Like everyone else at Monsanto, when I hear about suicide, I feel the same way you do – my heart breaks. Suicide is an awful, tragic waste no matter where or why it occurs. But the sorrow and hopelessness that leads someone to take his own life is complicated. Trying to attribute it to a single cause – especially when you’re talking about lots of different people – is misleading. And let me be clear – planting GM seeds is not the cause of the farmer suicide problem in India.
Suicide has been a problem in the Indian farming community for a long time, since well before the first GM crops (specifically, cotton) were introduced in 2002. The fact is, farming in India is very, very hard. There is a set of systemic and social issues that can lead to hopelessness among farmers, which has in turn led to suicides.
It’s important to look for the root causes of Indian farmer suicides in order to find solutions. Numerous international organizations have been doing just that. Their research has shown that the suicide problem is complex, and that it is not the result of planting GM seeds.
For instance, a June 2012 study from the Canadian non-profit Council for Social Development found that GM cotton has benefited Indian farmers, both in terms of yield and more generally in terms of quality of life. Rather than GM crops, this study identified the key reasons leading to farmer suicides as lack of irrigation facilities, unavailability of timely credit and fluctuating cotton prices over the years.
A 2008 study by the International Food Policy Research Institute found indebtedness among Indian farmers can be linked to numerous causes including a lack of reliable credit, changes in government policies, cropping patterns, plant and insect resistance to pesticides, and even shifts in the crops planted on the farm.
Some other studies include: “Measuring the Contribution of Bt Cotton Adoption to India’s Cotton Yields Leap,” International Food Policy Research Institute Discussion Paper 01170, Guillaume P Gruere, Yan Sun; Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in India, Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, May 15, 2012; and Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research Study: Suicide of Farmers in Maharashtra (January 2006).
Finally, I hope it’s okay if I address this personally. I have worked with cotton farmers since I was in college decades ago. I have traveled to places off the map throughout the U.S. and on visits to several foreign countries, including India, through both work and personal vacations. I’m proud to be part of an organization that is trying to help these farmers improve their situations.