'Bitter Seeds' film exposes epidemic of Indian farmer suicides

May 30, 2012

Steve Bynum

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Big agribusiness companies like U.S.-based Monsanto claim their genetically modified (GM) seeds offer effective solutions to feeding the globe’s exploding population. But there’s growing concern over such technological trade-offs. Even those of us who own iPhones have only to read the stories coming from the Apple/Foxconn plant in China to see that an easier life for us can come at great cost to the impoverished in the developing world.

These GM seeds are sterile and therefor don’t regenerate. Farmers can no longer depend on nature for their survival and are forced to buy from multinational agribusiness entities like Monsanto or ADM in order to plant anew. On the ground, small-scale farmers are losing their land. The situation is especially desperate in India, where an epidemic of farmer suicides has claimed over a quarter-million lives in the last 17 years. Every 30 minutes, one farmer in India, deep in debt, commits suicide.

Wednesday, Worldview talks with director Micha X. Peled, who had documented this epidemic in the film Bitter Seeds. It begins in 2004, when an American company introduced genetically modified seeds to the Indian market, with catastrophic results for local farmers. Bitter Seeds follows one farmer through a disappointing season of drought and parasite infestation. Required by a money-lender to put up his land as collateral, he gambles on everything he has. Bitter Seeds is the final film in Peled’s “Globalization Trilogy,” following Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town and China Blue.

Bitter Seeds screens Wednesday May 30) at the Gene Siskel Film Center as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Panel discussion with filmmaker, Arvind Ganeson of Human Rights Watch and Rebekah Silverman, associate director for Growing Home.