100% Cotton - Made In India

TV Documentation about poisonings with Bayers's pesticides in India

For twenty years now, farmers in southern India have specialized in the cultivation of cotton, aiming at having a hand in the "white gold" business. This has proven to be productive in the good years, where the white fibre outyielded rice, corn, or vegetables. The Warangal district in Andrah Pradesh has become a huge cotton belt, meaning that the people of the region are solely depending on a single product.

Among these people is also the farmer Anand, who, believing in being able to make easy money, gave up traditional agriculture for cotton. At first, the conditions seemed to be fine, since Anand inherited land from his father, which, unlike most farmers in his village, put him in a position where he does not have to pay rent to a landlord.

"I started growing cotton eight years ago only, since in the beginning I was convinced the soil in my fields would not be suitable for cotton. But at the time when the other farmers had a good income from cotton and started talking at me, I did it all the same. Now, cotton is almost the only crop I grow."

Day after day, Anand goes into the fields, cultivating his crop. By now, his most important tool is a canister, containing pesticides, since during the last year two-thirds of the harvest has been destroyed by worms. He attempted to dispatch the varmints by using pesticides, but the chemicals simply don't work anymore because the insects have become adapted to the poison. Continuing failing harvests threaten to ruin the farmers.
Anand also leads a life in constant fear of encountering the same fate, for he will not be able to cope with another crop failure. For this reason he sprays daily and additionally after every rainfall. Since he is spraying without body-protection, the poison reaches his skin.
The name of the pesticide is "Monocrotophos", a substance compositionally similar to chemical weapons.

After hours of spraying, Anand starts to feel dazed. His tongue feels numb and his nausea is getting severe, so that he has already lost his apetite. But this already became part of his daily life. His situation is unlikely to change, since to him there is no correlation between these disturbances and the poison.
In Andrah Pradesh water is the most precious commodity; for this reason it is used only sparingly for washing purposes at the end of the day. Nevertheless, the poison cannot be washed off with cold water; it inevitably reaches the human organism through the skin. Anand is not aware about this either. 03:52
"Pesticides and cotton growing, for me, they simply belong together. We use a lot of pesticides, but Monocrotophos is not dangerous. I don`t need to protect myself against it. Cybermetrin and Endosulfan - these are dangerous."

And then he sends his wife to get the truly dangerous toxins.

Anand does not know what is actually printed on the can, since he has never learned to read. Neither he feels adressed by the red warning triangle showing a skull.

Of course, the farmers do not know that the American woll worm and other varmints already developed chemical resistance against Monocrotophos. Nonetheless it is still sold. The farmers instead draw a false conclusion and think that bigger amounts of the toxin will kill off more varmints.

The farmers lease expensive motorised sprayers from those dealers who also sell them the toxins. All day long they spray the pesticides over the fields. These sprayers as well wear neither respirator masks nor protective clothing. The hum of the motor sprayers is part of everyday sounds in India's cotton belt. The poison also ends up in the corn fields, thus working its way directly into the food chain.

The professional sprayers virtually shower in chemicals. Their clothing is soaked through. With every breath they take, the poison is drawn into their lungs, and their tongues get numb. A toxic mist of pesticides basically covers the entire district.

In the hospital of the district town Warangal the intensive-care unit is full of people, who are in agony due to having been poisoned by pesticides from the cotton fields.

"This is today's case. One or two or three cases definitely we are getting every day.
" And is there a peak season?"
"Peak season we will get exposure poisoning, inhalation poisoning, not the suicidal occupational. Without taking the precautional measures they will go to the field and spray. And after spraying they will not wash, they will not take a bath and that will be absorbed from the skin also and they will get symptoms and all this things. There will be brought in seasonally hundreds of cases. Fifty to thirty cases per day we will get."

Only very little is known about the long term consequences. Physicians observe a lot of congenital abnormalities and a growing number of cancer cases, but there simply is no money for research. The physicians can sometimes save the life of a farmer, but most cases are beyond help.

Clip: Doctor
"If he is coming before death in peak time we can do some outwash and we can save the patient. But most of the people will be left in time when they are transported from the village to here because of the lack of transport and other things."

