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India Cuts Royalties to Monsanto, is There a Link Between Monsanto & Indian Farmer Suicide?

For the second time in two years, India imposed cuts on the royalties local seed companies pay to the agriculture giant, Monsanto. Monsanto controls 90 percent of the local Indian market for cotton seeds and the Indian government accuses Monsanto of abusing its monopoly power resulting in rising debt for Indian farmers. Some link the growing debt to the epidemic of Indian farmer suicide.

Indian farmer suicides

© Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons

After the first round of cuts, which saw 70 percent of royalties removed, Monsanto had threatened to pull out of India’s market. After the second round, an Indian minister said that the company was free to abandon operations in the country at any time.

The Indian government has said that these cuts were also made in order to support Indian farmers who have been struggling with pests decimating their crops. In addition to the cuts, the government lowered the cost of seed packets.

Monsanto dominates Indian farming

An official of Monsanto’s local subsidiary has stated that the cuts have eroded business confidence in the country, and that a stable business environment is needed to attract and keep investors. This seemingly heavy-handed action by the Indian government against Monsanto is one side to a dark dispute.

Monsanto controls 90 percent of the cotton seed market, and the dependence of Indian cotton farmers on Monsanto’s seeds have caused changes to farming practices, affecting a large swath of India’s agricultural sector.

Climate change, pestilence and other factors have all contributed to bad cropping seasons, but Monsanto’s genetically-modified cotton (GMO) seeds cannot regrow and are dependent on additional resources such as fertilizers. Thus, the traditional method of planting seed stock from non-genetically-modified cotton has been removed from standard farming practices. To be able to afford purchasing these seeds, farmers have had to go as far as getting bank loans.

This change has left Indian cotton farmers dependent on seed suppliers. This dependence on suppliers, who in turn get their seeds from Monsanto, has caused widespread indebtedness.  which some link to farmer suicides.

Is there a link between Monsanto and Indian farmer suicide rate?

One study published in Environmental Sciences Europe suggested a link between Monsanto grown cotton and farmers suicides. The study showed how cotton cultivation was uneconomical in rain-fed areas because the crops were prone to infestations and so there wasn’t much increase in cotton yield to offset the Monsanto related expenses.

Other studies have been done to disprove the Monsanto/GMO link to Indian farmer suicides. Some studies link other contributing factors including climate change to Indian farmer suicides. Other studies say the non-farmer rate of suicide is higher in India than the farmer rate. No study has conclusively answered the question of whether there is a link between Indian farmer suicides and Monsanto.

Government attempts to address Indian farmer suicide problem

This suicide rate, however, has been likened to an epidemic. The Indian government has addressed the issue by offering debt relief to farmers and passing laws to ban private lending to farmers, an effort to protect farmers from aggressive lending practices. The Indian government also created programs to help farmers diversify their crops.

These programs have proven to be largely ineffective. Many believe India’s Monsanto royalty cuts are part of another attempt to alleviate farmer debt and address the farmer suicide rate.


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