Thursday, August 16, 2012

Indian Government must act tough on GM Crop Advocates

Indian Government must act tough on GM Crop Advocates
"Indian agriculture is not similar to American or European agriculture. Our agriculture, where more than 70 per cent poor and marginal farmers are involved, is a way of living. Do we want to destroy this culture and bring in agri-business? The oft-repeated claim that “biotechnology is the panacea” for Indian agriculture is just rubbish."

K P Prabhakaran Nair

  On 9 August, when a 31-member Parliamentary Committee (inc. nine from Congress, six from BJP) unanimously decided to put a ban on field trials of genetically modified crops in India, the decision had both historic significance and scientific significance. It was on this day in 1942 that Gandhi gave the clarion call “Quit India” to the British in an open letter to the Viceroy and nudged Indians to “Do or Die”. The next day the British arrested Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and his personal secretary Mahadev Desai; the latter two died in prison.

By coincidence, it was  exactly on 9 August 2002 that this author first wrote an article entitled “Bt cotton – Bane or Boon”, which was published in a leading English daily of India.

The article warned that genetically modified cotton would destroy Indian cotton farmers, and is not suited for Indian conditions. This was immediately taken up by the Berlin based “Coalition for the South”, translated into German, and published widely all over the world. Knowledgeable scientists across the world endorsed this view.

However, here in free India, a coterie of agricultural scientists with vested interests in the crop biotechnology sector, ganged up to gag this author. A media war (print and electronic) broke out, with one Rajya Sabha MP openly clamouring for Bt cotton; he openly ridiculed the author and totally marginalized him.

It is important to note that the ban recommended by the Parliamentary Committee came exactly a day after the Maharashtra Government cancelled Mahyco’s (Indian arm of Monsanto, the US based agri business giant) licence to sell its Bt cotton seeds. Behind this lies the valiant fight of this author and a few other committed scientists and social activists, who have focused on the maximum number of suicides in Vidarbha district of Maharashtra, where farmers after switching to Bt cotton from hybrids and desi varieties, found themselves bankrupt. They had no option but to take their lives to escape the Shylockian clutches of money lenders.

In 2002, when Monsanto-Mahyco sold a packet of 450 grams of Bt cotton seed to Indian cotton farmers for a unheard of price of Rs 1950/packet, this author on a visit to China found that Monsanto was selling the same quantity of Bt cotton seed for just US $2/packet. Translated to Indian Rupee, the equivalence at the time worked out to less than Rs 100. The company made more than Rs 600 crores in one cotton crop season in 2002.

Tragically, no other agricultural scientist in India questioned this unheard of fleecing of Indian cotton farmers. Matters came to a head when in September 2006 Monsanto with its Indian subsidiary Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company) thrust the unscientifically tested Bt brinjal on poor, illiterate and unsuspecting farmers of Andhra, in Warangal district.

This author and a band of committed scientists and social activists moved the Supreme Court against this. The then Chief Justice Mr Sabharval, just before his retirement, observed that “The entire question of genetically modified crops should be examined by competent, knowledgeable scientists, who are also patriotic,” and following this observation by the CJI, an Independent Expert Committee was formed of which the author was unanimously elected Chairman. The committee consisted of some eminent and independent experts, agronomists, entomologists, economists, plant physiologists and farmers’ representatives.

The committee submitted its report to the Supreme Court on 15 October 2006, clearly indicting Monsanto and Mahyco for unscientifically conducted field trials, putting not only Indian agriculture to crisis, but poor and illiterate farmers to great risk and the unsuspecting Indian population to health risks.  Justice Sabharval was succeeded by Justice Balakrishnan as the Chief Justice of India. There followed endless foot dragging, until Jairam Ramesh, the then Environment and Forest Minister, took a pro-active role in inviting many stake holders on Bt brinjal to give their opinions.

In an open letter to the minister published in The New Indian Express on 9 February 2010, this author pleaded for a moratorium on Bt brinjal. On 10 February, the very next day, the minister put a moratorium on Bt brinjal.

Meanwhile, another drama was being enacted in the Supreme Court to subvert the efforts of committed scientists and social activists. The Government of India nominated two scientists to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), later rechristened the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee. The first was the reigning agricultural scientist of the country, with tremendous political clout, who was pulling strings behind the stage to promote GM crops; the second a person with absolutely no background in agriculture.

It was clearly a clever move to gag this author, as GEAC was vested with the supreme power for approval of all GM crops for field trials in India. The case for the author and his co-activists on GM crops was superbly and forcefully argued by noted Supreme Court Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan. Anyway, the proceedings went on without a definite conclusion, until Jairam Ramesh took the decision on moratorium on Bt brinjal.

But truth always prevails, and now the Parliamentary Committee, after three years of looking into all relevant documents, has concluded that the field trials of GM crops should be totally banned, thus vindicating the stand taken by this author and his associates in the Supreme Court, and outside of it. We demanded a “thorough probe” into how permission was given to commercialise Bt brinjal seed when all evaluation tests were not properly carried out, as pointed in the Independent Expert Committee’s Report submitted to the Supreme Court in October 2006.

