Farmer Suicides Rising in India as GM Bt Cotton Crops Fail

by Jeffrey M. Smith, Institute for Responsible Technology

The record suicide rate among farmers in India continues to rise, with one farmer now committing suicide every 30 minutes. Many media reports blame failed GM Bt cotton crops for the crisis.

More than a quarter of a million farmers have killed themselves in the last 16 years in what is the largest recorded wave of suicides in history. An article for Sky News reports that one farmer who committed suicide "had been persuaded to use genetically modified seeds by the possibility of a better harvest. What he wasn’t told was that they needed more rain than the region provided."

Farmers who grow GM crops also have to borrow money for expensive pesticides and fertilizers. When the crop fails, they cannot repay their debts. The article comments, "Across rural India there is now widespread despair. The fields are also filling up with widows." [Read the Article]

Bt cotton was first released for commercial growing in India in 2002, and the data on farm suicides show clearly that the last eight years were much worse than the preceding eight – which is alarming since the total number of farmers is declining. [Read the Article]

India’s Bt cotton "revolution" has lost its sheen over the past five years, with government data showing a consistent decline in cotton yield. Even as the area under Bt has grown to 93 per cent of the total area under the cash crop, the overall yield is estimated to decline to a five-year low this year. [Read the Article]

Farmers and activists who oppose GM crops argue that none of the promises made during the introduction of GM seeds have come true. In certain cases, the opposite has happened. Some farmers report that crops failed to flower, producing no yield at all. Others report low yields and high cost of GM seed and chemical insecticides, which farmers still have to spray in spite of marketing claims that Bt cotton reduces or eliminates the need for them.

As for GM proponents’ claims that if GM seeds were so bad, farmers wouldn’t buy them, it’s clear that the consolidation in the seed market means that GM seeds are all that’s available. [Read the Article]