The US Neoliberal Invasion of India
- "Vandana Shiva on Wal-Mart in India
Vandana Shiva with Amy Goodman
We speak with world-renowned environmental leader and thinker, Vandana
Shiva. A physicist and ecologist, Shiva is author of many books, her
latest is "Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace."
In India, more than three hundred farmers climbed water tanks in the
country's central Vidarbha region, many of them threatening to commit
suicide unless the government fulfilled their demands to lift them out
of poverty. Throughout India, more and more troubled farmers are
killing themselves. Up to three farmers a day swallow pesticides, hang
themselves from trees, drown themselves in rivers, set themselves on
fire or jump down wells. Many of them are plagued by debt, poor crops
Vandana Shiva, world-renowned environmental leader and thinker. She is
also a physicist and ecologist and the Director of the Research
Foundation on Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is the founder of
Navdanya"nine seeds", a movement promoting diversity and use of
native seeds. Dr. Shiva was the 1993 recipient of the Alternative
Nobel Peace Prizethe Right Livelihood Award. And she is the author of
many books, her latest is "Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability,
AMY GOODMAN: Vandana Shiva remains with us, physicist; ecologist;
director of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology, and
Ecology; in `93, awarded the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize, the Right
Livelihood Award; her latest book, Earth Democracy: Justice,
Sustainability, and Peace. There is an epidemic you write about in
India of farmer suicides. Can you explain what's happening and where
this is happening?
VANDANA SHIVA: Indian farmers have never committed suicide on a large
scale. It's something totally new. It's linked to the last decade of
globalization, trade liberalization under a corporate-driven economy.
The seed sector was liberalized to allow corporations like Cargill and
Monsanto to sell unregulated, untested seed. They began with hybrids,
which can't be saved, and moved on to genetically engineered Bt
cotton. The cotton belt is where the suicides are taking place on a
very, very large scale. It is the suicide belt of India.
And the high cost of seed is linked to high cost of chemicals, because
these seeds need chemicals. In addition, these costly seeds need to be
bought every year, because their very design is to make seeds
nonrenewable, seed that isn't renewable by its very nature, but
whether it's through patenting systems, intellectual property rights
or technologically through hybridization, nonrenewable seed is being
sold to farmers so they must buy every year.
There's a case going on in the Supreme Court of India right now on the
monopoly practices of Monsanto. An antitrust court ruled against
Monsanto, because the price is so high, farmers necessarily get into a
debt trap, which is why I was talking about credit, for the wrong
thing, could actually be a problem and not a solution.
In addition, the price of cotton is collapsing under the huge $4
billion subsidies given to agribusiness in the United States, which
then dumps cotton on a world market with 50% reduction of price
artificially. This is what led to the Cancun failure of WTO, but this
is what is killing Indian farmers. Just three days ago, farmers were
protesting against the low prices of cotton. They went to the
government agency, which before globalization used to buy cotton at a
fair price. One farmer was shot dead. So we're not just seeing
suicides, we're also seeing farmers' protests treated as a new threat
to the regime.
AMY GOODMAN: These descriptions of desperation, up to three farmers a
day swallow pesticides, hang themselves from trees, drown themselves
in rivers, set themselves on fire, or jump down wells, many of them
plagued by debt, poor crops and hopelessness?
VANDANA SHIVA: 90% of the farmer suicideswe've studied it. Every year
we bring out a report called "Seeds of Suicide." We started the first
report in '97, which was the first suicide in the district of Warangal
in Andhra Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh
AMY GOODMAN: Where is it in India?
VANDANA SHIVA: Andhra Pradesh is kind of southern India. But Andhra
Pradesh had a government that responded, and that's the government
that took Monsanto to court. Vidarbha in Maharashtra has emerged as
the epicenter. This is where the Prime Minister visited, because the
suicide issue had become so intense. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister
offered exactly the same package, more of the same, as a solution.
Included in this package is a 20 billion rupee seed replacement
package, which means what seed farmers has gets further destroyed, so
they have no renewable seed, no affordable seed. They must buy on the
market every year. Farmer suicides in Vidarbha are now eight per day.