The Independent Expert Committee criticised the role of the GEAC and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation. It is worth noting that at the height of the controversy surrounding Bt brinjal, the Minister of Science and Technology in the Government of India was putting pressure on GEAC, along with the biotechnology industry. It is also surprising that the minister of food, from Kerala, wrote an article in the leading regional daily Mathrubhumi, two years ago, openly pleading for Bt brinjal, and fully supporting GM crops!

It is for citizens to conclude from all this that the Government of India is clearly for GM crops. Clearly American pressure is operating intensely to promote GM crops in India, as it thinks it can capture the vast Indian market. The “Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture” (KIA) signed by Manmohan Singh and George Bush in November 2005, rolling out the red carpet for American crop biotechnologists on Indian soil (where during the official discussions representatives of Monsanto were present) is a clear pointer which way Government of India wants to go on GM technology, inasmuch as agriculture is concerned. In a subsequent visit, Hillary Clinton made an open plea in this regard in India. Even the Prime Minister’s statement on GM crops last year reflects this mindset. It is a shame on free India that the largest number of suicides of farmers occurred from areas where Bt cotton was used. The Parliamentary Committee report clearly noted “The farmers had no option but to use Bt cotton”.

To rectify its mistakes, India must now ban all GM crops. A group of powerful unscrupulous scientists with the help of New Delhi is trying to pilot the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill. As per the provisions of this Bill, anyone opposing it can be fined, as much as Rs 50,000/-, and even imprisoned. This is draconian! It is a ruse to bring GM crops through the back door and must be opposed at any cost.

Indian agriculture is not similar to American or European agriculture. Our agriculture, where more than 70 per cent poor and marginal farmers are involved, is a “way of living”. Do we want to destroy this culture and bring in agri-business? The oft-repeated claim that “biotechnology is the panacea” for Indian agriculture is rubbish. The idea is to control the seed industry and once the seed industry is controlled, the food supply chain is controlled. Even in the US, where Bt cotton originated, there is not a single instance where Bt cotton grew without the use of pesticides; this effectively negates all claims made by Monsanto.

[About the Author: K P Prabhakaran Nair was Chairman, Independent Expert Committee, appointed to examine the role of Bt brinjal in India.]


Friday, August 10, 2012

Maharashtra State Revokes Monsanto’s Cotton Seed License-Environment News Service (ENS)
NEW DELHI, India, August 9, 2012 (ENS) – This was a difficult day for the proponents of genetically modified crops in India. In Parliament, the Agriculture Committee tabled a report seeking a ban on genetically modified food crops and a halt to all field trials. And the state of Maharashtra cancelled Mahyco Monsanto Biotech’s license to sell its genetically modified Bt cotton seeds.
Mahyco Monsanto Biotech is a 50:50 joint venture between Mahyco and Monsanto Holdings Pvt. Ltd. The company has sub-licensed the Bollgard II and Bollgard technologies to 28 Indian seed companies, each of which has introduced the Bollgard technology into their own germplasm.
Cotton field in Maharashtra, India, December 2011 (Photo by Megumi Manzaki)
But now, all trade activities of Mahyco Monsanto Biotech are illegal in Maharashtra.
If there is any violation of the government’s orders, there will be criminal action taken against Myhyco Monsanto, the Director of Inputs and Quality Control Dr. Sudam Adsule said in Pune today, as he announced the license cancellation.
“If the company challenges the order,” said Dr. Adsule, “we have already moved in Mumbai and Aurangabad high court benches. We have given fair chance to the company and all charges of unfair trade practices have been proved. Hence, under the existing cotton seed act we have taken action and it can’t be revoked.”
“We welcome the decision,” said Kishore Tiwari, who heads the farmers’ advocacy group Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti.
“We demand all other 28 companies sub-licensed by MMB should be banned and replaced by traditional Indian cotton seed, as the cost of seeds of straight varieties is much lower than Bt varieties, Tiwari said.
“Bt cotton seed has played a key role in the Vidarbha farm suicide saga since June 2005,” he said.
The drought-prone Vidarbha region of Maharashtra state has recorded more than 8,200 farmers’ suicides in the past decade, 209 in 2001 alone.
Trapped in a spiral of rising costs and in debt for costly genetically modified seeds that are supposed to repel cotton pests, as well as the pesticides they must buy when pests take over anyway, many farmers kill themselves by drinking pesticide or hanging themselves from trees.
Across India, farmer suicide figures are much higher. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, between 1995 and 2010, more than 250,000 farmers took their own lives.
Bollgard® II was developed by Monsanto by inserting two genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into cotton. These genes produce two proteins toxic to the main insect pest of cotton, the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa, so that when the Helicoverpa caterpillars eat Bollgard® II cotton they die.
About 90 percent of India’s cotton-growers have adopted Bt cotton, paying high prices for the seed in the hope that they could save money on pesticides. But the cotton bollworm has been developing resistance to Bt cotton.
India widows
Vidarbha widows seek financial help from the government. (Photo courtesy Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti)
At first it appeared as if Bt cotton was going to be good for India’s small farmers. A study published in 2007 by Jonas Kathage and Matin Qaim from the University of Goettingen showed that growing Bt cotton caused a 24 percent increase in cotton yield per acre through reduced pest damage and a 50 percent gain in cotton profit among 533 small farmers in four cotton-producing Indian states.
But in January 2012, for the first time, the Indian Agriculture Ministry linked farmer suicides to the declining performance of the Bt cotton.
An internal advisory sent by the ministry to cotton-growing states said, “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers,” the “Hindustan Times” reported.
The declining performance of its Bt cotton is not Mahyco Monsanto Biotech’s only problem. The Maharashtra government is going to dig into the reasons behind the farmers’ suicides.
On Tuesday, Maharashtra Agriculture Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said the government has ordered a socio-economic study of Bt cotton by independent institutes. The survey will be carried out by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Institute of Rural Management, Anand. A report is due to the state government in three months.
Patil said the state also has directed Maharashtra universities to adopt villages in their regions to study how farmers’ lives have been affected by  state policies on Bt crops.
“Our system has failed to live up to the expectations of the farming community, which has suffered because of the introduction of a series of policy and technology measures in the past,” said the agriculture minister. “It is time we studied what has led to a state’s agrarian problems resulting from Bt.”

