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Farmers in Peril (3:07) Excerpt from film "The Dying Fields", August 2007
In this clip the sparse life of the rural farmer is compared to the wealth of consumer goods available to wealthier city dwellers.

Country: India

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Guiding Questions
  1. How has the status of the Indian farmer changed in recent years?

  2. Why are Indian farmers drowning in debt?

  3. Contrast the ways free trade has impacted rural and urban Indians.
Background Essay
Farmers in Vidarbha, India are drowning in debt. Government banks have loaned hundreds of millions of dollars to them, and default rates hover around 50 percent. Since 2002 India has had one of the world's fastest growing economies, but this progress has not helped the impoverished rural areas, where many Indians try to get by on less than two dollars a day.

For better or worse, the 21st century has given rise to an international form of trade known as globalization. Globalization can be defined as the worldwide integration of economic, cultural, political, religious, and social systems. The term, associated with free trade practices believed by many to benefit large multinational corporations at the expense of small farmers in developing nations, ignites controversy at its very mention. Its impact can be felt far beyond the economic sector and cannot be easily assessed.

Proponents of globalization believe it expands economic freedom and encourages competition. They believe that globalization raises the productivity and living standards of people in countries that open themselves to the global marketplace. Among those living in less developed countries, globalization offers access to foreign money, an opportunity to trade in global markets, and access to the benefits of modern technology. Globalization's strongest supporters suggest that a globalized world will result in the reduction of poverty, higher standards of living and greater democracy.

Opponents of globalization dispute these claims, aruging that the disparity between haves and have-nots has become more acute and that the environmental damage being caused by many corporations is irreparable. These critics feel that citizens of the developing world have suffered at the hands of globalization, that they have been seduced by Western consumerism, and exploited by international institutions intent on increasing profits at the expense of the domestic laborer.

Nowhere can this conflict be seen more clearly than among the cotton farmers of Vidarbha, India. As recently as July 2007, Reuters reported that farmers from the wealthy state of Maharashtra have been committing suicide at an alarming rate. Tempted by the promise of prosperity, farmers borrow money to purchase a controversial, genetically modified cotton seed.

The expensive seed requires ample water sources that are unavailable to most Indian farmers. The rising cost of chemical fertilizers and the plummeting price of cotton contribute to the economic plight of the farmers in this region. Distraught and desperate, indebted farmers have taken their lives rather than face the consequences of financial ruin.

THE DYING FIELDS provides a glimpse into the shattered lives of families who have endured these suicides, and encourages its audience to examine the impact of globalization on the region. Critics of free trade policies, lack of government subsidies, and failed government relief efforts share their concern for the fate of Vidarbha's farmers.

Transcript
NARRATOR
Kishor Tiwari comes from a well-to-do business family. He was trained as an engineer but the growing distress among farmers turned him into a full-time activist for them in the late 1990s.

NARRATOR
Tiwari is one of the first to get word of a suicide and his organization, the Vidarbha People's Protest Forum, meticulously records each death.

KISHOR TIWARI
Thirty suicides in ten days.
Ten days. Thirty!

KISHOR TIWARI
During my school days, it was a matter of pride to be a farmer. They used to have everything in their house, milk, money. They used to have a different lifestyle. Like the barber who cut their hair used to be given grain in exchange for unlimited haircuts, their laundry used to get done for free. I was a teacher's kid with seven siblings. I used to feel it's better being a farmer than having a job.

NARRATOR
Today, Vidarbha's farmers are drowning in debt. Government banks have loaned hundreds of millions of dollars to them, and default rates hover around 50 percent. Yet Tiwari wants new loans and complete debt forgiveness.

KISHOR TIWARI
Why can't this happen?

CROWD OF PEOPLE
It has to happen

KISHOR TIWARI
Why can't this happen?

CROWD OF PEOPLE
It has to happen

KISHOR TIWARI
Freedom from debt

CROWD OF PEOPLE
Must be provided

KISHOR TIWARI
Freedom from debt

CROWD OF PEOPLE
Must be provided

KISHOR TIWARI
When they began to purchase everything with money, their stability was shattered. Some say this was bound to happen. If progress can be achieved only at the cost of poverty, we need to reconsider if we should continue with this kind of progress.

NARRATOR
India has increasingly embraced free trade and has become a global player in information technology. Since 2002, India has had one of the world's fastest growing economies.

But only images of this new prosperity have reached the impoverished rural areas where most Indians live, feeding consumer appetites completely at odds with the reality here.

WOMAN
They don't have electricity in the house, but they still want a cooler! They want a TV! Must have a TV! There is no place to sit in the house, but must have a sofa! They want a sofa! Where will we get the money from?

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