthusiastic state support. In 1991, you could buy a kilogram of local seed for as little as Rs.7 or Rs.9 in today’s worst affected region of Vidarbha. By 2003, you would pay Rs.350 — ($7) — for a bag with 450 grams of hybrid seed. By 2004, Monsanto’s partners in India were marketing a bag of 450 grams of Bt cotton seed for between Rs.1,650 and Rs.1,800 ($33 to $36). This price was brought down dramatically overnight due to strong governmental intervention in Andhra Pradesh, where the government changed after the 2004 elections. The price fell to around Rs.900 ($18) – still many times higher than 1991 or even 2003.

Meanwhile, inequality was the great man-eater among?the “Emerging Tiger” nations of the developing world. The predatory commercialization of the countryside devastated all other aspects of life for peasant farmer and landless workers. Health costs, for instance, skyrocketed. Many thousands of youngsters dropped out of both school and college to work on their parents’ farms (including many on scholarships). The average monthly per capita expenditure of the Indian farm household was just Rs.503 (ten dollars) by early this decade. Of that, 60 per cent roughly was spent on food and another 18 per cent on fuel, clothing and footwear.

Farmers, spending so much on food? To begin with, millions of small and marginal Indian farmers are net purchasers of food grain. They cannot produce enough to feed their families and have to work on the fields of others and elsewhere to meet the gap. Having to buy some of the grain they need on the market, they are profoundly affected by hikes in food prices, as has happened since 1991, and particularly sharply earlier this year. Hunger among those who produce food is a very real thing. Add to this the fact that the “per capita net availability” of food grain has fallen dramatically among Indians since the “reforms” began: from 510 grams per Indian in 1991, to 422 grams by 2005. (That’s not a drop of 88 grams. It’s a fall of 88 multiplied by 365 and then by one billion Indians.) As prof. Utsa Patnaik, India’s top economist on agriculture, has been constantly pointing out, the average poor family has about 100 kg less today than it did just ten years ago – while the elite eat like it’s going out of style. For many, the shift from food crop to cash crop makes it worse. At the end of the day, you can still eat your paddy. It’s tough, digesting cotton. Meanwhile, even the food crop sector is coming steadily under corporate price-rigging control. Speculation in the futures markets pushed up grain prices across the globe earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the neoliberal model that pushed growth through one kind of consumption also meant re-directing huge amounts of money away from rural credit to fuel the lifestyles of the aspiring elites of the cities (and countryside, too). Thousands of rural bank branches shut down during the 15 years from 1993-2007.

Even as incomes of the farmers crashed, so did the price they got for their cash crops, thanks to obscene subsidies to corporate and rich farmers in the West, from the U.S. and EU. Their battle over cotton subsidies alone (worth billions of dollars) destroyed cotton farmers not merely in India but in African nations such as Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, and Chad. Meanwhile, all along, India kept reducing investment in agriculture (standard neoliberal procedure). Life was being made more and more impossible for small farmers.

As costs rose, credit dried up. Debt went out of control. Subsidies destroyed their prices. Starving agriculture of investment (worth billions of dollars each year) smashed the countryside. India even cut most of the few, pathetic life supports she had for her farmers. The mess was complete. From the late-’90s, the suicides began to occur at what then seemed a brisk rate.

In fact, India’s agrarian crisis can be summed up in five words (call it Ag Crisis 101): the drive toward corporate farming. The route (in five words): predatory commercialization of the countryside. The result: The biggest displacement in our history.

Corporations do not as yet have direct control of Indian farming land and do not carry out day-to-day operations directly. But they have sewn up every other sector, inputs, outlets, marketing, prices, and are heading for control of water as well (which states in India are busy privatizing in one guise or another).

The largest number of farm suicides is in the state of Maharashtra, home to the Mumbai Stock Exchange and with its capital Mumbai being home to 21 of India’s 51 dollar billionaires and over a fourth of the country’s 100,000 dollar millionaires. Mumbai shot to global attention when terrorists massacred 180 people in the city in a grisly strike in November. In the state of which Mumbai is capital, there have been 40,666 farmers’ suicides since 1995, with very little media attention.

Farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra crossed the 4,000-mark again in 2007, for the third time in four years, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. As many as 4,238 farmers took their lives in the state that year, the latest for which data are available,?accounting?for a fourth of all the 16,632 farmers’ suicides in the country. That national total represents a slight fall from the 17,060 farm suicides of 2006. But the broad trends of the past decade seem unshaken. Farm suicides in the country since 1997 now total 182,936.