Nowhere else in the world organic chlorine and organophosphorus compounds are utilized in such high quantities as in the cotton belt of Andrha Pradesh. Here every insecticide is available. Even dangerous products as the carginogenic "Lindane" are sold over the counter. In Europe, many of these pesticides have already been prohibited for years due to their devastating effects on the human body. In India it nevertheless is highly valued and a big market opportunity.

For this reason renowned international chemical corporate groups like Novartis, Dupont, and Bayer have partially shifted their production facilities to India. The merchants selling Bayer`s pesticides do know about the ban in Europe, but business is business.
Clip Pesticide trader:
"Pesticides that are banned in Europe and America and selling in India. Yes, certain pesticides are there."
" Can you name them?"
"I mean `Monocrotophos`."

Bayer markets toxins which have been used as chemical weapons. Up to 80% of the Indian pesticide market lies under the protective hand of the chemical giant from Mohnheim/Germany. Pesticides produced in India are sold throughout the entire world; also those brands which are ineffective against pests but perilous to humans.

Clip Bayer India:
"This is the demand from the market through our distribute channel. Because of that convert stage we are also supplying Monocrotophos, Finalphos etc. Because we are not manufacturing this but it is the market demand so, because we have to sell our molecules through the distribution channel."

Therefore, Bayer has ordered small factories in the industrial area of Vapi, India, to produce those pesticides banned in the EU. Due to the low safety standards, chemical accidents happen frequently and entire districts have been contaminated.

One third of the chemicals are considered to be particularly dangerous. The poisonous fluid waste of the factories is directly piped into the municipal sewage plant, which has been co-financed by the World Bank; unluckily, it is unsuitable for industrial fluid waste.

The poisonous breweries of Vapi are now part of the world market. From an Indian ecological activist groups' point of view, the basis for the chemical desaster in Vapi has been established by getting access to international markets. No safety inspections are ever made; often the ramshackle factories are closed down after some years, but in case of adversity, they simply relocate to somewhere else.

Clip environmentalist`s group Vapi:
"From my past experience, what I have seen is that the international companies like Bayer or Aventis or others they come here because it is so much cheaper to manufacture here. And it is cheaper because they do not have to treat all their waste, do not have to carefully dump their waste."

Back at the poison market, new pesticides which are claimed to be highly effective and against which the varmints have not yet developed resistance, are offered.

Anand also needs more effective chemicals. But the newer the chemicals are, the more expensive they are; "Avant", a Bayer product, can serve as an example. For the farmers this means paying more and more. Often, the harvest is heavily bonded even before it is sold, since to buy the supposedly most effective pesticide, Anand has to pay approximately 3500 Rupees (75$) in advance; considering his annual income of 4800 Rupees (100 Euro), it becomes evident that he has no choice besides piling up more and more dept, while the merchants happily receive another commission from Bayer.

Clip Farmer:
"Last year, the green worms ate my harvest. I sprayed Monocrotophos, Endosulfan and a couple of other pesticides. I went to my supplier and got new ones. But they didn't do anything either. Now I'm using Avant. But it's expensive, so now I've got a lot of debts."

Finally, it has to be mentioned that the supplier does not care whether the varmints cause another crop loss or not. The farmers, who are broke, will purchase the pesticides on credit. At that time, when the farmer is head over ears in debt, he will finally put his last bit of land in pawn. In the end, nothing remains besides desperation. Only with respect to the last year, 700 farmers in this region comitted suicide, drinking the poison which could not kill the varmints.

Clip suicide`s father:
"I have lost my son. To kill himself, he drank the insecticide. I always warned him against cotton farming."

Pesticides are the number one mortality risk in India's cotton belt.

Also Anand blundered into this fatal cycle of pesticides and depts. Even though the varmints do not currently threaten the cotton, since it has already been plucked.

This way the pesticides directly get onto the "white gold". The ripe cotton boll must not be sprayed, otherwise the fibres will absorbe the poison. Residues, which are still traceable after the fibres are processed into our undergarments, remain, and traces can hardly be washed out.The farmers are not aware of this correlation. They don't get advice about cultivation. Hence, the women gather the bolls, one by one - poison for Europe.

At the time the cotton is harvested, Anand drives, full of hope, to the cotton market at the district capital Warangal. This year, he has kept two sacks for sale. The surplus of the harvest was pledged already. After once being caught inside the vicious circle of pesticides and debts, he has to go on and on. Many other farmers share Anands fate.

With every step towards the market, his uneasiness grows. How much will he be able to make out of his poor harvest this time?

