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GM cotton belt is suicide belt
Killer crop'

New Delhi, May 9: A large number of suicides by farmers in India are “intimately connected” to the high cost of production of genetically modified (GM) cotton and other capital-intensive crops, a non-government organisation has claimed.

The New Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology which will hold a “bija (seeds) yatra”, said the high costs of cultivating capital-intensive crops, including GM cotton, have contributed to the suicides.

“We find a strong correlation. The suicide belt is the GM cotton belt,” said Vandana Shiva, director of the foundation. “The cost of cultivating GM cotton is high and, over the years, cotton prices have fallen.”

The foundation released a report documenting farmers’ suicides in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab since the mid-1990s. In Maharashtra’s Vidharbha alone, more than 400 farmers have killed themselves since June 2005, it said.

“A farmer told upfront (that) all the costs associated with cultivating GM cotton would probably not have gone in for the seeds,” Shiva said. “We’re also seeing suicides among farmers who’ve planted other crops that involve high cultivation costs.”

The foundation’s report cited an independent study in Punjab that has recorded 1,360 suicides in 91 villages in two blocks of the state’s Sangrur district.

Seed companies argue that the steady rise in the area in India under GM cotton cultivation is evidence of its good performance. They have said GM cotton can increase yields by killing the bollworm pest.

In the proposed bija yatra, the foundation will join farmers’ organisations in several states to encourage farmers to boycott GM cotton, avoid other seeds that involve capital-intensive cultivation, and promote organic cultivation.

Farmers along the route of the yatra in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka will be provided training on low-cost ecological organic farming and get seeds that do not need expensive cultivation processes, Shiva said.

The foundation has called for a moratorium on GM cotton and an independent assessment of the social and economic impact of the introduction of GM cotton in the country five years ago.

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