“Every 30 minutes, a farmer in India kills himself. Vidarbha, a cotton growing region in Maharashtra is the epicenter of this crisis” says an activist in documentary film 'Bitter Seeds'.
A film by Micha X Peled, it is being shown in the villages in Yavatmal district where many farmers have killed themselves.
Capturing the helplessness of cotton farmers in the region, the film tells the story of a cotton growing farmer Ramkrishna Kopulwar of Telang Takali village in Yavatmal district.. It was here that the first case of farmers’ suicide of the district was reported in 1997 when a cotton farmer Ramdas Ambarwar killed himself.
The film also relates the life of Ramdas Ambarwar’s daughter Manjusha who wants to become a journalist and highlight farmer’s issue. It captures how BT cotton seeds are sold in the villages of Yavatmal district with a promise that there will be no pest attack on the crops and the yield will be much higher.
The film portrays how seed company Monsanto was able to enter Indian market following a U.S. complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which forced India to open its door to foreign companies. To produce higher yields, BT cotton requires more water and fertilizers to be applied according to a precise timetable but 90 per cent of the Vidarbha farmers have no irrigation facilities and are rain dependent. Monsanto Company refutes the allegation. In an interview to Micha X. Peled, Dr.Gyanendra Shukla, Director, corporate affairs, Monsanto India says, “Suicide is a common phenomenon in every society. People end their lives due to various factors. There is absolutely no connection between the genetically modified seeds and farmer’s suicides. BT cotton is using 80 per cent less insecticides for control of bollworms as a result there is overall reduction in the use of insecticide in the cotton crop in India.”
For millennia, Vidarbha’s farmers have cultivated cotton using seeds from their own plants. In 1970, hybrid seeds were introduced. They significantly increased the yields, but with time required doses of costly fertiliser and insecticide. In 2002, genetically modified BT cotton seeds arrived. Like the hybrid variety, they are non-renewable and must be repurchased every year. Today they dominate the market.
According to agricultural scientist Dr. Vandana Shiva, who is featured in the documentary, “the conventional seeds were made completely unavailable and through vigorous campaigning, BT seeds were imposed on the farmers. GM engineering disturbs the physiology and the metabolism of the crops, so we have had crop failures in the GM cotton in a drought year and also in the case of too much rain. Or new pests start to occur again because the plant has been weakened.”
Other issues related to the farmers are also highlighted in the film. Eighty per cent of Vidarbha farmers fail to receive bank loans. They are forced to borrow from moneylenders who charge exorbitant rates and operate illegally.
The screenings are being organised the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a social group working among farmers here. Vidarbha has witnessed a large number of farmers’ suicide in last few years and this year until November 12, the number was 624, according to the VJAS.
After the screening at Yavatmal, many farmers were in tears. Motiram Chavhan who owns five acres of farm land says, “The film shows the ground reality and if this situation continues, you won’t find a farmer in this region.”
‘Bitter Seeds’, a documentary on the plight of cotton farmers of Vidarbha, resonates with the audience