Guest: Smita Narula, faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School, co-author of the report, Every Thirty Minutes: Farmer Suicides, Human Rights and the Agrarian Crisis in India
“[U]ltimately, the proximate cause for a number of these suicides is farmer indebtedness. What lies behind that indebtedness is two decades of market liberalization in India, which have resulted in two simultaneous processes. First, the government has withdrawn significantly from the agricultural sector. It has reduced subsidies. It has decreased access to rural credit. Irrigation is insufficient and doesn’t reach most farmers who need it. And at the same time, it has encouraged a switch over to cash crop cultivation, of which cotton is one example.
“Simultaneously, the market has been opened up to global competitors, which makes Indian farmers extremely vulnerable. And at the same time, foreign multinationals now dominate industries, such as the cotton industry, including dominating the key inputs that are needed for cotton. In the case of cotton, in particular, the genetically modified Bt cottonseed has been promoted so effectively in India that it now dominates the entire sector, and between its cost, quality and availability, has an enormous impact on farmer costs and profits and yields to the point that it’s landing them in enormous debt. And many of them, ironically, are actually consuming the very pesticide that they went into debt to purchase, to kill themselves when they can’t escape that cycle of debt.”