To repeat, the five worst affected states?– Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh?– account for two-thirds of all farmers’ suicides in India. Together, they saw 11,026 in 2007. Of these, Maharashtra alone accounted for?over 38 per cent. Of the Big 5, Andhra Pradesh saw a decline of 810 suicides against its 2006 total. Karnataka saw a rise of 415 over the same period. Madhya Pradesh (1,375) posted a decline of 112. But Chattisgarh’s 1,593 farm suicides mean an increase of 110 over 2006. Specific factors in these states nourish the problem. These are zones of highly diversified, commercialized agriculture where cash crops dominate. Water stress has been a common feature, and gets worse with the use of technologies such as Bt seed that demand huge amounts of water. High external inputs and input costs are also common, as also the use of chemicals and pesticides. Mindless deregulation dug a lot of graves, lit a lot of pyres.

Maharashtra registered a fall of 215 farm suicides in 2007. However, no other state even touches the 3,000 mark. And AP (with 1,797) and Karnataka (2,135) – the next two worst hit states – together do not cross Maharashtra’s 4,000-plus mark. A one-year dip of 221 occurred in 2005 too, in Maharashtra, only to be followed by an all-time high of 4,453 suicides in 2006. The state’s trend shows no turnaround and remains dismal.

Maharashtra’s 2007 figure of 4,238 follows one and a half years of farm “relief packages” worth around Rs.5,000 crore ($1 billion) and a prime ministerial visit in mid-2006 to the distressed Vidharbha region. The state has also seen a plethora of official reports, studies and commissions of inquiry over 2005-07, aimed at tackling the problem. However, the 12,617 farm suicides in the same years is its worst ever total for any three-year period since the state began recording such data in 1995. Indeed, farm suicides in Maharashtra since that year have crossed the 40,000 mark. The structural causes of that crisis seem untouched.

Nationally, farmers’ suicides between 2002-07 were worse than for the years 1997-2001. NCRB data for the whole country now exists from 1997-2007. In the five years till 2001, there were 15,747 farmers’ suicides a year on average. For the six years from 2002, that average is 17,366 farmers’ suicides each year. The increase is distressingly higher in the main crisis states.

P. SAINATH is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu and is the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought. A regular contributor to CounterPunch, he can be reached at
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sat Apr 09, 2016 5:34 am

BT sins ... Itchy scars! Haryana is today reeling under an itch invasion -- people say due to farming BT cotton. But state and central governments are rubbishing this, reports Anil Pandey
by Anil Pandey
The Sunday Indian
November 2, 2008




Haryana is itching. Large sections of Haryanvis in villages are itching -- and please don't laugh -- whoever you meet in major parts of the state is scratching himself or herself crazy. Because the western malaise of merciless avarice has spread myriad maladies in village after village of Haryana, now under the iron grip of BT cotton, the genetically modified cotton seeds that not just fleece farmers financially, but are now robbing them of their health and their cattle as well.

Hissar villages are itching. Sirsa villages are itching. Fatehabad villages are itching. These three districts form the heart of Haryana's cotton belt, and here cows and buffaloes are itching too. They are giving birth to premature calves, and the cows themselves are dying. The problem is when a premature calf is delivered, the family cannot even disclose that, as its price when it is ready for sale will drastically drop. In many cases, the cows' uteruses are protruding from the stomach. Even Harpal Singh Grewal, the rich NRI from Sirsa, who was in the government of India's steering committee for promoting organic farming says that BT cotton is ruining Haryana, but the government itself is in total denial mode.

Towards the beginning of this millennium, the government, suitably lobbied by Western mega-companies like Monsanto, allowed BT cotton to come in. The product was pushed. Farmers were impressed upon that the usual pest of cotton plants would die if they tried their tricks on the BT cotton plants, so their yields would skyrocket. Farm sector moneylenders gave loans and opened their own BT seed shops in the villages -- so their money came from both fronts. The transformation has been most rapid over the past two years.

But it was transformation at all levels. The most remarkable transformation is the health of humans and cattle. And though no sudden, unexplained proliferation in human deaths have been reported so far, the rate of cows and buffaloes giving up the ghost at short notices -- reportedly after a few months of being fed on oilcakes made from the husk and seeds of BT cotton seeds -- has reached alarming proportions.

And it is not surprising, if you are daily dealing with something as deadly as cyanide. As agriculture specialist and coordinator of the "Save the Farmer Movement", Sudhir Kaura, PhD, says: "Tests have shown that cyanide is used to prepare the seeds of genetically modified cotton."

