- Toxic Tears: The Darker Side of the Green Revolution dir. by Tom Deiters and Hibert Kamphuisen
Directed by Tom Deiters and Hibert Kamphuisen
Distributed by The Video Project
The “Green Revolution” refers to dramatic increases in agricultural production that began in the second half of the twentieth century. In the 1940s, Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist, with support from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and in collaboration with scientists from seventeen nations, began experiments to produce varieties of disease-resistant wheat in Mexico. These varieties, partly because of their ability to utilize large quantities of water and fertilizers, produced astonishing results: Wheat cultivation in Mexico increased so spectacularly that it went from a net importer of wheat to a net exporter by the 1960s. Many other nations soon adapted Green Revolution agriculture, which now included corn and rice. Global food production soared, thus averting probable famines in nations such as India with burgeoning populations. Borlaug won the Noble Peace Prize in 1970, and it seemed that the Green Revolution was an unequivocal success, a triumph of science, technology, and global economics.
Yet, there was another side to the Green Revolution, as suggested by the subtitle of Tom Deiters’ and Hibert Kamphuisen’s 2011 documentary, Toxic Tears: The Darker Side of the Green Revolution. Deiters, while pursuing graduate studies in international relations at the University of Amsterdam, came to India to investigate a growing number of suicides among poor farmers. He discovered that the Green Revolution did not produce an economic miracle for struggling farmers in the Punjab region; instead, it drove many farmers to despair and to commit suicide.
The Punjab farmers, enticed by the possibility of becoming instantly wealthy, abandoned their traditional agricultural practices and began using methods associated with the Green Revolution. However, to make this conversion to the new agricultural techniques, farmers needed substantial investments in fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, and water pumps. To finance these investments, farmers turned to local money lenders—financers who often owned the land cultivated by the farmers and who were also agents [End Page 77] of the multinational corporations that sold the chemicals and fertilizers. The result of this triangular economic relationship was that moneylenders charged exorbitant rates of interest, chemical companies profited handsomely, and farmers, suffering from low agricultural prices, piled up mounting levels of debt that could not be repaid. Shamed by their inability to overcome the growing spiral of indebtedness, farmers began committing suicide, often by drinking the pesticides that were supposed to be their ticket to economic freedom.
In Toxic Tears, farmers tell their stories (with subtitles) of how the Green Revolution offered promises that it failed to meet. Viewers hear from family members of the suicide victims—victims who were often too ashamed to tell their families of the economic plight that destroyed their lives. The documentary also profiles the local pesticide merchants, moneylenders, and one farmer who maintained traditional agricultural practices. Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian physicist and environmental activist, intersperses commentary. A proponent of organic farming, she provides scathing criticism of the Green Revolution, globalization, multinational corporations, and the Indian government.
As a short documentary, Toxic Tears provides little historical context. It never defines the Green Revolution, nor does it mention that Indian agriculture, at least in the short term, became significantly more productive while utilizing the now controversial Green Revolution cultivation methods. Other problems besetting Indian agriculture—decreased government research, unpredictable rainfall, and a poor transportation infrastructure for getting crops to markets—are not discussed. Although the film mentions the increasing difficulty of relying on aquifers for water, the larger problem—India has 17 percent of the world’s population but only 4 percent of the earth’s fresh water resources—is not addressed. Perhaps most fundamentally, Toxic Tears makes an implicit argument for organic farming but does not address a vexing question: can traditional farming provide enough food for the world’s second most populous nation?
Viewers also do not hear from the “other side”—the multinational corporations and scientists associated with the Green Revolution. However, providing a “pro and con...