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GreenTalk: India's farm ministry blames genetically modified cotton for farmer suicides

A leaked agriculture ministry memo has tied India's ongoing crisis of farmer suicides to the increased use of Monsanto's genetically modified Bt cotton, the Hindustan Times reports.

“Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers,” the paper quotes the memo as saying.

Some 90 percent of India's cotton growers have converted to Bt cotton since its introduction a decade ago. The genetically modified crop is supposed to be modified to resist pests, so that farmers do not have to spend money on pesticides. But like most other genetically modified crops it is a proprietary technology, which forces farmers to buy new seeds each year.

According to the leaked memo, however, Bt cotton's pest-resistant qualities are fading, perhaps due to adaptation. And the rising cost of pesticides have pushed many farmers into debt.

On the record, officials denied or downplayed the advisory, however, the Hindustan Times said.

Of India's nine cotton-growing states, Maharashtra has seen the largest number of farmer suicides. In the state's Vidarbha region, a cotton-growing belt comprising six districts, 209 farmers committed suicides in 2011 due to “agrarian causes”.

However, hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have committed suicide over the past two decades, so Monsanto can't take all the blame.

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