For the farmers sake...
"More than 270,000 Indian cotton farmers have killed themselves since 1995. Campaigners say a contributing factor may be the high price of genetically modified seeds flooding the market, which is piling pressure on poorly paid growers, forcing many into a cycle of unmanageable debt." (The Guardian, 2014)
Fertilisers, insecticides and GM seeds do not come cheap, and GM seeds account for 95% of cotton farming in India. Farmers must borrow money, often from local loan-sharks or even the seed and fertiliser merchants themselves. Unpredictable issues such as weather conditions or a tiny drop in the world price of cotton can sometimes be catastrophic, making it difficult for them to repay their debts. GM varieties consume more water and nutrients, leading to soil depletion. This in turn means that fertilisers are needed to achieve optimal yields (yet another expense for farmers). In 2006, farmers in the Vidarbha area committed suicide by swallowing pesticide.
As well as financial risks, conventional cotton production also has a series of health risks, especially for small farmers in developing countries. In the South, many small farmers don't have the knowledge nor access to chemical handling equipments. Many of the chemicals in these products are banned in the West, yet most Indian workers toil barefoot and without masks. This causes a great damage to their health, and even fatal consequences. Nearly 1,000 people die every day from acute pesticide poisoning and many more suffer from chronic ill health, such as cancers and leukemia, neurological diseases and reproductive problems including infertility, miscarriage and birth defects.
The GM-seed market, launched with a massive advertising campaign, was estimated to be worth $364m in 2012.
The world is run by supply and demand. Every time we buy non-organic cotton, we contribute to this problem.
For the farmers sake... switch to organic cotton.
* To learn more about what is being done to address this problem, you can read our post about GOTS, The Coalition for a GM-Free India, and the Better Cotton Initiative.
*Photographs by Lynda Laird
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