Saturday, January 9, 2010

Farmer suicides in Vidharba come in handy to promote Bt cotton-Devinder Sharma

Farmer suicides in Vidharba come in handy to promote Bt cotton

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Yesterday, I watched an excellent discussion about the role of media (essentially the TRP-driven TV Channels) on the IBN 7 Channel. This one hour programme did a lot of introspection with some senior journalists on the panel, and I was mighty impressed with the anchor who didn't feel shy in asking some difficult questions and therefore was able to extract the right answers.

If media begins to really introspect and take corrective steps I am sure it can resurrect its poor image. Otherwise, the media, which is now a laughing stock, will sonner than expected slide into the dustbin of history.

I wake up in the morning, pick up my daily newspapers, and realise that it may not be that easy for the media to adopt a strict code of conduct. There are huge versted interests, which are quite clearly visible. Newspapers are business entities, and therefore market the products surruptiously in the garb of news. I draw your attention to a front page news in The Indian Express today: First time in 4 years, annual suicide tally in Vidharbha is below 1,000.

The blurb below spills out the business connection. It says - Key to the dip: Rs 1,300-crore loan waiver, Bt cotton crop, market prices. Now this line played up by the newspaper will leave an impression on you that Bt cotton was the saviour. Knowing that the Corporate giant Reliance has been backing Indian Express, and knowing that the newspaper has time and again carried unsubstantiated reports promoting Bt cotton, you are not surprised at this sub-head.

But then, the average reader is unable to draw the connection. The headline therefore leaves a wrong impression on him, and he/she thinks that Bt cotton is a good technology. And if you read the report carefully, except for a mention of Bt cotton, there is nothing to support this argument.

Even Kishore Tiwari, who heads the Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti, is quoted in the report as saying that the falling figure of suicides is a welcome sign. Positive measures like loan waiver, release of credit and good prices of cotton have undoubtedly helped. Nowhere does he talk about the role Bt cotton played in mitigating suicides. In fact, as well all know by now, Bt cotton had created more problems in the Vidharbha belt, and has actually been responsible for thousands of farmers to take the fatal route.

That 90 per cent of the cotton seed being used by farmers belong to the Bt cotton variety is no reason to celebrate its success. What is not known is that the seed companies, and the government, have worked hard to ensure that the non-Bt cotton seed disappears from the market. So if you go to the Vidharbha region, and ask for non-Bt cotton seed from seed dealers in the market, you will not be able to get even 100 gms.

The only option left for the farmers therefore is to buy what is available, and its only Bt cotton seed that is available.

Economists will not take this aspect into their analysis and for obvious reasons. You therefore have faulty and biased economic analysis coming out from institutes even as respected as Tata Institute of Social Sciences. In fact, I have been saying for long that agricultural economists are in a way also responsible for the prevailing agrarian crisis. They had all these years been telling farmers how much they can earn from farming using the chemical inputs. They painted a rosy picture luring gullible farmers into a virtual trap. They weaved figures (of profits) which turned out to be eventually untrue.

No wonder, 40 per cent farmers want to quit agriculture if given a choice. And over 200,000 have taken to gallows since 1997.

I will bring you more about the Bt cotton story as we go along. Meanwhile, you can read the Indian Express report by clicking on this link:

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