Farmers on the Fringe: The effect of Monsanto GM seed globalization

PROJECT OBJECTIVE

Having familiarized myself with the education system in India after teaching elementary children at a boarding school during my gap year, I want to encourage a sense of healthy skepticism among Indian youth. I decided to investigate the effect of GM seed technology on Indian farmers in southern India, who have, unfortunately, been in the news consistently during the last decade because of the disturbing increase in farmer suicides due to debt owed to GM seed and biotechnology suppliers. While there has been a lot of media publicity surrounding the high suicide incidences, most of the hype has arisen during election times as politicians lobby for votes by concentrating their attention on how much monetary compensation should be rewarded to affected families, after the tragedy has already occurred. Preventive measures that have been taken have not stretched beyond providing cheap credit, one-time debt settlement options, alternative sources of income, improved irrigation and, in rare cases, crop insurance. Yet, none of these measures have addressed the root of the problem and do not offer farmers any ways of breaking out of the GM seed-dependence cycle that is created by the seed suppliers.

My project will provide a personal perspective on this ongoing tragedy from someone who lives in the country that agricultural corporations like Monsanto originated from, but understands the implications that the manipulation of science by them to accumulate power can have on my home country. Moreover, I want to include examples of those ordinary citizens in this continent who have stood up to corporate coercion and succeeded in small, but powerful ways. By publicizing their stories and spreading awareness of stricter regulation for GM food that exists in regions like Europe, I hope to inspire increased understanding of the underlying technological, economic, sociocultural and political factors of farmer suicides in India and faith in the possibility of escaping the vicious cycle that plague these farmers lives. I plan to do this through a visual medium that incorporates images, voice-overs and video clips from speeches, documentaries and interviews, including Vandana Shiva (Indian scientist and environmental activist who has founded nationwide seed banks to re-empower farmers), Percy Schmeiser (canola farmer from Saskatchewan, Canada who decided to fight for his innocence after being sued by Monsanto for patent infringement) and Marie Monique-Robin (French director of the 2008 documentary "The World According to Monsanto"). I have also outlined the story of Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist at UC Berkeley who conducted studies in 2000 on maize in Mexico and discovered traces of Monsanto GM seed contamination 2 years after a ban was issued on GM maize, and how Monsanto tried to convince the public otherwise.

With a 51% proportion of the 1 billion strong Indian population under the age of 25, there is clearly a lot of self-empowering potential to tap into by developing a sense of healthy skepticism at the school level. This is much needed in a developing countrys society that has seen an exponential rise in educational infrastructure, but continued adherence to rigidly defined curriculums and methods of teaching and learning that leave very little room for independent thinking. In this age of globalization, Indian society faces a greater risk of exploitation by the local government and corporations in developed countries eager to take advantage of the market that the technology-hungry population offers if educational reform is not implemented. From my own experiences, healthy skepticism is best introduced in the context of the sciences because of an unhealthy, ingrained faith in the rationality of this domain of knowledge from childhood.

(This project was undertaken as a final submission to Dr. David Egilman's Community Health course "Science and Power: A Bioethical Enquiry" at Brown University, RI, USA May 2009)

Channel: Environment Channel

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