Kaura stresses that the chemicals from the bodies of the cattle is coming out in milk and clarified butter, for which Haryana is fabled, both in terms of quality and quantity. Kaura says that is how humans have also got affected on a large scale, and his worst fear is that since Haryana ghee (clarified butter) is sold widely even outside the state, the maladies will surely spread out beyond its borders.

But here too farmers are losing out. On an average, a cotton farmer would not just depend on his cash crop, but sells between Rs five and six thousand from milk yield per cow or buffalo per month. Each cattle comes for between rupees thirty and rupees thirty-five thousand. The first symptoms of the disease is fall in yield of milkloss. Then there is greater loss: cattle treatment along with yield fall.


Sunita and Nirmala of Baraua village shows us the scars from scratching. But worse, Sunita laments about the illness of her now demised cow: "First I went to the government vet, who charged Rs 70 for a visit. That did not help, so I started visiting a private vet, who charged Rs 150 per visit, plus, of course, the cost of medicines. Eventually the cow died." Satpal from the same village says: "This year there have been too many cattle deaths." And ranbir from neighbouring Dhaniya village says: "As far as I know, at least five cows have died over the period of last 10 days."

We meet Grewal at his sprawling house in Thedi Baba Sawant Singh village in Sirsa district. He gives more concrete information: "I am linked to a charitable hospital, where our records show that victims of itching have increased massively this year, and all of them are related to BT cotton farming." Grewal took the TSI team to Kotli, a village of about 7,000 residents. People from this village go as far as Gujarat to work in cleaning cotton from seeds. Says Pawan Taneja, who runs the medical store in Kotli: almost every cotton worker from this village suffers from itching. Not a day passes by without a few of them coming to purchase medicines for that.

It is surprising that this has happened despite the sad experience of Andhra Pradesh. About a year ago, hundreds of sheep died after consuming oilcake and cattle feed induced with BT cotton seed.The state government's animal husbandry department had ordered a probe, which shows that the feed had high traces of cyanide. (A copy of the report, Lr Roc No. 117 / TFAL / 2007, dtd 12/3/07, is with TSI.)


Andhra farmers had thereafter been advised to keep their cattle distances from BT cotton plants and feed. But later, the ministry for environment, government of India reversed the test results and denied there was any cyanide in BT cotton plants -- they say American MNCs arms are long and pockets deep! Many scientists have raised questions about this reversal by the Central government. Even the director of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, PM Bhargava has trashed the government report but warned the government against that disastrous effects of BT cotton farming, but to no avail.

And in Haryana, the state government have summarily rejected the allegation of itching and cattle deaths.SK Dangi, Director General of Animal Husbandry and dairy farming department told TSI: "There has been no instance of cattle maladies in haryana, nor any deaths due to disease." In fact, the DG Health Services, Haryana, goes one step ahead: "Why, just before you arrived I was in a long video-conference with the district health officials, but none of them ever told me of any such disease outbreak!" And the head of the animal nutrition division of Central Buffalo research Centre, Dr TR Chauhan was downright condescending and rattled off some advice, like cattle should not be given more than 35 per cent of its feed in the form of oilcakes, or that not more than 10 per cent of that ought to be cotton seeds, and in any case, that too much of even good things are bad and have side effects, and so forth.

These denials are trashed if one goes by the experiment conducted by Yoga specialist Acharya Baldev, guru of the godman Ramdev, in his farm. He ordered his cattle to be fed on BT cotton-seed and oil induced feed for a few months. The yield fell, and the cattle fell ill. Then he ordered that feed to be replaced by the usual feed, and the situation slowly but steadily reversed.

But for the farmers there is no escape: once you take BT cotton, you must keep doing so, because not only is the seed imbued with an artificial pest killer, it is also modified to ensure no regeneration, so that means every year you have to buy fresh seeds from the same company. They say in Haryana: "Jiskey ghar mein kaali, uskey ghar mein sada diwali" (a family that has a "black" -- meaning a buffalo -- is assured of prosperity). But the chase for money is turning that Diwali into diwaliyapan, or impoverishment, and the milk and ghee of Haryana are turning out to be toxic nutrients spelling disaster!
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sat Apr 09, 2016 5:46 am

Bt cotton - less miracles, more failures for Indian farmers
by Anne Sewell
Mar 28, 2012



Bt cotton hybrids are pointing to drastic depletion of soil nutrients due to repeated cultivation. Crop failures and less yield from the use of transgenic seeds are causing suicides among Indian farmers.

