Features Friday, October 03, 2014 - 05:30
Rajesh Krishnan “Being a Gujarati, money is in my blood...commerce is in my blood.” said our Prime Minister earlier this month while on official tour to Japan. Commerce is essential for sustenance and growth of our country in the current world but while doing that one needs to be mindful of whose interests is it serving. Keeping this in mind another famous Gujarati seven decades ago embraced the Swadeshi spirit and used khadi and cotton as the symbols of the freedom movement.  Gandhiji chose cotton and khadi not only to challenge the policies of our colonial masters to destroy and take control of our rich textile heritage and make profits while doing so, but also because it touched the lives and livelihoods of a vast majority at that time. The very same cotton is now completely under the control of one American Company, Monsanto, the largest seed company in the world. Ninety-five percent of India’s cotton seed market is now in the hands of Monsanto through their proprietary Bt cotton, the only Genetically Modified crop allowed for commercial cultivation in the country. After cotton the company is now is in the process of getting its GM corn, this time a GM food crop, approved in the country but with a lot of resistance from all sections of the Indian society. Science and sense cautions against GM crops It is this opposition from public, scientists and civil society that put Bt Brinjal, the first GM food crop under indefinite moratorium after a widespread consultation by the then Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh. The opposition to GM crops is based on growing scientific evidence on its adverse impact on human health, environment and farm livelihoods besides questions around ethics and cultural impacts.  A recent publication by the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) with commentaries by Dr M.S Swamianthan, Dr Pushpa Bhargava and Dr Madhav Gadgil, doyens in their respective fields of agriculture science, modern biology and ecology, has abstracts of more than 450 peer reviewed published papers that point to the adverse impacts of GM crops. It is this growing volume of scientific evidence and experiences from Bt cotton which became the foundation for the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture to submit a report to the Parliament in August 2012, recommending against any haste in embracing GM technology. The committee comprising of 32 MPs from across parties also pointed to the inadequacies of our current regulatory system for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and strongly recommended against any open release of GMOs,'even under the garb of field trials. It was not just the parliamentary committee alone which was advising precautionary approach towards GM crops but even the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) set up by the Supreme Court of India advised the same. Five out of six members of the TEC including a toxicologist, biodiversity expert, molecular biologist, nutrition science expert submitted their final report in July last year observing the potential and actual impacts from GM crops, the inadequacy of our regulatory system to properly assess it and finally giving a set of recommendations advising for a precautionary approach towards them. And they are not alone in their views; 256 Indian scientists wrote to the PM last year endorsing the TEC's views and asking for its acceptance. The eminent scientists who initiated the letter had also written to Narendra Modi after he became the prime Minister. Better learn from bitter lessons of Bt cotton Nothing explains better the absolute monopoly that this technology can provide to its developer like the cotton seed situation in India. Almost 95% of our land under cotton is now covered by Bt cotton and of this almost 100% use Monsanto’s licensed Bt cotton. One should also remember that all this happened in a span of less than 12 years. Not only is the company earning thousands of crores in royalty but also is in a position to decide on what verities can be grown in our country. It is also a dangerous situation that if the company decides to stop licensing of this technology there is hardly any non Bt cotton seed left in the private or public sector seed providers in our country to be given to our farmers. In fact even the planning commission of India in its the 12th five-year plan highlights this concern of monopoly. On the one side we have lost our cotton seed sovereignty to an American company and on the other this magic wand of a technology as it was claimed to be has miserably failed to help our cotton farmer come out of the distress that he/she is in. Last year's National crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures show that 2 out of every 3 farmer suicide of the total 13,754 reported were from the major cotton growing states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. While one is not talking about a direct cause-effect relationship between Bt cotton and farmer suicides, it is clear that a techno fix like Bt cotton has not solved farm distress. It is also important to note that the stagnancy in growth of yield despite wide spread adoption of Bt cotton has been acknowledged by the previous government.  In fact, a 10 year review from 2002, the year in which Bt cotton was approved for commercial cultivation, done by Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur, notes that, “Cotton Advisory Board data show cotton yield increased by about 60% in three years between 2002 to 2004 when the area under Bt cotton was a meager 5.6 % and non Bt area was 94.4 %. The yields did not increase significantly more than the pre-Bt era even until 2011 when the Bt cotton area touched 96%” The experience so far also shows that the reduction in pesticide usage in cotton cultivation, the raison d'être for bringing Bt cotton itself hasn't happened. The 10 year independent analysis shows that the only cotton growing state where pesticide usage has gone down during the 2002-2012 period is Andhra Pradesh and that is due to the successful Non pesticide Management (NPM) programme that has spread out to lakhs of hectares there during this period. The most important revelation of the long-term analysis by the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) is that the bollworm attacks which the Bt toxin in Bt cotton was supposed to counter, had comedown drastically starting from the year 2000 itself, whereas commercial cultivation of Bt cotton started only in 2002 and spread to a significant area only by 2005-6, which leaves one with a question of what exactly, was Bt cotton then for. It also validates what Jairam Ramesh famously called Bt cotton a solution looking for a problem. Our country being made into a laboratory Though Jairam Ramesh did what is responsible to science and responsive to society when he put Bt brinjal under an indefinite moratorium, the same Bt Brinjal along with GM varities of rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, cotton, mustard, potato, sugarcane and chickpea have been allowed for open field experiments in India this year. Besides the fact that it goes against the recommendations of credible organisations like the Parliamentary Standing Committee and the Supreme Court Expert Committee, the way in which these approvals were given by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is unscientific, undemocratic and non transparent. These experiments as seen from past experiences across the world has the potential to contaminate our seed and food supply. Not surprisingly 15 of the 47 approvals for field trials including the crop that is closest to commercialisation, GM corn, are for Monsanto and its extended family of seed companies. Monsanto Manipulation Vs National Interest- Modi has to choose As our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, prepares for his maiden trip to USA, our industry leaders and more than that US corporations have already prepared the goods and services that they want to trade. If the Modi government's decision on Monday to remove many essential drugs used for treatment of cancer, Tuberculosis, HIV , Diabetes, cardiovascular diseases etc from the price control mechanisms set up by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority is any signal to go by, then it shows that our government is falling in line with the demands of US multinational corporations who have huge profits to make in India.  Monsanto and other US agri-business giants like Dupont and Pioneer also would be ready with their list, the first of which is permission for flooding their GM seeds in our farms.Villages are the soul of India, agriculture the soul of our villages and seeds the soul of agriculture. Beej Swaraj is the mantra we need to adhere to if we do not want our soul to be lost and to be sold to the devil for ever.  For Monsanto and other US agri-business giants, the Billion Dollar question is whether Modi will open up our farm sector to their GM crops, for the 120+ crore Indians the question is whether our Prime Minister will put profits of US agri-business corporations before our citizen's health, protection of biodiversity, nations seed sovereignty, food security and national sovereignty itself. Rajesh Krishnan is a practising farmer with an educational background in Biotechnology and Ecology. He also is currently the Convenor of the Coalition for a GM Free India, a large network of concerned organisations and individuals across India fighting to keep our food, farms and environment free from GMOs. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.
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