U.S. Human Rights: farmers in India


Over the past 15 years, a scourge of suicides has claimed the lives of an estimated 250,000 farmers in India. And the death count is still climbing, according to a new report by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University.

“On average, one farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes in India,” said Smita Narula, director of the CHRGJ and co-author of the report, “Every Thirty Minutes: Farmer Suicides, Human Rights, and the Agrarian Crisis in India.”

The report, which focuses primarily on small cotton farmers in India, identifies several likely sources and potential solutions to the suicide epidemic in India. In my view, it gets both of these at least partially wrong.

Generally speaking, the report suggests multinational agribusiness, market reforms and a ludicrously inadequate policy response to the crisis on the part of the Indian government are among the culprits contributing to the tragedy.

While structural market reforms and ineffective government policy clearly has contributed to the suicide epidemic, the claim that multinational companies bear at least part of the blame for these tragedies not only flies in the face of the evidence but is also likely to have perverse consequences.

The analysis suggests that foreign multinational corporations promoting genetically modified cottonseed in India are impinging on the rights of small farmers in India.

The opening of Indian agriculture to the global market and the increasing role of multinational agribusiness giants in cotton production have increased costs, while reducing yields and profits for many farmers, to the point of great financial and emotional distress.

The report singles out Monsanto, a biotechnology and life sciences company based in St. Louis, Mo., as an example of multinational misconduct.

Bt cotton seeds are genetically modified to produce an insecticide that kills Bollworm, a common cotton pest in India. In 2002, the government of India allowed Monsanto to start selling Bt cotton to farmers in India. In the years since, Bt cotton has pervaded cotton farming in India.


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