Cotton bolls ready for harvest

Crop Yields

The Coalition for GM-Free India has issued a new report. It has been 10 years since Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton was officially introduced to India, and while promoters and manufacturers want the world to believe that it is an unqualified success, the reality is very different. The Coalition consists of a large network of scientists, farmer unions, consumer groups and organizations.

Farmers in India were promised miraculous crop yields using Bt cotton.

Spores and crystals of Bacillus thuringiensis serovar morrisoni strain.
Jim Buckman

The Hindu reports that the hype over Bt cotton is typified by recent advertisements by Mahyco-Monsanto claiming “Bollgard boosts Indian cotton farmers' income by over Rs.31,500 crores.” However, the Advertising Standards Council of India states that this is false information.

The report by the Coalition for GM-Free India stresses the deep crisis in cotton farming after 10 years of using transgenic seeds. In the period 2011-12, the spate of farmer suicides has been largely among Bt cotton farmers. Not only do the farmers suffer when crops fail, but they cannot afford to buy seeds for each crop.

According to state government estimates in December 2011, during the Kharif 2011 season in Andhra Pradesh, of 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton, 33.73 lakh acres suffered from crop failure. In other words, two-thirds of the cotton area had a yield loss of more than 50%.

In the Maharashtra area, poor performance of the cotton crop has led to a significant lowering of production estimates despite the increase in cotton cultivation in the area.

The crisis in cotton cultivation last year caused the Maharashta government to announce a bailout for cotton, paddy and soyabean crops of Rs 2000 crores.

Bt cotton was approved in 2002, but the initial adoption of the crop was slow. By 2004-05 only 5.6% of cultivated cotton was Bt. Data from the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) shows increasing areas under Bt cotton and decreasing yields.

Comparing the periods 2005-06 to 2011-12, a different story emerges.

In the pre-Bt cotton era, due to non-Bt hybrid seed and other facts, yields were already rising sharply. In the next 5 year period, the yield increased by 69%.

From 2005-06, utilizing Bt cotton, a moderate 17% increase was achieved up to 2007-08. (554 kg/ha compared to 470 kg/ha). Since then the yields show a downward trend.

Now in the period 2011/12, cotton yields have reached the pre-Bt levels of 480 kg/ha compared to 470 kg/ha, which is only an initial estimate by the Cotton Advisory Board. The report says that the actual number is likely to be lower than that.

Dr Kranthi's paper which reviews 10 years of Bt cotton corroborates this downward trend:

“The main issue that worries stakeholders is the stagnation of productivity at an average of 500 kg lint per ha for the past seven years. The gains have been stagnant and unaffected by the increase in area of Bt cotton from 5.6 per cent in 2004 to 85 per cent in 2010. The yield was 463 kg per hectare when the Bt cotton area was 5.6 per cent in 2004 and reached a mere 506 kg per hectare when the area under Bt cotton increased to 9.4 million hectares at 85 per cent of the total 11.1 million hectares.”

Dr Kranthi's report supplies numbers which show “progressive problems and stagnation of production and productivity.”

The paper stresses the use of irrigation facilities to bring new farmlands under Bt cotton, well distributed rainfall and low pest activity. The shift towards hybrid cotton and pesticides with novel modes of action are important in helping cotton productivity, not just the introduction of the Bt gene.

According to his report, Dr Kranthia says that due to repeated cultivation of Bt cotton hybrids, there has been a severe depletion of nutrients in the soil. The Bt crops draw more water and nutrients from the soil and now are exhibiting nutrient deficiency. In the rain-fed zones, crops are suffering from leaf-reddening and wilt problems, which are getting more severe as years go by.

In spite of the extensive government data and the report by Dr Kranthia, Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has praised Bt cotton in Parliament. He says that the high quality hybrid cotton seeds had helped farmers "make big gains due to reduced use of pesticides."

The truth of the situation seems to be rather different.

Farmers protests marked 10th anniversary

On the 10th anniversary of the introduction of genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton to India, angry farmers protested and urged parliamentarians to hold a special session. They implored parliamentarians to discuss the issue of Bt cotton and to ban the technology in India.

A few seed companies, particularly agro-giant Monsanto, are monopolizing the seed industry in India. The social activists say that these companies are "setting the agenda" for the government and that the government should "reject the hype" around Bt cotton and demand a more comprehensive review of the product. “The crisis in the cotton belt should be closely examined and critically re-assessed,” they said.

Protests were lead by the Delhi Alliance for Safe Food in Jantar Mantar and similar protests arose in the cotton areas of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

The Bt cotton technology was intended for irrigated areas, but was pushed on all cotton-growing states including the rain-fed areas. This caused a higher rate of suicides in cotton growers, especially in Maharashta, due to crop failures.

