Monsanto has a ‘no replant’ policy meaning farmers cannot save seed from a previous harvest and replant the following year. Monsanto requires farmers to sign a licence agreement on purchase of GM seed and aggressively pursues farmers who do not comply with these agreements.
For millennia farmers have been saving and replanting seed. It is a successful measure for two reasons
- It allows farmers as individuals and groups to diversity, cross breed and the develop the most robust produce relevant to local conditions, and
- The seed is not a cost input for the following year’s harvest.
Monsanto have taken what was a free resource on farms and commoditised it. This has huge impacts the world over, but none more so than in India where farmers are very poor and do not have the cash reserves of farmers in wealthier nations. This means many have to go into debt each year to buy the seed and repay that when the harvest occurs. But if the harvest fails farmers are left with debt. Their only option is to go into more debt in the hope the harvest will be better the next year.
In India’s cotton belt over 90% of the cotton grown is Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bt Cotton. Farmers are taking their own lives at an alarming rate. Research shows that Indian farmers are three times more likely to commit suicide than anyone else in the country, that 86% of farmers who took their own lives where indebted (on average by about $835) and that 40% had suffered crop failure. It is widely acknowledged that these suicide figures are widely under reported due to the way farming occupations are classified in India and that women are classified as wives of farmers, not farmers. So their suicides don’t show up in the farming category.
Experts blame the seed monopolies on the increasing rate of suicide. According to data from the Indian government around 75% of farmer debt is due to purchased inputs and that ‘cotton farmers are in deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011 – 2012 has been particularly severe among Bt farmers. Both farmer debt and Monsanto profits grow.
The ridiculous and aggressive pursuit of farmers appears to ignore logic. Monsanto sent a farmer to gaol for buying a truckload of seed from a reseller that was saved from a previous year’s harvest. If a farmer tries to harvest and replant Monsanto seeds for a second season without permission Monsanto will sue because they believe the seeds belong to them and farmers are only licencing them to produce a crop. Refusing to pay the licencing fee is a form of intellectual property theft, according to Monsanto.
So farmers could just go back to growing regular seed, right? Well, that’s not so easy. Because since 1996 Monsanto and the other large agricultural companies have been rapidly buying up all the smaller seed companies.
Organic farmers say it’s getting harder to find diverse strains of traditional, heirloom soybeans. Where does that leave farmers who want to source, grow and keep alive the traditional methods of farming in an increasingly controlled market?