Does Cotton Farmers’ Rebellion Signal the ‘End is Near’ for Monsanto in India?

Indian farmers harvest cotton. The arid nation's cotton farmers have been fighting what they see as a harmful Monsanto monopoly. Does this rebellion by farmers wanting to return to indigenous cotton seed signal an end to Monsanto's dominance there? (Photo credit: GeneticLiteracyProject.org)

By M. Samuel Anderson
View of the News / AWN

Even before India began suffering from its current widespread water shortages—which are at least partly attributable to corporate giant Coca Cola steadily slurping water out of the nation’s aquifers—the farmers there had started rebelling against agri-giant Monsanto by refusing to continue farming the genetically modified cotton that the notoriously heavy-handed company claims is India’s best option as a staple crop.

That modified cotton, called “Bt cotton” (i.e., Bacillus thuringiensis), has a genetically modified seed that contains a bacterium by that name. Its chief feature is that it produces toxins that are said to be harmful to a variety of insects, including the bollworms which attack cotton.

“However, just as weeds become stronger against weed-killing formulas, many organisms also become stronger against genetic mutations of Mother Nature’s creations,” the website Natural Blaze.com noted. “After illegally pushing . . . Bt cotton into India and Africa over 10 years ago, . . .  Monsanto is now losing millions of dollars due to farmers now planting their own indigenous seed.”

Notably, according to Monsanto itself, insect resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis is “natural” and “to be expected.”

India’s government, amid the controversy, took to promoting the use of indigenous cotton seed and has called attention to what is seen as Monsanto’s illegal profiteering from the Bt cotton seed.

The year 2017 alone saw Monsanto lose “nearly $75 million in royalties (or about 5 billion rupees) due to farmers changing their seed choice,” Natural Blaze added. Consequently, sales figures in India fell by 15 percent. And while that sounds like a relatively small market share, it’s had a discernible impact on Monsanto’s bottom line.

But the most serious factor is that, according to UK Daily Mail reports, some 300,000 farmer deaths between 1995 and 2013 have been attributed, directly or indirectly, to Monsanto’s practices, even while, according to several reports, farmer suicides throughout Maharashtra, regarded as India’s “cotton belt,” have also been linked to those practices.

Keshav Raj Kranthi, who heads India’s Central Institute for Cotton Research, said that if this market shift continues as is—bringing back indigenous seed to drive out the modified stuff—Monsanto’s presence in India conceivably could end.

“Just wait for the crucial three to four years to see a complete, natural turnaround. By then most farmers will give up Bt cotton and go for the indigenous variety,” he told the Reuters news service.

Notably, indigenous cotton varieties, according to some studies, fare better against the bollworm, whitefly, drought, and other dangers that loom over cotton farmers. But, all told, recapturing the indigenous crop completely could take decades or possibly generations to achieve. Such is the reality of countering unbridled globalisation, foisted upon the peoples of the world without their consent.