Because of the high suicide rate in this state, protests were more intense -- farmers burned Bt cotton crops in many villages, according to the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. The protests included several wives of farmers who had committed suicide.

Kishor Tiwari of the Andolan stated: “Ten years ago, permission was granted to U.S. based Monsanto seed giant for experimental cultivation of [bollworm-resistant] GM Bt cotton in 10,000 hectares in different parts of the country. Today, with the push given to it, the acreage has gone up to over 12 million hectares and [the crop is] sown by 90 per cent growers, especially after Maharashtra permitted commercial cultivation trials of Bt cotton from June 2005.”

Referring to the report of the Coalition for GM-free India mentioned above, which proves that Bt cotton has resulted in the evolution of new pests and diseases and stagnant yields, activists said: “Yet, its use has spread because the creditors in the informal sector, who double up as seed agents, promote the Bt seed and deprive farmers of the traditional variety.”

The protesters and activists have demanded that the Indian government returns to the production of conventional cotton seeds. They say that the government should also advise farmers about the risks of planting Bt cotton. They demand that there should be a strict action against misleading advertising and false claims by the seed companies, including Monsanto.
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sat Apr 09, 2016 6:16 am

On India’s Farms, a Plague of Suicide
by Somini Sengupta
September 19, 2006



Kausalya Shende standing in the field where her brother’s cotton crop failed three times this year — twice for lack of rain and once from flooding.

BHADUMARI, India — Here in the center of India, on a gray Wednesday morning, a cotton farmer swallowed a bottle of pesticide and fell dead at the threshold of his small mud house.

Villagers in Bhadumari gathered in the house of Anil Kondba Shende and looked at his body as the local police investigated his suicide.

The farmer, Anil Kondba Shende, 31, left behind a wife and two small sons, debts that his family knew about only vaguely and a soggy, ruined 3.5-acre patch of cotton plants that had been his only source of income.

Whether it was debt, shame or some other privation that drove Mr. Shende to kill himself rests with him alone. But his death was by no means an isolated one, and in it lay an alarming reminder of the crisis facing the Indian farmer.

Across the country in desperate pockets like this one, 17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003, the most recent year for which government figures are available. Anecdotal reports suggest that the high rates are continuing.

Though the crisis has been building for years, it presents an increasingly thorny political challenge for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. High suicide rates and rural despair helped topple the previous government two years ago and put Mr. Singh in power.

Changes brought on by 15 years of economic reforms have opened Indian farmers to global competition and given them access to expensive and promising biotechnology, but not necessarily opened the way to higher prices, bank loans, irrigation or insurance against pests and rain.

Mr. Singh’s government, which has otherwise emerged as a strong ally of America, has become one of the loudest critics in the developing world of Washington’s $18 billion a year in subsidies to its own farmers, which have helped drive down the price of cotton for farmers like Mr. Shende.

At the same time, frustration is building in India with American multinational companies peddling costly, genetically modified seeds. They have made deep inroads in rural India — a vast and alluring market — bringing new opportunities but also new risks as Indian farmers pile up debt.

In this central Indian cotton-growing area, known as Vidarbha, the unofficial death toll from suicides, compiled by a local advocacy group and impossible to verify, was 767 in a 14-month period that ended in late August.

“The suicides are an extreme manifestation of some deep-seated problems which are now plaguing our agriculture,” said M. S. Swaminathan, the geneticist who was the scientific leader of India’s Green Revolution 40 years ago and is now chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. “They are climatic. They are economic. They are social.”

India’s economy may be soaring, but agriculture remains its Achilles’ heel, the source of livelihood for hundreds of millions of people but a fraction of the nation’s total economy and a symbol of its abiding difficulties.

In what some see as an ominous trend, food production, once India’s great pride, has failed to keep pace with the nation’s population growth in the last decade.

The cries of Indian farmers — or what Prime Minister Singh recently described as their “acute distress” — can hardly be neglected by the leaders of a country where two-thirds of people still live in the countryside.

Mr. Singh’s government has responded to the current crisis by promptly expanding rural credit and promising investments in rural infrastructure. It has also offered several quick fixes, including a $156 million package to rescue “suicide prone” districts across the country and a promise to expand rural credit, waive interest on existing bank loans and curb usurious informal moneylenders.

But pressure is building to do more. Many, including Mr. Swaminathan, the agricultural scientist, would like to see the government help farmers survive during crop failures or years of low world prices.

