NEW DELHI – An epidemic of farmers’ suicides has spread across four Indian states – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Punjab – over the last decade. According to official data, more than 160,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997.
These suicides are most frequent where farmers grow cotton, and appear directly linked to the presence of seed monopolies. For the supply of cotton seeds in India has increasingly slipped out of the hands of farmers and into the hands of global seed producers like Monsanto. These giant corporations have begun to control local seed companies through buyouts, joint ventures, and licensing arrangements, leading to seed monopolies.
When this happens, seed is transformed from being a common good into being the “intellectual property” of companies such as Monsanto, for which the corporation can claim limitless profits through royalty payments. For farmers, this means deeper debt.
Seed is also transformed in this way from being a renewable regenerative resource into a non-renewable resource and commodity. Seed scarcity is directly caused by seed monopolies, which have as their ultimate weapon a “terminator” seed that is engineered for sterility. This means that farmers can’t renew their own supply but must return to the monopolist for new seed each planting season. For farmers, this means higher costs; for seed corporations, higher profits.