By Will Verdeur ’18
At 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, Trinity welcomed Palagummi Sainath, a prominent Indian journalist and author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought. Sainath’s work principally involves economic inequality and the plight of the Indian poor. Sainath won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2007 for his uncompromising conviction to spread awareness about India’s rural poverty. This week, he was at Trinity discussing the increasingly worrying phenomenon of suicide among farmers in India. Among the many figures and statistics Smith provided in order to illustrate the gravity of this situation, he notably pointed out that 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide between 1995 and 2014. India has refused to publish the figures of its rural suicides in 2015 and 2016, for fear that it would embarrass the country, even after redefining “suicide” in an attempt to lower the number. According to Sainath, farmers are more likely to commit suicide than any other group, not just in India, but globally. The suicide rate in rural Oklahoma, Sainath said, is two and a half times the national average in the United States.
In his lecture, Sainath claimed that the reason for this crisis comes from the seemingly unstoppable industrialization of agriculture. Traditional, family farms cannot survive in the wake of enormous, agricultural corporations, or “factory farms.” Sainath illustrated this point with an apt metaphor. He compared the different approaches of family and factory farms to differing athletic practices. If, for example, two identical twin brothers, perfectly equal in size, strength, and ability, were to train separately for an athletic competition, and, while the one did traditional exercise and strength training, the other used steroids, for the first five years, the one on steroids would always win, but ten or 15 years down the line, the one on steroids would be dead. Aside from the fact that factory farms do use steroids and other hormones to grow their livestock and produce, Sainath said that the comparison extends further. The overall approach of factory farms lines up with the practices of the steroid-using twin brother because of their unsustainable use of resources in order to yield a temporarily unbeatable result. This is despite the fact that it will be disastrous in the long-term. Furthermore, the industrialization of farming has caused the majority of the profits to go to the people in the more powerful, corporate positions, driving down farmers’ profits.
One of the agricultural corporations that Sainath particularly objected to in his lecture was Monsanto, a company that has a virtual monopoly on seeds.
According to Sainath, Monsanto has been instrumental in the creation of corporate agriculture, which, in turn, has all but destroyed the profits of small-time family farmers, driving many of them to suicide.
Trinity also recently welcomed an alumnus to speak to students about his career with the Monsanto corporation. T. Michael Spencer, ’80, worked as a Transformation Strategy Lead for the Monsanto Company, doing biological work with corn seeds.
By Will Verdeur ’18