The Warangal market is very busy. All the farmers of the region bring their cotton harvest to this market. A price floor does not exist here. Being based on the general state of the world market, the current prices are negotiated every morning; this is due to the cotton being intended for the export textile industry.

But the value of the raw cotton decreases more and more. The cotton growing area is extending, and the world-wide competition is growing. Particularly in Africa, the fibre is sold at bottom prices. This year, the lack of rain additionally lowered the quality of the cotton.

Finally, Anand has found a dealer who is willing to buy his goods. The qualitity of the cotton has been proven and Anand is excited. Will all his trouble eventually pay off?

Only yesterday the rate for one sack was 2500 Rupees, 45 Euros. But today it is pushed down to 2000 Rupees, of which the vendor pockets 500 Rupees.

The farmer bargains for each and every Rupee, but the merchants had agreed on the price before hand, which leaves him without a chance.

He needs to sell. Finally he manages to get 20 Euros. This can be seen as the result of half a year of hard field work.

The goods are taken from the Warangal cotton market to Tirupur where they are processed. As a first step, the raw cotton has to be cored and the fibres are smoothed out. Still it is fraught with pesticides - the organophosphorus residues will remain in the fibre at least for two months, the residues of organic chlorine compound will remain for ever.

But in India it is not checked whether the cotton is contaminated or not. With every breath, the working women draw the poison with the cotton particles into their lungs. Fainting spells and dizziness are the consequence.

People's mouths are totally dry. Their tongues are numb and feel almost lamed. A lot of the women suffer from constant nausea. They show the very same symptoms of poisoning as we already know from the farmers of the cotton belt.

For the production of white and varicoloured T-shirts more chemicals are needed. At small factories, the cotton is first of all bleached. The smell reminds of a chlorine gas factory. Enforced by European consumer preferences, now more expensive, quickly evaporating chemicals have to be used in the bleaching process. But for the workers nothing has changed and their life expectancy averages only something like 35 years. For European textile traders, it is important to get clean T-shirts, with a minimum of aggressive bleaching agents. The poison is supposed to stay back in India.

Water consumption for bleaching and dying processes is extremly high. This very factory needs 150.000 litres of fresh water per day. The waste water is heavily polluted.
To prevent all of Tirupur being flooded by poisonous water and to allow production to continue, waste water treatment is compulsory for the producers. Meanwhile, according to a board decission, every factory needs at least one retention pond for waste water. A poor attempt to avert an ecological desaster.

Waste processing plants were built with the help of German foreign aid. But these cannot cope with the vast quantity of toxins. With 3 grams of chlorine per litre, even the cleaned water is still highly contaminated.

Nevertheless, the women dig into the sewage sludge with their bare hands. The disposal remains a problem anyway.

An ecological disaster at the city of textiles is unpreventable. Barely any water flows in the rivers, and whatever gets there is contaminated. Tirupur, the center of international textile production, is a huge, stinking cloaca. People even recycle the used containers of the chemicals after washing them out at the rivers.

Due to the ground water being constantly contaminated, the townspeople by now are used to getting their drinking water from tankers. Only twice a month fresh water is available. It's become a rare and precious commodity which is rationed.

The textile production has run the city dry. For hours, the female textile workers from the slums of Tirupur have to line up for water for their families - a heavy burden after a long day of twelve hours of work. Savita, thirty years old, takes care of her extended family. Twice a day, before and after her shift, she prepares the family's meals.

Even though she belongs to the group of better paid workers, she has to make sure that not a single drop of water is spilt.

female Textile worker:
"The water that comes out of the tap tastes salty. I only use it to wash my clothes. I have to buy the water I use for cooking, and it's very expensive. We're already using a third of my wages, just to buy water."

The women workers are daytallers, with an earning of 2 Euros per shift. Savita has to work hard for the little money she makes. 10 to 12 hours every day she is inspecting textiles for export, checking them for quality and mistakes. Contaminated cotton fibres are floating through the air. The women do not wear respiratory masks and suffer from the residues of the pesticides in the textiles.

female textile worker:
"I have constant headaches, I can't breathe properly anymore and I always feel nauseous. I have the worst nausea when I have to use chlorine to spray the textiles with CDC-oil. Then I get really dizzy. But I have to get back to work now."

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India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep- July 22, 2004