Monsanto, a multinational agricultural corporation, has been accused of using technology and innovation as a means to gain control over seed supply, ultimately controlling farmers’ lives. Monsanto’s control over the seed sector has led to an epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India where 95% of the country’s cotton seed is now controlled by the company.
Seed control is the first link in the food chain as it is the source of life. By controlling seed, Monsanto controls life, especially the life of farmers. The company’s control over the seed sector is a global concern, linking farmers’ suicides in India to legal battles in Canada and the US, as well as lawsuits in Brazil.
Monsanto’s concentrated control over the seed sector in India began with a 1988 Seed Policy imposed by the World Bank, requiring the Government of India to deregulate the seed sector. Monsanto's entry into India’s seed sector had five major effects. First, Indian companies were locked into joint-ventures and licensing arrangements, and concentration over the seed sector increased.
Second, seed, which had been the farmers’ common resource, became the “intellectual property” of Monsanto, for which it started collecting royalties, thus raising the costs of seed.
Third, open pollinated cotton seeds were displaced by hybrids, including GMO hybrids, turning a renewable resource into a non-renewable, patented commodity. Fourth, cotton was grown as a monoculture, with higher vulnerability to pests, disease, drought, and crop failure. Fifth, Monsanto started to subvert India’s regulatory processes and, in fact, started to use public resources to push its non-renewable hybrids and GMOs through public-private partnerships (PPP).
In 1995, Monsanto introduced its Bt technology in India through a joint-venture with the Indian company Mahyco. In 1997-98, Monsanto started open field trials of its GMO Bt cotton illegally and announced that it would be selling the seeds commercially the following year. India has rules for regulating GMOs since 1989, under the Environment Protection Act. It is mandatory to get approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee under the ministry of environment for GMO trials. The Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology sued Monsanto in the Supreme Court of India, and Monsanto could not start the commercial sales of its Bt cotton seeds until 2002.
Monsanto’s control over the seed sector has led to an epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India. Monsanto’s seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of super-profits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures have created a context for debt, suicides, and agrarian distress. The highest acreage of Bt cotton is in Maharashtra, where the highest farmer suicides occur. Suicides increased after Bt cotton was introduced, as Monsanto’s royalty extraction and high costs of seed and chemicals created a debt trap. According to the Government of India data, nearly 75% of rural debt is due to the purchase of inputs. As Monsanto’s profits grow, farmers’ debt grows. Monsanto’s seeds have been deemed the seeds of suicide.
Monsanto’s patented technology to create sterile seeds, known as “Terminator technology,” is the ultimate seed of suicide. This technology produces seed that will not grow or will produce viable seeds with specific genes switched off. The Convention on Biological Diversity has banned its use, otherwise, Monsanto would be collecting even higher profits from seed.
Monsanto’s control over the seed sector has led to an epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India, and its concentration over the seed sector is a global concern. Monsanto’s seeds of deception and suicide highlight the need to regulate the seed sector to prevent corporations from controlling farmers’ lives.