(53 minute version)


India is the world's second largest cotton producer and also one of the largest consumers. It is also the largest producer of organic cotton, even though organic accounts for only 4% of its total cotton production. Since 2002 India has replaced almost all of its native varieties with genetically modified seeds. This cotton, developed in a laboratory, is named "BT".
(02:16) BT Cotton is developed by inserting a soil derived bacterium called Bacillus Thuringiensis, into the cotton’s genetic makeup. This is done primarily to induce the plant to produce its own BT toxin in order to destroy the American Bollworm, a major cotton pest. (02:37) The gene causes the production of BT toxin in all parts of the cotton plant throughout its entire life span. When the bollworm ingests any part of the plant, the BT toxin pierces its small intestine and kills the insect.

(02:16) BT COTTON
(02:36) BT TOXIN

Three generations into cotton. My grandfather was an agriculturist, born in a larger family of five brothers; they were all doing farming about 20 kilometres from here.
(03:41) I never wanted to be in this business per se. So I did my computer science and then I did my MBA… but I now believe it is destiny which has brought me in and looking back I think it was the right decision to come back into the fault, but with the same fire in my belly to do something different than how it is done already. (04:01) Because having seen 15 years of cotton buying around India, that gave me a lot of intuition and also a lot of insight: what are the problems faced by the smallest of farmers there. (04:16) He didn’t have institutional credit; he was getting credit at very high rates of interest – anywhere between 36% to 60% interest; he was not getting proper inputs – chemicals and seeds even; and he was not even getting the fair price. So this was intriguing me, because I also always felt guilty, I’m also part of the chain. (04:40) I have to buy this cotton and I’m not doing anything back to him, not giving back to him. All my fortunes are built on his hard work and I go there every season and I buy the cotton, that’s all I do. There is no relation beyond that. So it was always hurting me. And it is something I had to do.

05.14 TITLE:

05.25 FARMER 1:
A farmer’s wife is really very very difficult. He can’t sleep, can’t spend time with his wife and kids. (05:45) If he is not careful, he won’t get his crop. That’s why we should treat our crops like our own children. (05:55) The way we try to give them good food, we must provide our crop with manure. We guard them against cows and elephants.
(06.14) See, the forest is just 1 kilometre away from here. During the nights, wild boars come in groups of say 50, 100. They come to eat the cotton bolls. If we slept at home, we would lose our crop. That’s how our life goes! (06.46) We have obtained loans, we have built a home, we need money for our children’s education. Man is so dependent on money. Cotton is a commercial crop… that’s the way it is.

One needs courage to confront them, right? And they say, ‘who are you to question us?’… Isn’t it a huge loss when we are cheated 2 kilograms per bag? Isn’t it very difficult for us Sir? We can’t quarrel with then – we just tell them to do the weighing and that is it. What else can we do? (08:13) It’s our problem and we have to deal with it… it’s an injustice. We have to suffer such huge losses. It’s so difficult.

Question: Do you go to school?
Child 1: No.
Question: He goes to school? He goes to school, but you don’t… Whose farm is this?
Child 1: We come from a nearby village for labour.
(09:22) Question: Is this work you’re doing difficult?
Child 2: No, no. It’s not difficult. It’s easy. We are used to it.
Question: How much do they pay you?
Child 1: A hundred rupees (1.45 euros)
Question: How much do you have to work for a hundred rupees?
Child 1: Till evening at 5pm.
Question: How do you spend the money then?
Child 1: I take it home.
(09:55) Child 1: Don’t let any cotton drop on the floor!

The post independence India witnessed a shortage of food and of near famine. To overcome this the politicians and beureaucrats looked at the possibility of bringing the Green Revolution to India. It was based on very technological inputs of new seeds, chemicals and fertilisers… irrigation. (11:08) Of course with all this there was an increase in food production. But along with there was also the fallout of the Green Revolution which was felt on the environment: the food produced had to pay a very heavy price to the changing environmental situation in the country. (11:44) It is very sad that we have more than 300 million people who cannot access the food and who are below the poverty line. 46% of India’s children are below the poverty line and are malnourished. (12:01) If we really look at the problems of why poverty, why hunger… the answer is very obvious: that for a social and economic problem, we have introduced a technical solution and that will not address the problems of the poor.

The first Bt varieties approved for cultivation in India were all produced by MYCHO, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company, a Company partially owned by Monsanto. Today, local seed Companies have developed dozens of varieties with the Bollgard One and Bollgard Two gene. This technology is owned by Monsanto.