Sunday, August 5, 2012

अण्णा हजारे यांच्या राजकीय विकल्पात सहभागी व्हा! - किशोर तिवारी यांचे आवाहन

अण्णा हजारे यांच्या राजकीय विकल्पात सहभागी व्हा! - किशोर तिवारी यांचे आवाहन 

प्रामाणिक कार्यकर्त्यांना सोबत घ्या
***अण्णा हजारे व स्वामी रामदेवबाबा यांनी भ्रष्टाचाराविरुद्ध संपूर्ण देशात वातावरण निर्माण केले आहे.परंतु, त्यांच्या आंदोलनात अन्न, वस्त्र, निवारा व दलित, आदिवासी, अल्पसंख्यांकांच्या समस्यांना प्रामुख्याने जागा दिसत नाही. शेतकर्‍यांच्या व ग्रामीण जनतेच्या आरोग्य, शिक्षण व रोजगाराच्या समस्येवर त्यांच्यासोबत दलित, आदिवासी व ग्रामीण जनता दिसत नाही, अशा परिस्थितीमध्ये राजकीय पर्याय देण्याची संकल्पना प्रत्यक्षात उतरण्यासाठी मदत करावी. स्वामी रामदेवबाबा व अण्णा हजारे यांनी गरीबांसाठी व सामाजिक न्यायाच्या लढाईमध्ये भ्रष्ट व्यवस्थेविरुद्ध लढणार्‍या प्रामाणिक कार्यकर्त्यांना सोबत घेण्याचा सल्ला तिवारींनी दिला.***

स्थानिक प्रतिनिधी /५ ऑगस्ट यवतमाळ : प्रशासन व राजकीय व्यवस्थेमध्ये भ्रष्टाचाराने कळस गाठला आहे. अण्णा हजारे यांनी भारताला भ्रष्टाचारमुक्त करण्यासाठी व सामान्य जनतेला न्याय देण्यासाठी राजकीय विकल्पाची संकल्पना मांडली. या निर्णयाचे विदर्भ जनआंदोलन समितीने स्वागत केले असून, समाजातील संवेदनशील व सुजाण जनतेने व युवा पिढीने या राजकीय चळवळीत सहभागी होण्याचे आवाहन विदर्भ जनआंदोलन समितीचे अध्यक्ष किशोर तिवारी यांनी केले आहे. विदर्भातील शेतकर्‍यांच्या आत्महत्या, आदिवासींचे कुपोषण, औद्योगिक क्षेत्रात असलेला मागासलेपणा याला राजकीय व प्रशासनातील भ्रष्टाचारच जबाबदार असल्याचा आरोप तिवारींनी केला आहे. शाळेत शिक्षक नाही, दवाखान्यात डॉक्टर व औषध नाही, सुशिक्षित युवकाला रोजगार नाही.
शेतकर्‍यांच्या घामाला दाम नाही व ६६ वर्षांच्या स्वातंत्र्यानंतरही देश अन्न, वस्त्र, निवारा या सारख्या मूलभूत सुविधा देऊ शकला नाही. याला भ्रष्ट राजकीय व्यवस्था जबाबदार आहे. १९७७ मध्ये जयप्रकाश नारायण यांनी संपूर्ण क्रांतीची हाक दिली व देशातील युवक यांच्या हाकेवर राजकीय चळवळीत आला. मात्र, जयप्रकाश नारायण यांचे स्वप्न पूर्ण होऊ शकले नाही. आता ३५ वर्षानंतर पहिल्यांदाच भ्रष्ट राजकीय व्यवस्थेला पर्याय देण्यासाठी एक प्रामाणिक प्रयत्न होत आहे. असा ऐतिहासिक प्रसंगी सर्वांनी आपल्या राजकीय महत्वाकांक्षा व पोटभरू धोरण बाजूला ठेवत या राजकीय क्रांतीच्या प्रयत्नाला बळकटी देण्याचे आवाहन किशोर तिवारी यांनी केले आहे.