Subsidies, once a linchpin of Indian economic policy, have dried up for virtually everyone but the producers of staple food grains. Indian farmers now must compete or go under. To compete, many have turned to high-cost seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, which now line the shelves of even the tiniest village shops.

Monsanto, for instance, invented the genetically modified seeds that Mr. Shende planted, known as Bt cotton, which are resistant to bollworm infestation, the cotton farmer’s prime enemy. It says the seeds can reduce the use of pesticides by 25 percent.

The company has more than doubled its sales of Bt cotton here in the last year, but the expansion has been contentious. This year, a legal challenge from the government of the state of Andhra Pradesh forced Monsanto to slash the royalty it collected from the sale of its patented seeds in India. The company has appealed to the Indian Supreme Court.

The modified seeds can cost nearly twice as much as ordinary ones, and they have nudged many farmers toward taking on ever larger loans, often from moneylenders charging exorbitant interest rates.

Virtually every cotton farmer in these parts, for instance, needs the assistance of someone like Chandrakant Agarwal, a veteran moneylender who charges 5 percent interest a month.

He collects his dues at harvest time, but exacts an extra premium, compelling farmers to sell their cotton to him at a price lower than it fetches on the market, pocketing the profit.

His collateral policy is nothing if not inventive. The borrower signs a blank official document that gives Mr. Agarwal the right to collect the farmer’s property at any time.

Business has boomed with the arrival of high-cost seeds and pesticides. “Many moneylenders have made a whole lot of money,” Mr. Agarwal said. “Farmers, many of them, are ruined.”

Indeed, one or two crop failures, an unexpected health expense or the marriage of a daughter have become that much more perilous in a livelihood where the risks are already high.

A government survey released last year found that 40 percent of farmers said they would abandon agriculture if they could. The study also found that farming represented less than half the income of farmer households.

Barely 4 percent of all farmers insure their crops. Nearly 60 percent of Indian agriculture still depends entirely on the rains, as in Mr. Shende’s case.

This year, waiting for a tardy monsoon, Mr. Shende sowed his fields three times with the genetically modified seeds made by Monsanto. Two batches of seed went to waste because the monsoon was late. When the rains finally arrived, they came down so hard that they flooded Mr. Shende’s low-lying field and destroyed his third and final batch.

Mr. Shende shouldered at least four debts at the time of his death: one from a bank, two procured on his behalf by his sisters and one from a local moneylender. The night before his suicide, he borrowed one last time. From a fellow villager, he took the equivalent of $9, roughly the cost of a one-liter bottle of pesticide, which he used to take his life.

Those like him with small holdings are particularly vulnerable. A study by Srijit Mishra, a professor at the Mumbai-based Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, found that more than half of the suicides in this part of the country were among farmers with less than five acres of land.

But even those who are prosperous by local standards are not immune. Manoj Chandurkar, 36, has 72 acres of cotton with genetically modified seeds and sorghum in a neighboring village called Waifad. Every year is a gamble, he said.

Each time, he takes out a loan, then another and then prays that the bollworms will stay away and the rains will be good. On his shoulders today sit three loans, bringing his total debt to $10,000, a vast sum here.

The study by Mr. Mishra found that 86.5 percent of farmers who took their own lives were indebted — their average debt was about $835 — and 40 percent had suffered a crop failure.

The news of Mr. Shende’s death brought his wife, Vandana, back home to Bhadumari. Relatives said she had gone to tend to her sick brother in a nearby village. By the time she arrived, her husband’s body was covered by a thin checkered cloth.

A policeman had recorded the death — the eighth in six months for the officer.

Ms. Shende, squatting in the narrow village lane, shrouded her face in her cheap blue sari and wailed at the top of her lungs. “Your father is dead,” she screamed at her small son, who stood before her, dazed.
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Re: The Puppetmasters of Academia (or What the NY Times Left

Postby admin » Sat Apr 09, 2016 6:35 am

The GM genocide: Thousands of Indian farmers are committing suicide after using genetically modified crops
By Andrew Malone
Daily Mail
2 November 2008



When Prince Charles claimed thousands of Indian farmers were killing themselves after using GM crops, he was branded a scaremonger. In fact, as this chilling dispatch reveals, it's even WORSE than he feared.

The children were inconsolable. Mute with shock and fighting back tears, they huddled beside their mother as friends and neighbours prepared their father's body for cremation on a blazing bonfire built on the cracked, barren fields near their home.