(12:29) MAHYCO
(12:35) MONSANTO
(12:43) BOLLGARD

BT technology has been in the use out of India for almost one and a half decades – 15 years. In India we have a successful track record of BT technology adoption in the last 9 years. (13:05) From the time the technology was launched, it is now used on almost 90% of the acres. Cotton is the only crop in the country where production has gone up by 50%, which really means that farmers have a lot of confidence on the seed, they have confidence on the success of the cotton crop. (13:25) Farmers are using 50 to 70% less insecticides… infact with Bollgard II they don’t have to use insecticides for the control of bollworm… it brings down their cost of cultivation and it also improves the yield significantly: (13:39) if you look at India yield increase is in the range of 30 to 70% and sometimes 100%. So, combination of all this, translates to higher farmer income.

14:40 TITLE

BT cotton is the only genetically modified crop in India and since its approval in 2002 there have been a lot of studies, which basically question the claims of the promoters like Monsanto who say that BT cotton has brought in economic benefits for the farmer. (15:37) So, through the ‘Picking Cotton’ study we were trying to reanalyse this claim and the idea was to compare BT cotton with a mode of cultivation which is ecologically sustainable and which is more or less organic. (15:55) And what we found out is that at the end of 2009, a farmer who cultivates cotton intensively using BT cotton was having 80% more debt as opposed to a non BT cotton, organic farmer. (16:18) In our study we found out that the BT cotton farmer was actually using many more pesticides and spending much more than a non BT farmer on pest management…. (16:32) And one of the things that our study revealed is that on a draught year, which happens quite often in India as it did in 2009-2010, the organic cotton farmer actually earned 200% more that a BT cotton farmer.

Look, if you are one of those companies, India is a gold mine. I’m not even getting into the science of BT – you have more competent people to talk to you about that. I’m talking about…what this BT seed or other kind of seeds did. (17:10) In Vidharba in 1991, if you grew local variety cotton, if you bought it on the market it was 9 rupees a kilogram. Then came the hybrids: they cost 350 to 400 rupees for 450 grams. Do you know why 450 grams? Why not 500 grams? (17:34) Because it’s all coming from the United States – 450 grams is 1 pound… they can’t change for us, okay! So… 450 grams is 1 pound, so all the seed packets in India are 450 grams. (17:49) Then comes BT! By 2003-2004 it’s illegal and its coming in…it’s already come in by 2003… they are charging between 1650 and 1800 rupees for 450 grams. (18:06) That means they are charging close to 4000 rupees for 1 kilogram where local seed was 9 rupees for 1 kilogram. For me the entire BT exercise falls down there!

18:43 FARMER 2
There were people who roamed around in their big cars. They would come and make announcements throughout the village. In the shops we were told that BT is good and that we would get a higher yield. That’s why we bought it. (19:04) But then I found that it is not good enough. We faced huge losses. Approximately, we might have faced a loss of around 50,000 rupees… (19:15) We also had to spray the chemicals prescribed by them and if we didn’t we wouldn’t get the expected yield. It’s the salesmen from the companies who decide how things should be done. (19:37) They tell the shopkeepers what should be sold and expect us to go there so that their stock is sold off. But now we can see that everything they said is a lie!

20:20 TITLE

A farmer is never told on day one that A: you will need more pesticides, because this is supposed to be something that controls pests. Farmer is never told, ‘ you need irrigation’ and when the crop fails they say ‘oh, but you also needed irrigation… you want another loan? Take 100,000 rupees…oh, your pests are attacking? Here’s another amount.’ (21:03) Now, the BT cotton is a non renewable seed and it has a royalty attached to it and Monsanto shot the prices up initially to 1600 rupees for a 450 grams packet, which amounts to about 3600 rupees for a kilogram, of which 2400 was the royalty competent. (21:24) Now, that kind of money being extracted from inpoverished farmers, means unpayable debt. (21:34) It’s becoming very clear that in large parts of India seeds are failing, that they are not forming seed. You’ll get a crop and you’ll have no seed…and that is a sign of sterility. (21:47) The possibility is that increasingly, companies are using – even to make hybrids – male-sterile lines derived from terminator technology.

The Terminator Gene is a secret gene sequence introduced in the DNA of a seed to make it sterile. The seeds generate plants, but are not able to give life to new, fertile seeds. (22:16) Further more, when the seeds, through cross-pollination, come into contact with other varieties, these also become infertile. Monsanto has always denied having used this technology.


