When it's not a free choice

An article authored by Maja Enarsson and Britta Josephson

When there are not alternatives

The sky is greyish and the wind forces the plants to follow its movement across the fields that surround us. In some distance, two moors have full control of keeping their goats away from the cotton crops. The farmer Gunasekaran who has settled down opposite to us in the grass explains that the cotton plants would give the goats diarrhea.

Gunasekaran has been a farmer for 35 years and currently 8,000 of his 20,000 acres are covered by genetically modified (GMO) from the multinational company Monsanto, called BT Cotton . But in the case of GMO questions there are no answers to be given as Gunasekaran does not know what it is and even less that it is GMO seeds he has sown for the last two years. The seed packaging is covered in text in English, a language he does not understand. However, what he does know is that it is the harvest from these seeds his future depends on in order to repay the loan that has grown since last year’s failed harvest. The idea of ​​replacing crops came from a vendor at a privately owned agricultural product store. She described that the cotton seeds only required rainwater and much less water than his previous tomato plants and also give him a good income-rich harvest. Thus, Gunasekaran invested in the new seeds together with the recommended chemical spraying agent and artificial fertilizer. But the rainwater was not enough and knowledge of the management of the new crop was not enough, which meant that the harvest was neither successful nor income rich. Instead, it cost him money and left him unable to repay his loan. As a result, Gunasekaran had to take another loan from a private lender where the interest rate is 36%, since the possibility of taking out a loan from the bank with an interest rate of 12% is not a possibility for him. Despite last year’s hardship, Gunasekaran invested an even higher proportion of land to the genetically modified crop this year. All he can hope for now is rain. Because if the harvest is not successful this year, he will be forced to sell the land to the lender, migrate and take a job at a textile factory, he says with an enforced laugh. But it is not a joke, but a reality that many have been forced to face after falling into heavy debt by private lenders.

The necessary water is further not obtainable in the wells and there is not enough and not even enough for Gunasekarans flower crops that now account for his only income. He explains that the chemical crops require much more water. Switching completely to organic requires less water, but it is also not an option for Gunasekaran since traditional cotton seeds, natural spraying and fertilizer are not accessible at the store. His only cow and its faeces are only sufficient for the already existing ecological mills. Acquiring more animals and green manure would require more money, animal feed and water. Something that is not an alternative option. Instead, he is forced to return to the store, to buy ever stronger and more expensive spraying equipment for his insect-affected cotton cultivation. Gunasekaran says that the strong spraying made the soil hard, lifeless, dry and compact. In addition, there are no earthworms left at the same time as snails and butterflies have died. If he had had more access to water he would never switched to growing cotton, and that is how Gunasekaran ends our conversation.

Interview with Gunasekaran Fall 2015, Cirhep, India.
Interviewed by Maja Enarsson and Britta Josephson.