Black Cotton

White Gold – Killing Seeds

White Gold – Killing Seeds
Frauke Huber, Uwe H. Martin

More than 270,000 farmers committed suicide in India since 1995. The center of dying lies in Vidarbha located at the once wealthy cotton belt of central India. While India is shining in the cities and at the small top of its society the country faces the worst agricultural crisis since the green revolution.

In India 60 percent of the population still depends directly or indirectly on agriculture. Essentially it is the largest farming community in the world. But this India of villages and small farms is increasingly neglected and often abandoned in favor of the new economy based in industry and cities. Following the logic of industrialized agriculture India could do with a maximum 20% of its farmers, setting half its population in danger of extinction.

The most obvious sign for the demoralization of the rural population are the mass suicides of farmers. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) around 14,000 farmers killed themselves in 2011, spiraling the total number of farm suicides since 1995 up to 270, 940. *

One center of dying lies in the Vidharbha region in the cotton belt of central India. Vidharbha is located in the State of Maharashtra, which remains the worst single State for farm suicides for over a decade now.

Not by chance the beginning of the suicide series coincided with India’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. Forced by WTO-rules India had to withdraw from purchasing cotton at guaranteed rates and diminish trade barriers. Now the prices reflect world rates. But American subsidized cotton arrives in India 40% below the local price. Since then the cotton rate has crumbled to one-third.

India reduced public aid for the farming sector and privatized large areas of its society. Instead of providing public health care, India has one of the most privatized healthcare system in the world. This results in rural family’s spending twice as much on health as on education. Because they can’t afford it anymore, thousands of farmers’ children are dropping out of schools.

Meanwhile the input cost has gone up seven fold mainly due to the destruction of the farmers’ own traditional seeds. The farmers became dependent on international seeds manufacturers. At the time the prices went up, the Indian government withdrew credit to the farmers and diverted it to the urban upper-middle classes, corporates and elites. Left with no chance to get sufficient bank loans for agricultural input costs, the farmers turned to private moneylenders – often the same people selling seeds, fertilizers and pesticides and later also buying the harvest.

In Maharashtra an average of 2,508 committed suicide every year between 1995 and 2002.  When India approved the use of genetic modified BT-cotton in 2002 the already difficult situation worsened. 33,752 farmers took their life since 2003, an annual average of 3,750.

But the suicides are only a manifestation of a much larger crisis. The per capita availability of food grain has plummeted sharply almost to the World-War-years levels and Millions of farmers live a life on the verge of starvation and despair. When farming does badly all related sectors do badly. No farmer orders a new bullock cart or builds a new house, and so the local economy is destroyed.

The Collapse of Indians farming sector has already driven millions of people into migration. But in the cities, all traditional sources of employment have dried up and people end up as cheap domestic labor, living in ever more overpopulated slums.

Killing Seeds investigates the cotton production and its social costs in Vidharbha. In eleven short films it offers multiple entry levels and readings of the situation around the mass suicides of India‘s farming community.


* These are the official numbers, which have been agreed on after long political debates about the definition what a farmer suicide is. If a female farmer kills herself she isn‘t counted in this statistics, because by definition a woman can not be a farmer. By definition she is a farmers wife.

Black Cotton

A factory specializes in cleaning cotton, which was burned during the regular fires in the bigger factories. 

Black Cotton
Artist/Author: Uwe H. Martin Frauke Huber

The fires often occur when the market cotton price is falling and the factories insured their cotton at a higher price.