A few weeks ago, I was in Punjab. 2,800 widows of farmer suicides who
have lost their land, are having to bring up children as landless
workers on others' land. And yet, the system does not respond to it,
because there's only one response: get Monsanto out of the seed
sectorthey are part of this genocideand ensure WTO rules are not
bringing down the prices of agricultural produce in the United States,
in Canada, in India, and allow trade to be honest. I don't think we
need to talk about free trade and fair trade. We need to talk about
honest trade. Today's trade system, especially in agriculture, is
dishonest, and dishonesty has become a war against farmers. It's
become a genocide.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the water tower protests?
VANDANA SHIVA: In the state of Rajasthan, which is the capital of the
production of mustardand mustard in India is very symbolic. It's the
color of our spring. When spring comes, we dress in the yellow of the
mustard flower. It's our staple oil, and we love the pungency of it.
1998, Monsanto and Cargill managed to get a ban on indigenous oils in
order to create a market for soya oil, something we've never eaten
before. We led a movement of women to bring back the mustard. But
today, 70% of the oil India is eating, edible oiland India was the
capital of edible oil productionmustard, sesame, linseed, coconut,
wonderful healthy oilstoday, 70% of our edible oil market is soya oil
dumped on us, palm oil dumped on us. And, as you know, today soya is
being cultivated in cutting the Amazon, and palm oil is being
cultivated cutting the rain forest of Borneo.
When the farmers can't sell their mustardnobody's buying itthey've
had protests. Twelve farmers were killed in Central India. And there
was a farmer who climbed onto the water tower a few months ago,
mimicking a Bollywood film, but basically saying he would jump to
suicide if the farmer's mustard was not bought. This hijacking of the
market for agriculture by a handful of agribusiness, which is what the
rules of WTO arethe Agreement on Agriculture is basically putting all
of agriculture into the hands of ADM, ConAgra and Cargill, and all the
seed sector into the hands of Monsantoit must necessarily destroy
more and more farms, more and more farming, and push more farmers to
suicide for a while, unless we get a change.
We work for the change, and our work in Navdanya shows that farmers
can double their incomes by using their own seeds, doing organic
farming. All they need is a joining of hands with urban consumers and
definitely a change in the rules of trade, which have treated the
rights of Cargill as fundamental rights.
And something Americans don't know much about, the nuclear deal with
India has a twin agreement, and that twin agreement is on agriculture.
It's called the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, and on the board
of this agreement are Monsanto, ADM and Wal-Mart. So a grab of the
seed sector by Monsanto, of the trade sector by the giant
agribusiness, and the retail sector, which is 400 million people in
India, by Wal-Mart. These are issues that are preoccupying us for
about democracy in India right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Vandana Shiva, I want to go back to that deal that just
was announced this weekend, surprised some. The US will send nuclear
fuel shipments for civilian use, critics saying it will allow India to
use its existing nuclear fuel to build up to 50 nuclear weapons. And
then I want to ask you to expand on this corollary that we definitely
didn't know about.
VANDANA SHIVA: You know, the nuclear deal with India, in fact, shows
the double standards of US nuclear policy, because for the same things
that Iran doesIran is axis of evilbut India here, through this
nuclear agreement, is being told, we will separate civilian use and
military use. Military use will be India's sovereign decision. I don't
think it will be India's sovereign decision, because I think in this
deal is a strategic use of India for Asia, for a containment for
China. But in addition to that, there is turning India into a nuclear
market: a sale of nuclear technologies, of nuclear fuel.
And I think we need to contextualize this in the context of the
climate debates. Climate change has made us recognize that we can't
keep messing up the atmosphere and pumping more carbon dioxide. But
nuclear doesn't become clean automatically just because carbon dioxide
has destabilized the climate. Nuclear is being offered as a clean
development mechanism. And not only will it spread nuclear risks and
hazards in India, it will also allow corporations, like General
Electric and others who pollute with carbon dioxide, as well as them,
get quotas through emissions trading and markets for nuclear technology.