I gave my resignation in May 1997, for the simple reason that, in spite of 17 years of successful career in Monsanto and after developing the herbicides market in India as a main effort, unfortunately Monsanto did not want to invest any money in India…(22:53) and an Executive Vice President had the demerit to tell me that they had no trust in my country. (23:09) When I went to Saint Luis, (Monsanto Headquarters) one of my colleagues let hold the information that they wanted to get the seeds business in India and let go of the herbicide business… (23:21) and very casually over a drink he mentioned to me that they wanted to start with genetically modified cotton and that they were going to put a terminator gene in that.

23:37 FARMER 3
In 1992 I bought 400 bags of seed. I sowed the land, added manure, sprinkled water… When it grew, leaves came, flowers came, but cotton didn’t. (24:05) I tried everything, but in the end I went to the District Forum. We won the case there. (24:18) Then we went to the State Forum and won there as well. But from National Courts I never received any kind of payback and those who were found guilty have also not paid me anything.
(24:34) I continued farming for three years, but I suffered more loss and eventually had to sell my land.

Once the seed is controlled, everything is controlled. The Indian agriculture is totally controlled. In fact I would like to show you something: this is murder of Indian agriculture! Introducing genetically modified seeds is murder!

25:27 TITLE

25:35 TITLE

When people say: ‘Oh, but every farmer is choosing BT’ it’s like telling people who live in an area where the only thing children can drink is Coke, that kids love Coke. It’s not a choice; it’s an absence of choice. (26:00) These seeds have not been bred for unique ecosystems. When the farmer finds this particular seed didn’t work, the poor farmer shifts…and says: ‘Okay, this year I’ll buy Mahyco.’ And when Mahyco doesn’t work he buys another brand and another brand and another brand… (26:22) 29 companies are underlisenced in control of Monsanto. The name that the farmer is familiar with – which is the Indian Company name – is different… but the logo at the corner, which the farmer doesn’t know how to read, is Bollgard, which means property of Monsanto.

26:46 FARMER 5
This is the seed.

Monsanto does what it has now introduced as an idea in seed management. The idea of seed replacement. But seeds are the very embodiment of life.  (27:09) To treat them as a non-renewable commodity that must be thrown away like a plastic bag, is what creates a seed famine…and after creating a seed famine, Monsanto enters with this false claim of miracles. (27:25)  The farmer is thinking he is shifting and saving himself and meanwhile there is no native seed left, which is why we have started the seed banks in the region of Vidharba.

Basically I’m a farmer, my father was a farmer. We were doing traditional farming. But starting in 1992 we started having some problems regarding cotton. (28:01) So many plants… around 70% of these plants that came from seeds sold to us by the Companies, were sterile. (28:12) So, I immediately too the decision to stop another business that being an engineer I was doing – running a small unit manufacturing audio equipment. (28:24)
So I stopped it in 2002 and gave my full attention in studying who introduced the sterility in the plants and what were the intentions behind it… and later I found out that it was just to compel you, to force you to buy their seeds every year. (28:54) So I started collecting seeds… and I collected around 560 varieties that are of this region. It may be a medicinal plant, it may be cotton, pigeon pea, whatever…but it is an important thing to do. We’ve collected them, we’re preserving them, multiplying them… in one single line, we’re doing our best to protect them from cross-pollination. We’re taking that much care.
(29:31) First they ruined the cotton. Rice was the next. Out of 30,000 varieties, I could just collect 150. The rest are absolutely finished. (29:45) The Rockefeller Foundation tried to get the approval for Golden Rice from the Indian Government. Golden Rice is genetically modified rice, that is supposed to contain more Vitamin A. (30:01) So many small children in our country suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, but for the Vitamin A daily requirement, you’d have to eat 9 kilograms of uncooked Golden Rice. Can you feed 9 kgs to a child? Definitely not. (30:21) So this is just an example of how they are cheating us and how they want to enter in our country with GM crops and take our food chain into their hands…through seeds, through the manipulations made in the seeds!

31:17 TITLE

There are adverse effects of BT cotton in India and I think that we have to take note of it. In my state of Andhra Pradesh, what remains of the crop is used as a forage crop for cattle. (31:47) And over two successive years it was found that several thousands died when they had eaten these plants – the remnants of the cotton plants after harvesting. And when the post-mortem was done, it was found that the intestines were shrivelled.
(32:11) Now my own conjecture, which is not established, is that the toxin in the cotton killed the bacteria in the rumen - rumen is the additional stomach that cattle have which we don’t have – and therefore the food was not digested there. And since nothing was digested there, the food didn’t go on to the intestines and they were shrivelled. (32:34) Now we repeatedly said that this must be tested! We can do experiments, but nobody wants to do experiments. It’s amazing that in spite of the fact that this phenomena is so well established and the only step to trying to understand the cause is to do long term experiments, they are not being done!

