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The High Cost of Progress (2:29) Excerpt from film "The Dying Fields", August 2007
Indian families crave modern conveniences they cannot afford while critics claim free trade laws are driving these families deeper into debt.

Country: India

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Guiding Questions
  1. What are Bt seeds? Why is the growing of cotton using Bt seeds controversial among farmers in Vidarbha?

  2. Why do activists encourage farmers to use low tech home grown seeds rather than BT seeds?

  3. How do the subsidies that American cotton producers receive put Indian cotton producers at a disadvantage?
Background Essay
In India, a globalized market for cotton has impacted farmers mostly for the worse. In an effort to compete with their global counterparts, Indian farmers have moved away from a subsistence economy where part of their crops went to feeding their families. Instead, the expenses incurred in purchasing food and farm needs have mired them in debt. Farmers are also in the habit of buying genetically modified, sterile seeds sold by multinational companies. Vandana Shiva is a prominent campaigner against the new global trade rules in India. She promotes the use of organic, farm-grown seeds.

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.

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?

We have to get our children married.

We have to give $2,500 as dowry.

No, this sickness has to be stopped.

We can't stop it.

If we don't, then we have to keep our daughters at home. They will tell you, 'Keep your daughter at home.'

So when in your house your son gets married, do you ask for all these things?



Everybody does. We have to get everything.

Vandana Shiva is a prominent campaigner against the new global trade rules. She reminds local farmers that American cotton producers receive government subsidies.

There is a four billion dollar subsidy for U.S. cotton. When that cotton arrives in the market, prices drop.

Shiva wants to see farmers planting their own farm-grown seeds again, instead of buying from commercial seed producers. Her organization distributes organic seed varieties to farmers.

It's wheat. Ancient wheat!

She also urges farmers to grow more food crops and rely less on cotton.

It's called addiction, doing wrong things compulsively. It's like smoking, like drinking. It's addiction, isn't it? You have become addicted to Bt cotton.

But Shiva's voice is drowned out amid noisy ad campaigns by seed companies. For centuries, farmers here grew their own seeds but since the 1970s, they've been vaulted into a world of commercially produced hybrids and, since 2002, genetically modified cotton seeds, known as Bt.

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