You know, I was a nuclear physicist. I left my career in 1972. I was
training to be a nuclear physicist in India's atomic energy program in
the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and I left because I realized very
clearly nuclear power, as much as nuclear war, are systems where you
cannot have democracy. They're inconsistent with democracy. And I love
democracy too much. So I went on to do theoretical physics.
AMY GOODMAN: So explain further this corollary that involves these
other large multinational corporations. And why is it part of the
VANDANA SHIVA: Well, two days ago the US representativeI think it's
Mr. Burns who announced that the nuclear deal is the cutting edge, but
what the United States is really seeking is agricultural markets and
real estate markets, the land of the poor in India. And if you look at
cities like Bombay, you look at cities like Delhi, you look at cities
like Bangalore, they're exploding because there's this global hungry
finance moving in to take over the land of people, not through a
market mechanism, but using the state and an old colonial law of land
acquisition to grab the land by force everywhere where this is
happening. There is a war going on, outside Delhi in Dadri, outside
Calcutta in Singur, everywhere. Peasants are being shot and killed in
order to take away the last resort and the last asset of the poor.
The agreements, nuclear and agricultural agreements, came out of a
July visit of our prime minister in 2005, were then moved forward in
the March visit of President Bush to India, which saw huge protests,
by the wayI'm sure it wasn't coveredbut huge protests, where these
deals, as well as the Iraq war, were the issue in India. And the two
are twin programs. They are twin programs about a market grab and a
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Wal-Mart. They have just announced they're
going to be opening 500 stores in India, the first to open in August
VANDANA SHIVA: We've been organizing the unorganized retail sector of
India. The retail sector of India, to me, is the ultimate practice of
democracy. When you go into a tiny vegetable market, the women put out
their mats, they've brought the tomatoes they've grown outside the
city, put it down, maybe five kilos of tomatoes, sell it for the day,
go back home, feed their children. It's a community market. 400 people
dependent on retail, 14 million people dependent on little hawking,
you know, a tiny moveable cart, which goes door-to-door. 90% of our
vegetables come to our doorstep. We don't have to go anywhere.
Wal-Mart's entry into India, 500 stores, cannot go hand-in-hand with
the giant retail economy of India, which is giant not by being one big
store, but by having millions of small sellers. And that is what has
created the vibrance of India's markets, the democracy in India's markets.
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank
you very much, Vandana Shiva, for joining us. Her new book is Earth
Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.
Genetically Modified Seeds: Women in India Take on Monsanto
The way to food security
by Arun Shrivastava
Global Research, October 9, 2006
"We do not buy seeds from the market because we suspect they may be
contaminated with genetically engineered or terminator seeds," says
Pavamma, a Dalit woman in village Palarum, near the town of
Zaheerabad, about 110 kms north-west of the high-tech city of Hyderabad.
George W Bush signed "Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture" [KIA] with
Manmohan Singh [the Indian Prime Minister] in March 2006, cheered by
representatives of Monsanto and Wal-Mart, in the same city. Pavamma
does not know about KIA. .
Pavamma looks after a household of 14 members, from 2 year old infants
to 80 year old grandparents. She owns nine acres of land in semi arid
Deccan plateau. One acre, she says, is sufficient to feed her
household highly nutritious three full meals every day all year round.
The surplus from eight is sold or stored in the household food bank. I
spent about two hours with her and learnt that she has a bank of fifty
different seeds that she says she needs "to feed her household properly."
Palarum is a habitation of about thirty households and is part of
Village Council of Devrampalli in district Medak. Each village has its
own "sangham," comprising of all households, of all castes and
religion. A Village Council is a Constitutional body whereas the
sangham is a community-based organization. The seventy-two Sanghams
are part of a regional federation welded together by Deccan
Development Society, nominally headed by PV Satheesh, that won the COG
Award for "Best People's Defense" on 25th March 2006. [See
www.ddsindia.org. See also ETC Group website.]