Kharnataka is the place where the extra long staple cotton is produced and the region where I normally buy the extra long staple cotton is the Kabini Region. (33:13) This Kabini Region is surrounded by forestry – it’s a home for thousands of elephants. It is a biosphere. (33:21) And there are crops that are suitable for this region and others that are not suitable. Organic cotton is more suitable for this region, because BT might interfere with the flora and fauna…(33:35) and we have heard from people that elephants eat the cotton. So I don’t know how much harm it may do if it gets into their food chain. (33:46) So it made logical sense to grow organic cotton there. (33:51) So the ecologic project is about including the environment, including the farmer, including the weaver and including the final consumer. (34:20) So you can see the biodiversity here: he’s grown sesame there, he’s growing green chilli and he’s growing something for his cows… and he’s grown ocra… He’s got brinjal…there’s a vegetable garden for his own family… now he’s got cotton. (34:35) So you see this small farmer with a piece of land, which could be more productive, not using the entire farm… he’s given room for eco forestry and he’s made a channel. You see, the land is tappered this way… whenever there is excessive rainfall, the water is harvested in a pit, again dedicated for other uses. This is a very balanced way of doing agriculture: this is organic…it’s a way of farming. (35:09) Whatever he takes from the earth, he’s giving back much more. He grows marygold, because some of the pests are attracted by the yellowness of the plant and they don’t attack the cotton. He grows legumes that breed lady beetle bugs and are friends of farmers: every lady beetle bug eats about 2000 eggs of the white fly in a day. (35:36) The conventional farmer has lost contact with traditional farming. He cannot distinguish between a predator and a prey: a friend of the farmer or the foe of the farmer. He sees a lady beetle bug, which is actually helping him, and he says: ‘ Oh my God I’m going to lose my crop! Let me take the sprayer, spray chemicals and kill them all.’ (35:56) So he’s actually sanitising the whole field. It’s an expense he’s making… whereas here, they learn to play around and they cut down the cost…and it’s organic.

Scientist 1: The plant has no flower part…like male or female. (36:48) Male… female… organs are not there.
Scientist 2: They are fused.
Scientist 1: (36:56) This is an abnormal flower.
Farmer 6: (37:04) When this field of mine didn’t show any buds, the Company people came here and added some chemicals to the soil. (37:12) They sprayed my farm saying that fertilizers would resolve the problem, that I would soon be seeing effective results. (37:21) They said that this was the only way my plants could give fruits.
Scientist 2: (37:30) Did you see some changes after they sprayed?
Farmer 6: (37:34) The plants just grew taller, but I don’t know when the bolls will appear and finally give us some produce. (37:59) You scientists say that my field is no good, but the Company people say that these BT crops give good yield. They say they have put them through various tests and computer analysis.
Scientist 3: (38:12) Which company has told you this? Company people will tell you a thousand things, as they need to sell their products.
Scientist 2: (38:21) The plant will not flower and that is final. It’s absolutely of no use. (38:29) The best option for you is to remove the plants and to grow something else.

38:49 TITLE

39:00 TITLE

39:13 FARMER 7
My grandfather was a farmer and so was my father. They both died last year. They took a loan from the bank and could not pay it back. (39:29) My grandfather was so worried that he fell ill and had a stroke. Then my father was so desperate he killed himself by drinking pesticide. Nobody helped us. (39:49) Now I have to do the farming. It’s my first time and I have no idea how it’s done. (39:55) If the crop fails, I’ll have no choice but to drink poison. How can I pay my debt?

40:05 TITLE

We were always into farming. That year the crop wasn’t good. (40:28) We were taking loans from everyone. From people, from banks… There was always so much tension about this in our heads. (40:41) My husband walked around the house aimlessly. He took poison… (40:52) Now we are the only ones left and we haven’t got any money. (41:02) I have to come every day to cut these bad weeds. We need to pay labourers 60 rupees a day. Some even pretend to be paid 150 rupees a day. (41:14) Farming requires so much labour and we can’t afford it. If someone helped us, we could get things done… No one will give us money. (41:26) What can we do?! What can a single woman do? There is no money. We can’t pay labourers. If there is no money then how can we ask then to work? (41:40) Why would they come if there is no money? Why should they after all? These weeds need to be cut…otherwise nothing will grow on this field.