As flames consumed the corpse, Ganjanan, 12, and Kalpana, 14, faced a grim future. While Shankara Mandaukar had hoped his son and daughter would have a better life under India's economic boom, they now face working as slave labour for a few pence a day. Landless and homeless, they will be the lowest of the low.

Human tragedy: A farmer and child in India's 'suicide belt'

Shankara, respected farmer, loving husband and father, had taken his own life. Less than 24 hours earlier, facing the loss of his land due to debt, he drank a cupful of chemical insecticide.

Unable to pay back the equivalent of two years' earnings, he was in despair. He could see no way out.

There were still marks in the dust where he had writhed in agony. Other villagers looked on - they knew from experience that any intervention was pointless - as he lay doubled up on the ground, crying out in pain and vomiting.

Moaning, he crawled on to a bench outside his simple home 100 miles from Nagpur in central India. An hour later, he stopped making any noise. Then he stopped breathing. At 5pm on Sunday, the life of Shankara Mandaukar came to an end.

As neighbours gathered to pray outside the family home, Nirmala Mandaukar, 50, told how she rushed back from the fields to find her husband dead. 'He was a loving and caring man,' she said, weeping quietly.

'But he couldn't take any more. The mental anguish was too much. We have lost everything.'

Shankara's crop had failed - twice. Of course, famine and pestilence are part of India's ancient story.

But the death of this respected farmer has been blamed on something far more modern and sinister: genetically modified crops.

Shankara, like millions of other Indian farmers, had been promised previously unheard of harvests and income if he switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting GM seeds instead.

Distressed: Prince Charles has set up charity Bhumi Vardaan Foundation to address the plight of suicide farmers

Beguiled by the promise of future riches, he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with spiralling debts - and no income.

So Shankara became one of an estimated 125,000 farmers to take their own life as a result of the ruthless drive to use India as a testing ground for genetically modified crops.

The crisis, branded the 'GM Genocide' by campaigners, was highlighted recently when Prince Charles claimed that the issue of GM had become a 'global moral question' -- and the time had come to end its unstoppable march.

Speaking by video link to a conference in the Indian capital, Delhi, he infuriated bio-tech leaders and some politicians by condemning 'the truly appalling and tragic rate of small farmer suicides in India, stemming... from the failure of many GM crop varieties'.

Ranged against the Prince are powerful GM lobbyists and prominent politicians, who claim that genetically modified crops have transformed Indian agriculture, providing greater yields than ever before.

The rest of the world, they insist, should embrace 'the future' and follow suit.

So who is telling the truth? To find out, I travelled to the 'suicide belt' in Maharashtra state.

What I found was deeply disturbing -- and has profound implications for countries, including Britain, debating whether to allow the planting of seeds manipulated by scientists to circumvent the laws of nature.

For official figures from the Indian Ministry of Agriculture do indeed confirm that in a huge humanitarian crisis, more than 1,000 farmers kill themselves here each month.

Simple, rural people, they are dying slow, agonising deaths. Most swallow insecticide -- a pricey substance they were promised they would not need when they were coerced into growing expensive GM crops.

It seems that many are massively in debt to local money-lenders, having over-borrowed to purchase GM seed.

Pro-GM experts claim that it is rural poverty, alcoholism, drought and 'agrarian distress' that is the real reason for the horrific toll.

But, as I discovered during a four-day journey through the epicentre of the disaster, that is not the full story.

Death seeds: A Greenpeace protester sprays milk-based paint on a Monsanto research soybean field near Atlantic, Iowa

In one small village I visited, 18 farmers had committed suicide after being sucked into GM debts. In some cases, women have taken over farms from their dead husbands -- only to kill themselves as well.

Latta Ramesh, 38, drank insecticide after her crops failed -- two years after her husband disappeared when the GM debts became too much.

She left her ten-year-old son, Rashan, in the care of relatives. 'He cries when he thinks of his mother,' said the dead woman's aunt, sitting listlessly in shade near the fields.

Village after village, families told how they had fallen into debt after being persuaded to buy GM seeds instead of traditional cotton seeds.

The price difference is staggering: £10 for 100 grams of GM seed, compared with less than £10 for 1,000 times more traditional seeds.

But GM salesmen and government officials had promised farmers that these were 'magic seeds' -- with better crops that would be free from parasites and insects.

Indeed, in a bid to promote the uptake of GM seeds, traditional varieties were banned from many government seed banks.

The authorities had a vested interest in promoting this new biotechnology. Desperate to escape the grinding poverty of the post-independence years, the Indian government had agreed to allow new bio-tech giants, such as the U.S. market-leader Monsanto, to sell their new seed creations.