Women manage seed bank
Earlier men managed the household seed stock. Now, it is women. "Men
wanted to store fewer seeds and preferred to buy from the market. We
want all sorts of seeds for all sorts of food that we eat," said the
women, while men stood nearby smoking local cigarillos.
They have a very simple contraption to store seeds. A basket, about
two feet in diameter by eighteen inches deep, is plastered with cow
dung. When it dries, seeds are placed in it, covered with grass and
capped with cow dung. This simple contraption protects all their
seeds. It hardly costs a few rupees.
And women ensure the bio-diversity and health
Pavamma and her friends showed me four varieties of green moong and
sixteen varieties of millet. Real tongue twisters but try to pronounce
these: Korralu (Foxtail millet, 4 varieties), Saamai (Little millet,
two varieties), Thaidalu (Finger millet), Sajjalu (Pearl millet, two
varieties) and Jonnalu (sorghum, seven varieties). And then five local
varieties of lentils and another four wild varieties, so effectively
nine, all edible and rich in proteins. They have two varieties of rice
in just one village; one is harvested for its medicinal properties; it
is easy to digest and given during convalescence. [India had 100,000
varieties of rice just 40 years ago; today with much difficulty one
may get seeds for 50]
Crops of truth [Satyam Pantalu]
Nature has given us plants that do not seek anything in return, not
even water. One simply has to broadcast the seed and in time reap a
nutritious harvest. These are called the "crops of truth" locally. In
fact crops of truth abound everywhere that do not take anything in
return but give you nutrition and health, provided we seek the truth.
These are hardy genes, evolved over centuries. It is important that
these crops of truth are protected from the venal buccaneers. The
women of Zaheerabad have done just that because they are mothers.
These local sources of nutrition have not even been properly surveyed
or listed by the National Institute of Nutrition or the Indian Council
of Agriculture Research, according to PV Satheesh.
These women grow nutrition, not just food. Data on nutritive content
of these wild, un-listed, un-catalogued, indigenous foods that nature
has given these people, is available at
http://www.cine.mcgill.ca/DALIT.htm (Click on community food system
This is a huge data bank on nutritive content of foods from the
cluster of villages I am writing about. These foods, some of them
classified as wild, are highly nutritious.
Nutrition does not come from the factories of trans-national
corporations; it comes from Mother Nature. I realized that these
illiterate women of Zaheerabad understood that truth more than any one
of us would ever appreciate.
The sangham is an informal social security network. What happens when
the going gets rough within the community?
If crops collapse and a household is short of seeds for the next
season, it can borrow seeds from the community seed bank. The seed is
given on loan and after harvest; the household must return twice the
amount borrowed to the community bank. If the crop fails again, the
household must return four times the borrowed seeds.
Landless labourer, and there are many because this region was once the
most impoverished in India, are entitled to 25% of the gross produce
of the land they work. If a household reneges on sharing, the entire
village boycotts that household. I met a few landless labourers; they
have no complaint.
If the entire village faces crop failure, the neighbouring villages
come to its rescue on similar terms.
These 72 villages organize an annual seeds' festival lasting about a
month to mid February. Small groups of villagers visit each of the 72
villages. The host village takes care of their shelter, food and water
needs. These groups inspect how each village is managing its seed
bank. The village with best managed seed bank gets an award and the
award is never given to an individual; it is given only to a community.
Interaction with market
There is minimal interaction with market. Main items of consumption
like soap, books for children, light bulb, clothes, etc., are
purchased locally. Cooking oil is obtained by sending oilseeds to a
local facility for oil extraction. The facility uses traditional
cold-press method, i.e. oil is extracted at low temperature thereby
retaining the nutrients in the seeds.
A small group of men takes the produce of a cluster of household to
the market and returns with whatever the households need from the
market, a system that has reduced shopping by individual households.
These villages got together and realized that they need to communicate
more effectively particularly because of what was happening to farmers
in neighbouring regions and districts. Majority of farmers' suicides
took place in and around these parts and behind each death there is a
ghastly story of GM/hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, loans, and
So, they collected fund and with some external support they got their
own FM radio station to forewarn their communities if a wolf is around
and, of course, to continuously inform and educate people on key
issues of survival. They now have a transmitter, microphone, recording
studio but the Government of India has yet to grant a license to
broadcast! Oh yes, India is a democracy with right to freedom of
speech, so long as it does not affect the buccaneer's profits.
