Six years ago, Dutch film-maker Tom Deiters spent time in India researching the high number of suicides occurring in rural areas. He was struck by the fate of small farmers whose lives – often until their very end – were consumed by pesticides. Mr Deiters’ film ‘Toxic Tears’ now launches a crusade against their use.
Despite being a student of international relations, who had heard his fair share of woeful global tales, for Mr Deiters (pictured above) the story of Maghar and Gindo went one step too far. The couple had lost their two sons. Disturbed by their farming losses, the brothers drank liquid pesticide to end their lives.
Here was a literal example of being annihilated by India’s implacable agricultural system, one which is closely linked to the country’s Green Revolution.
The Green Revolution began in the 1960s. In many Indian states, notably Punjab, large areas of barren land were cultivated into highly fertile farmland. Norman Borlaug, who had conceived the movement, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970 for his pioneering work.
It was only decades later that the world learned of the revolution’s darker sides – including the large-scale use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers.
‘Toxic Tears’ takes a hard look at the alleged perversions of the system. Money lenders are shown not only demanding high interest rates, but monopolizing the very production and trade of fertilizers and pesticides. In other words: any money that is loaned out, automatically flows back into the creditors’ pockets.
With refreshing honesty, the loan sharks admit that people who can’t afford to pay the high interest rates are put under immense pressure. They say they haven’t heard about this ever leading to suicide. But even the Indian government – which has always supported widespread pesticide use – has calculated at least 15,000 suicides among farmers each year.
Watch an excerpt from 'Toxic Tears' here (story continues below):
Although pesticide use in Asia has had positive effects – large-scale farming led to the elimination of hunger in India and China – it has also produced environmental problems, such as high levels of pollution, causing many birth defects in some areas.
Recently, India’s Supreme Court banned the use of Endosulfan, a cheap pesticide which was widely used in the 1970s and 1980s. It is still used in China, Japan and Brazil.
‘Toxic Tears’ highlights an undeniable problem, but fails to offer a real solution. Mr Deiters’ faith lies in switching to eco-friendly farming methods. He promotes the use of ‘forgotten pesticides’, such as plants, flowers and animals which eliminate harmful insects and parasites. But this approach is often more expensive, more time-consuming and less reliable than simply opening up a can of poison.
Large-scale eco-friendly farming in India still has a very long way to go. It requires redistribution of farmland and would, at least temporarily, also result in smaller harvests. This would impact food prices, which are already high for millions of Indians.
Seen in India
‘Toxic Tears’ was intended for screening at small film festivals. According to Mr Deiters, the majority of those who have seen the film in India are students and villagers from affected areas, many of them condemning the current system.
Professors at an agricultural university, however, have criticised the film-maker. Mr Deiters says he wasn't surprised – many of the professors work as consultants to the pesticide manufacturers.