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A New Start for Urkada (3:25) Excerpt from film "The Dying Fields", August 2007
Urkada Aturam is granted a $750 Widow's Compensation from the government following her husband's suicide.

Country: India

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Guiding Questions
  1. How does Urkada get money to buy Bt seeds?

  2. How do the scenes of cotton farming shown in this clip contrast to how cotton is farmed in the U.S.?

  3. How likely do you think it will be that Urkada's harvest is profitable?
Background Essay
Thanks to the Indian government-issued widow compensation of 750 dollars, Urkuda Attaram has been able to pay off her husband's debts and buy some seeds for the new cotton farming season. But lacking irrigation, machinery, or any modern conveniences, it will take repeated rainfall as well as luck over the months ahead to assure a good harvest in December.

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.

Urkuda Attaram has finally reached the bank. She's in good standing thanks to the government-issued widow compensation of 750 dollars.

I paid off my husband's loans. With the rest I bought some seeds, some clothes, some millet, oil and salt. There was still some left, which I used for my son's wedding.

Today she borrows 350 dollars, which she will use to buy Bt seeds.

Now it's time to pray, to plant, to worry.

Like most Vidarbha farmers, this family has no irrigation, no insurance against the often erratic monsoons.

This downpour is a promising start to the new season but it will take repeated rainfall over the months ahead to assure a good harvest in December.

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