Undaunted, they record programmes in the studio and send it across to
the people on ordinary ten rupee audio or hundred rupee video tapes.
The manager of this FM radio station is barely literate but an
excellent communicator, a Dalit woman, affectionately called "The
General." The general travels on her bicycle to keep her troops ready
to take on the Terminator.
Green schools [Pachasala]
The Deccan Development Society has organised a Green school but it is
yet to cover the entire population of the seventy-two village
councils. The green school is unique in that it trains its pupils in
nine skills such as carpentry, computing, pottery, book binding,
Para-veterinary science, herbal medicine, sewing, farming, waste
management and agro-forestry, skills that "Knowledge Initiative on
Agriculture" of George W Bush and Manmohan Singh can never match.
The facilities are simple, low cost, and adequate but the teachers are
each imbued with missionary zeal to prepare the kids for sustainable
living and in the process ensure that they achieve equivalency of
primary and middle schools. The society has specifically targeted
school drop outs, children of landless labour and those of "bonded
labour." There is no attempt to help these kids take up regular
employment, if they want they can, but majority elect to remain in the
The uniqueness of Sangham
The sangham portends shape of things to come. Unless, local
communities work to preserve local seeds, especially indigenous seeds
of crops that are highly nutritious and tasty and can be grown at low
or no cost, and no energy input, we shall cease to exist as a viable
society. Please also remember that low and no cost and no energy input
also implies that there will be minimal or no CO2 emission from such
farming activities. That is the emerging concept of Dream Farm [See
Dream Farm, Institute of Science in Society, UK], but these women have
created their own Dream Farms at virtually no cost. All they need now
is to produce their own energy for lighting.
The second unique thing is the social organization. Every member of
the community has access to food and is assured of some work even if
Lessons to be drawn
Social engineering can be achieved in about two years. These
seventy-two villages were once horizontally and vertically stratified
along caste, class and religious lines, food scarcity was endemic,
people were malnourished, majority worked as unskilled day wager.
Today they are cohesive, interdependent. I did not see one
malnourished person; not one. Rarely do people go to urban centres to
Social engineering does not cost much in terms of money but it does
require a change agent, a good communicator, and a person of character
who refuses to take no from anyone.
Third, it is possible to minimize interaction with the market,
possibly eliminate the system. The community is the most important
entity that can help us ensure food and nutrition security and cope
with the post-carbon contingencies. The market mechanism in its
current form actually works against the interest of farmers and the
communities. Most crucially, market responds to many irrational
demands of the consumers, invariably driven by convenience, whereas an
honest farmer has to balance the environmental costs that are not
factored in by the market in its cost calculations. For a full
discussion on this issue, I have yet to see anything better than the
essays of Richard Norgaard, who gave a talk in Delhi in 1997 on the
need to accept the alternative economics.
Fourth, it is important to realize that we can't separate human rights
from right to seeds and food as well as right to grow food for our
consumption. Most people in the west have forgotten that access to
food is a basic human right and they have been misled to believe that
that right can only be exercised in a supermarket run by Wal Mart or
Tesco. We all can exercise this human right by refusing to purchase
engineered and manufactured food and by claiming our right to grow any
food that Nature gave us. It is important to inform our political
representatives the consequences of refusing to accept that essential
precondition for survival. That basic human right to food [and water,
and air, and forests, and rivers, and the planet in which we were
born] is a fundamental right which no living entity should be allowed
to expropriate. And we have inadvertently done just that. All over the
Fifth, it is important for us, especially those of you who live in
Anglo-Saxon countries that the time is upon us when Community Rights
will have to take primacy over the rights of the State, Corporations
and the individuals. Most of us in most countries, emulating
Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, believe that individual right is the mother
of all rights. The Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence gives primacy to
individual rights and untrammeled rights to the corporations and the
state. We will all have to work to change this. Actually, we can't
survive even for a day in post oil world without the help and support
of our community. Therefore, legal instruments for giving primacy to
community rights should be developed and legislated, everywhere.
