Bad Trip Cotton

Prateek Shankar


Haryana, India

Cotton farming in Haryana and Punjab has been the pride of the Indian agricultural sector since Independence. It continues to be a cash crop and an essential source of livelihood for most farmers. Over the past few decades, the effects of globalisation have enabled the introduction of GMOs like BT Cotton (as well as a wide range of pesticides and other chemicals) into Indian farms. The Indian farmer, unable to compete with international markets, has been coerced into buying and using these seeds and products. The Indian government itself offers subsidies and other benefits to encourage their use. Though these seeds boasted large yields at first, the current scenario is of absolute apathy – minimal yields, barren lands and destroyed livelihoods. The Indian farmer has become the big fat loser. The only beneficiaries in this system appear to be large retailers and corporations (such as Monsanto), a fact that never seems to see the light of day, beyond the limited efforts of organisations such as Navdanya. Furthermore, most profits from these farms go to the owner of the land as opposed to the farmers themselves.

A visit to the tiny hamlet of Khedar in Haryana reveals the depth of these systemic inconsistencies. Pavan Kumar, a cotton farmer in the village revealed to us that 75% of earnings are given away to the landowner, leaving a meagre 25% for the actual tillers of the land. According to Pavan, a majority of the crop is actually exported abroad. The adjoining cotton processing factories make the biggest bucks by processing and packaging as much of the product as possible, not even leaving the binaula or seeds (which are sold as animal feed or as cheap fuel to neighbouring factories). These factories further skew the imbalance by hiring cheap labour from Bihar – including children – who are then forced to work and live under terrible conditions nearby.

It would appear that the economic development of the nation far outweighs the welfare of its own citizens. This begs a simple question: does the nation belong to its people or do the people belong to the nation?

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