In return for allowing western companies access to the second most populated country in the world, with more than one billion people, India was granted International Monetary Fund loans in the Eighties and Nineties, helping to launch an economic revolution.

But while cities such as Mumbai and Delhi have boomed, the farmers' lives have slid back into the dark ages.

Though areas of India planted with GM seeds have doubled in two years -- up to 17 million acres -- many farmers have found there is a terrible price to be paid.

Far from being 'magic seeds', GM pest-proof 'breeds' of cotton have been devastated by bollworms, a voracious parasite.

Nor were the farmers told that these seeds require double the amount of water. This has proved a matter of life and death.

With rains failing for the past two years, many GM crops have simply withered and died, leaving the farmers with crippling debts and no means of paying them off.

Having taken loans from traditional money lenders at extortionate rates, hundreds of thousands of small farmers have faced losing their land as the expensive seeds fail, while those who could struggle on faced a fresh crisis.

When crops failed in the past, farmers could still save seeds and replant them the following year.

But with GM seeds they cannot do this. That's because GM seeds contain so- called 'terminator technology', meaning that they have been genetically modified so that the resulting crops do not produce viable seeds of their own.

As a result, farmers have to buy new seeds each year at the same punitive prices. For some, that means the difference between life and death.

Take the case of Suresh Bhalasa, another farmer who was cremated this week, leaving a wife and two children.

As night fell after the ceremony, and neighbours squatted outside while sacred cows were brought in from the fields, his family had no doubt that their troubles stemmed from the moment they were encouraged to buy BT Cotton, a genetically modified plant created by Monsanto.

'We are ruined now,' said the dead man's 38-year-old wife. 'We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the cotton and swallowed insecticide.'

Villagers bundled him into a rickshaw and headed to hospital along rutted farm roads. 'He cried out that he had taken the insecticide and he was sorry,' she said, as her family and neighbours crowded into her home to pay their respects. 'He was dead by the time they got to hospital.'

Asked if the dead man was a 'drunkard' or suffered from other 'social problems', as alleged by pro-GM officials, the quiet, dignified gathering erupted in anger. 'No! No!' one of the dead man's brothers exclaimed. 'Suresh was a good man. He sent his children to school and paid his taxes.

'He was strangled by these magic seeds. They sell us the seeds, saying they will not need expensive pesticides but they do. We have to buy the same seeds from the same company every year. It is killing us. Please tell the world what is happening here.'

Monsanto has admitted that soaring debt was a 'factor in this tragedy'. But pointing out that cotton production had doubled in the past seven years, a spokesman added that there are other reasons for the recent crisis, such as 'untimely rain' or drought, and pointed out that suicides have always been part of rural Indian life.

Officials also point to surveys saying the majority of Indian farmers want GM seeds -- no doubt encouraged to do so by aggressive marketing tactics.

During the course of my inquiries in Maharastra, I encountered three 'independent' surveyors scouring villages for information about suicides. They insisted that GM seeds were only 50 per cent more expensive -- and then later admitted the difference was 1,000 per cent.

(A Monsanto spokesman later insisted their seed is 'only double' the price of 'official' non-GM seed -- but admitted that the difference can be vast if cheaper traditional seeds are sold by 'unscrupulous' merchants, who often also sell 'fake' GM seeds which are prone to disease.)

With rumours of imminent government compensation to stem the wave of deaths, many farmers said they were desperate for any form of assistance. 'We just want to escape from our problems,' one said. 'We just want help to stop any more of us dying.'

Prince Charles is so distressed by the plight of the suicide farmers that he is setting up a charity, the Bhumi Vardaan Foundation, to help those affected and promote organic Indian crops instead of GM.

India's farmers are also starting to fight back. As well as taking GM seed distributors hostage and staging mass protests, one state government is taking legal action against Monsanto for the exorbitant costs of GM seeds.

This came too late for Shankara Mandauker, who was 80,000 rupees (about £1,000) in debt when he took his own life. 'I told him that we can survive,' his widow said, her children still by her side as darkness fell. 'I told him we could find a way out. He just said it was better to die.'

But the debt does not die with her husband: unless she can find a way of paying it off, she will not be able to afford the children's schooling. They will lose their land, joining the hordes seen begging in their thousands by the roadside throughout this vast, chaotic country.

Cruelly, it's the young who are suffering most from the 'GM Genocide' -- the very generation supposed to be lifted out of a life of hardship and misery by these 'magic seeds'.

Here in the suicide belt of India, the cost of the genetically modified future is murderously high.
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