Suicide is a difficult subject to discuss, as many of us are likely to know someone who’s taken their own life. This is a particularly emotional topic, and I hope to show due respect and sensitivity for those affected by such a tragedy.
Unfortunately, there have been some sensational allegations lately about farmer suicide rates in India. Speculative reports spawned mostly by anti-GMO groups–not pro-farming groups–have implied that these tragic farmer suicides have somehow become an epidemic since the introduction of biotech cotton in 2002. This is simply not true. The activists’ reports largely ignore many complex cultural, environmental and economic factors and instead try to provoke an emotional reaction to shift blame towards biotech.
Suicidal behavior occurs in all parts of the world with varying rates, according to the World Health Organization.
Weather conditions, religious beliefs, living conditions, drug use, alcohol addiction, job stress and population density are examples of variables which can make suicide rates differ by country. Higher suicide rates among Indian farmers long predate the introduction of biotech cotton in India. Many independent research studies, like one completed by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) in December 2008, concluded “Increased Indebtedness Leads to Farmer Suicide.”
Bt cotton farmers in India are experiencing their best economic benefits ever. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) commissioned a study in 2007 to assess the “Socio-Economic Benefits of Bt Cotton Cultivation in India” by research agencies Indicus Analytics & IMRB International. Moreover, India’s media has many recent positive reports about the benefits of Bt cotton in the economy.
For example, India’s national daily paper, The Hindu, reported that “Bt Cotton Gives a New Lease of Life to Vidarbha Farmers,” The Economic Times reported about “The Hybrid Solution,” The Times of India wrote about “New Crop Technology Bringing Joy to Bhatinda Farmers” and The Financial Express quoted India’s finance minister as wanting to “Replicate Success of Bt Cotton.”
In summary, according to press reports farmers are attaining better yields, earning bigger returns on their investment and using less pesticide–which ultimately allows them to afford a much better quality of life for their families.
Furthermore, in October 2008, the International Food Policy Research Institute released a study called “Bt Cotton and Farmer Suicide in India” which shows no increase in farmer suicides in India due to Bt cotton. Unlike the claims by anti-biotech groups, the IFPRI study provides a deep analysis of other key factors that played a prominent role in Indian debt such as: a lack of formal budget management training; no formal credit institutions; loan interest rates of 20-30 percent; no debt relief laws for farmers; the unwitting purchase of imitation biotech seed from sham artists; crop failures due to poor weather; lack of an irrigation systems; lack of alternative sources of income outside of agriculture; and personal debts such as endowment obligations for the marriage of daughters and/or family medical bills.
Biotech cotton in India has been a controversial topic, but much of the drama has been unfairly fueled by unscientific claims and exaggerated reporting of a manufactured phenomenon.
So, disregard the sensationalistic and speculative spin by anti-GMO groups and take time to investigate how increased yields are actually saving lives. Indian farmers can now afford vaccines for their children and prenatal care for pregnant wives. Biotech advancements have allowed for less exposure to harmful pesticides and more educational opportunities for better, safer farming practices.
Bt cotton has been given an unfair reputation when the true culprit is a smorgasbord of repairable socio-economic problems in India. A variety of third-party studies have proven that personal debt is the historical reason behind an Indian farmer’s decision to commit suicide, not biotech seed. Think about it this way: if Bt cotton were the root cause of suicidal tendencies, then why is it that Indian farmers represent the fastest-growing users of biotech crops in the world? Between 2005 and 2006, India’s adoption of Bt cotton nearly tripled to 9.5 million acres! Today, Bt cotton is currently used in nine states in India on 14.4 million or 63 percent of India’s total cotton acres. So, if the studies don’t disprove the myths relating Bt cotton to Indian farmer suicide, then perhaps the sales figures will.
The bottom line
Bt cotton is making life better in India. Unfortunately, critics of biotech do not like these favorable statistics or news reports, so they rely on baseless smear campaigns to create a visceral reaction in those who are unfamiliar with the facts. Debt is the reason for Indian farmer suicide–but the economic benefits from Bt cotton may be the key to reversing the tragic statistics.
A native of Chicago, Garrett graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a B.A. in Public Relations in 1996. He is a 2000 graduate of the Defense Information School, and is still an official Navy spokesperson as a lieutenant commander in the reserves. During his 12 years on active duty as a Public Affairs Officer (PAO) for the U.S. Navy, Garrett has conducted media relations during Operations Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. From 2000-2002, Garrett served as the PAO aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and later spent three years as the director of public relations for the world-renown Navy flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, prior to joining Monsanto in 2008. He has an extensive background in crisis communications, strategic message planning and reputation management. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, carpentry and creating large divots in local golf courses.