• Biotech Brinjal

    Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had a rather unusual bunch of visitors last week – Greenpeace protesters dressed up as sheep and cattle, who camped outside his office. The “animals” were asking for an investigation into the death of 1,600 head of cattle and sheep in Andhra Pradesh in April 2006. The deaths were closely linked to prolonged consumption of Bt cotton stalks and leaves that were left in fields after the harvest.
    Bt cotton is the only genetically modified (GM) seed sold in India. In the four years since it has been in use, not only has it failed to live up to its claim of being a `miracle seed’, but it has also had harmful effects on biosafety.

    At a time when the safety of Bt cotton is highly suspect, the government’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is considering clearance of large-scale field trials of Bt Brinjal. It is the first time that GM Brinjal is being released for an advanced stage of field trials in open conditions anywhere in the world. It is also the closest India has got to sanctioning GM food crops.

    If cleared, it will be the first time that the GEAC allows large-scale field trials for GM food crops. Such field trials could lead to the uncontrolled release of genetically modified organisms into the environment, which could contaminate normal varieties of the crop. Japan and several European countries have banned cultivation of GM food crops. But India is allowing it entry without taking adequate precautions.
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  • Vidarbha in Flames

    A local legislator attempted suicide in the legislative assembly, frustrated by all other methods to alert the state to the farmers suicides


    In Vidarbha, Maharashtrax
    It was time for a reality check. In the safe confines of the legislative assembly, Maharashtra’s politicians witnessed a dose of the real world last week. Gulabrao Gavande, a Shiv Sena legislator, wanted them to wake up to the daily tragedy of the Vidarbha countryside. So, he rushed to the floor of the assembly and poured a bottle of kerosene on himself. Then, he opened a bottle of pesticide and was about to swallow it when other legislators rushed to stop him. Gavande was banned from attending the rest of the session.

    His recklessness could have set the entire house on fire – literally. But his shocking suicide attempt ignited a fiery debate about the government’s neglect of the agricultural crisis in the underdeveloped Vidarbha region of eastern Maharashtra. Farmers’ suicides are on the rise. Everyday, a few more deaths are reported in local newspapers. But so far the state has not addressed this alarming tragedy. A defensive chief minister promised to announce a ‘package’ for Vidarbha’s farmers, but was not willing to say anything more. The opposition too has no creative solutions to offer. Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray rushed to Vidarbha and assured farmers his party’s muscle power to bash up moneylenders and bank officials who harass them.
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  • Frog Weddings and Farmers’ Funerals

    Bad rains, family problems, alcoholism, gambling – the government continues to find different reasons for the farmers’ suicides rather than address the crisis. Everyday, a few farmers kill themselves in Vidarbha, western Maharashtra. The globalisation of penury intensifies.

    in Yavatmal, Maharashtra
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  • Sugar Daddies

    Sugarcane has fuelled the corruption of political power in some states of India – the world’s largest sugar producer. But, as Dionne Bunsha reveals, it’s the small farmers who pay the price.
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  • The Hutatma Model

    Corruption, mismanagement, political fiefdoms – these are the words usually associated with sugar co-operatives in Maharashtra. Here’s one that’s different.

    Dionne Bunsha
    In Walva, Maharashtra.
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  • Machines that Mow down Migrants

    The arrival of imported cane-harvesting machines in sugarcane fields may push migrant cane cutters deeper in bondage.


    “This town rips the bones from your back
    Its a death trap, its a suicide rap
    We gotta get out while we’re young
    ‘Cause tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.”

    — Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run.

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  • Drowning Cotton’s Lifebuoy

    The Maharashtra government has refused to pay the full cotton procurement price immediately. This has left farmers at the mercy of trader-moneylenders. In a region where farmers suicides are frequent, the state is withdrawing support, pushing farmers closer to the edge.

    in Vidarbha, Maharashtra
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  • A can of boll worms

    Many farmers in Gujarat didn’t know they were sold pirated Bt cotton seeds. Now, the government threatens to burn their crop.

    In Gandhinagar district, Gujarat.
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