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India Embroiled in Bitterly Contested GM Debate Over Monsanto's GM Cotton

In the cotton fields of Vidarbha in central India, grief is a constant companion. Wherever you turn, there are heart-breaking stories of suicide.

In the village of Mangi, friends and family are preparing the body of Laxman Tekam for burial. Women are wailing and men have tears streaming down their cheeks.

Laxman was a cotton farmer who hanged himself from the roof beam of his small house after his debts spiralled out of control. His young family will now have to fend for themselves.

"He borrowed money to buy genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds," says his neighbour Bapuji Atram. "There was no rain and his crop failed. So he killed himself."
Suicide epidemic

In this dry zone, life without irrigation is a struggle. Critics say GM cotton needs more water to succeed, a claim the seed producers dispute.

But the depressing cycle of failing crops and mounting debts is a lethal one. In the past few years thousands of farmers in this region have killed themselves in an epidemic of suicides.

And that awful statistic has given rise to a bitterly contested debate, at a time when the Indian government is considering authorising the commercial cultivation of the first GM food crop, aubergine.

Has the introduction, and monopoly, of GM cotton seeds contributed to this tragedy? As ever, it depends who you ask. There is little middle ground.