[In his latest documentary film, Micha X. Peled traces not only the deleterious ecological effects of Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds on India’s agriculture, but also the imposition of unprecedented debts foisted on millions of farmers in the forced march to buy Monsanto seeds–and the effects these debts have on traditional family dowry obligations, leading to high and constant levels of “honor” suicides among distraught farmers. See also, below, an article on the horrifying levels of these suicides in India last year. — Frontlines ed.]
G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, October 3, 2012
The release of “Bitter Seeds” completes an intriguing trilogy about globalization, some dozen years in the making.
San Francisco filmmaker Micha X. Peled got started in the late 1990s with an expose of Walmart‘s effect on local American communities in “Store Wars: When Walmart Comes to Town,” which was released in 2001. He then tackled cheap Chinese labor, following a teenage factory worker through her long hours, in “China Blue” (2007).
Now Peled has capped the trilogy by examining the rash of suicides among farmers in India, and how it’s tied to the international conglomerate Monsanto, in “Bitter Seeds,” which opens Friday.
“Thematically, they’re very nicely connected,” Peled said over lunch in San Francisco. “The first was about us – the American consumers. The second was about how the cheap goods that we buy get made, and the third is about the raw materials – the farmers who grow the cotton that gets exported to China’s factories to make the jeans that we buy.”
Peled found that in India, a farmer reportedly kills himself every 30 minutes because of a vicious circle, in which Monsanto has taken over the seed market with a genetically modified seed with hybrid technology that produces high yields but cannot renew itself. Thus farmers have to buy new seed for the next planting season, but can’t afford it, so they borrow from loan sharks. Confronted with mounting debt and family shame, many kill themselves.
Peled found a young woman, Manjusha, who dreams of being a journalist and whose father was a farmer who committed suicide. Peled gave her a camera and encouraged her to find her own story; he also follows her on her inquisitive journey.
They meet Krishna, a farmer whom Peled follows through an entire season. They help Peled flesh out a dimensional portrait of a rural farming family and the dynamics of their village.
“Keep in mind that these farmers have been growing cotton for centuries, and were always able to eke out a living,” Peled said. “That was with conventional seeds, which are suited to the region and don’t need much water, because there isn’t any.”
Peled believes globalization can be a force for good, but that there should be a balanced approach that respects local communities. (Incidentally, he supports California’s Proposition 37, which mandates labeling of genetically modified foods.) Continue reading