In 2006, at the height of the suicides, in that period 6 to 8 people were killing themselves in Vidharba. At the same time, the Lakme India Fashion Week was happening here in Mumbay. (42:46) There were 600 correspondents covering Lakme India Fashion Week and 6 correspondents covering the farm suicides. (43:06) Lakme Fashion Week each year has a different theme… that year, 2006, the theme was ‘Cotton garments’. (43:17) So the girls on the ramp were displaying cotton garments and the girls and guys who grew the cotton were killing themselves at the rate of 6 to 8 every day, one hour away. One hour away.

43:58 TITLE

44:18 FARMER 8
I was the first person who started this business of weaving along with my mother and my wife. My children go to school and I earn my livelihood by weaving. But my kids do not work with me. (44:35) When they finish school, they will go and look for a different job. The future is about technology…at least that’s what people say. The handloom industry is destined to slowly disappear and go extinct. (44:58) In this era all that children think of is to study and get a job that pays well. The will never accept making the little amount of money that my wife and I make.

In the 1990s Mumbay was a gigantic manufacturing capital. People came from the farms…they came from the farms, they went to the mills and during harvest time they went back... (45:54) Today they come here, but the mills are closed and they work as domestic servants. Those avenues have died. And yet… and yet! In ten years between 1991 and 2001, 8 milion people have quit farming. (46:11) Where they have gone, we haven’t a clue! (46:30) Official figure is that 40% of farmers want to quit farming. My feeling is that if we ask only the young people, that will be 79% or 80%. (46:42) So we’ve destroyed their livelihood with no alternative option. I don’t believe you should hold someone a prisoner in farming who doesn’t want to be there. But you don’t throw someone out of their livelihood, unless you have an option, an alternative for them.

See, organic is… you feed yourself first, then go out and feed the world. You look at agriculture world over and impoverished countries: they grow something for the whole world, but nothing for themselves…and the malnutrition and the kind of food scarcity and famine and all those things are happening because farmers are not doing what they are supposed to do for themselves as nature would suggest. But here he grows crops first for himself and whatever he can spare extra he grows for the market. That’s the whole essence of agriculture. (47:45) Welcome, let’s go take a look at the cotton.

Mani: You haven’t done the grading, sister.
Woman Farmer 3: No, we haven’t.
Mani: Why? You should have. See, it’s so messy.
Woman Farmer 3: (48:17) What you are saying is true but…
Mani: No, no. You should do it before storing it in the house, or else you won’t get the rates. If you clean the cotton, then you can get better rates.
Woman Farmer 4: (48:26) We don’t do it generally. We just bring it home and keep it here.
Mani: (48:33) See, if you had done the grading, this would be good cotton. You could get better rates.
(48:58) See basically every organic farmer has to maintain records… and it’s in their native language which I don’t understand. But you can see how meticulously they’re doing it. (49:09) Where is the drainage water going…this is water harvesting and natural forestry that they are required to have. It’s all about biodynamics. (49:19) She’s written which crops they have and when they grew them... the day-by-day record of the work they have done. It’s a day-by-day record. (49:28) So you can see how meticulous it is…and it’s all empowerment of people like her. So she’s putting her education into maintaining record and it is certified by an International agency.

First of all I believe that a product has to be well designed. It has to be something that a person would like to wear, regularly. So first make it beautiful…and when you are following all the norms, I think it’s quite competitive. (50:14) See, you don’t want to work where the workers who work for you are suppressed and underpaid. Or there is child labour… you don’ want to do all those things. So when you follow all the norms and you give them proper wages, fair wages, fair treatment, a good working environment – you don’t want them to work in cramped place that is not suitable for them to give a proper output…. (50:37) So, when you provide them all that, I think the prices can be just a little bit more expensive… but much more fair for everyone.

If you look at the pyramid, consumer is at the apex. His decision is very important for all our sustenance. (51:29) We might do organic, we might produce the best of fabrics, best of garments and all that…but unless he makes that decision to buy, it weighs heavily on all of us. Now, with all the global issues, consumer is much more informed and he wants to do something that is good for the environment, but to do that he has to look at sustainable models. (52:03) Textile is something that he has to wear every day. It’s one of the basic needs after food and shelter. So, when it comes to textile he can make a statement by wearing something organic and sustainable. (52:17) And if the consumer makes this choice, then the whole world changes.



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