Sixth, right of access to natural resources-like land, rivers,
forests, air, and everything that Nature has given us including
seeds-is the fundamental right of the communities, not of the
corporations or the state or the individual. No corporation has the
right to expropriate what Nature gave us. We have all been misled that
the state cares for us and will use natural resources for our welfare:
this has been the Father of all bullshit.
And lastly, whilst community rights will help us survive, tide over
the crisis of survival and may be extend our survival by a few
centuries, it'd require a different standards of equity, and different
constructs of morality, mores and law. Only that paradigm shift would
ensure our survival. Otherwise, I have a nagging fear that we as human
race do not have much to look forward to.
But I have faith in the women of Zaheerabad. They have the seeds to
grow nutritious food, to feed their men to fight the goons, the
corporations, who are slowly taking control of seeds and our food.
Arun Shrivastava is a management consultant and can be contacted at
email id: arun1951@...
A word of caution: The Centre for Indigenous People's Nutrition and
Environment [CINE], based in Canada, whose website I have referred to
is financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, which puts them in an
obvious conflict of interest. I know what Rockefeller has done in
India; the "Great Gene Robbery," documented by Dr. Claude Alvarez, is
a classic example of the way Rockefellers and the US government works.
"Sowing Trouble: India's `Second Green Revolution'"
Suman Sahai argues that India's new agricultural biotechnology deal
with the United States will take power away from farmers and endanger
a rich genetic heritage.
When US president George W. Bush visited India in March, he announced
the coming of a 'Second Green Revolution'. This was a reference to
India's 1970s Green Revolution, a publicly funded push to improve food
production. But the comparison simply does not hold up.
The two are radically different. The proposed 'revolution' is a joint
US-India initiative aimed at promoting agricultural biotechnology and
the interests of private corporations. It has been cleverly packaged
under the name of an agro-economic phenomenon still held in esteem by
India's political leadership.
The first Green Revolution produced technologies that belonged to the
people. Improved crop varieties were bred with public money to fulfil
a public need increasing food production and create public goods
to which everyone had access.
There were no intellectual property rights or patents. If anyone
'owned' the Green Revolution, it was the farmer. They chose where to
plant the seeds produced by public research institutions. So despite
some faults such as increasing soil salinity and water logging, the
Green Revolution addressed farmers' needs, and India's food production
began to rise.
By contrast, the Second Green Revolution initiative centres on
privately owned technologies genetically modified (GM) plants. Six
multinationals BASF Plant Science, Bayer CropScience, Dow, DuPont,
Monsanto and Syngenta control almost all research in this field, and
their products and research methods are shackled in patents.
The technology creates private goods that can only be accessed at
significant cost: a bag of 'Bt' GM cotton seeds produced by the
Monsanto-Mahyco joint venture, costs 1,850 rupees (US$41) in India,
compared to US$6.60-8.80 for superior local varieties.
The seeds belong to the company, which strictly controls their
movement. 'Terminator' seeds, which produce sterile adult plants,
would further reduce farmers to being even more helpless consumers
not partners, as they were during the Green Revolution. Back then,
scientists bred high-yield varieties in research stations and worked
with farmers to produce enough high quality seeds for widespread
Over the past two decades, GM technology has failed to produce a crop
variety with any direct impact on hunger and nutritional needs. The
Green Revolution in India, on the other hand, produced the country's
first dwarf, high-yielding, wheat varieties within a few years.
High-yielding rice followed, and India has been able to maintain a
surplus stock of grain ever since.
The Green Revolution was an open, transparent, collaborative effort.
But the contours of this newer revolution formally called the
Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Research and Education
have been kept so secret that neither senior Indian politicians nor
the scientific community know its details.
Yet the initiative's board will set the agenda for collaborative farm
research with Indian laboratories and agricultural universities. Two
board members, Wal-Mart the world's largest retailer and Monsanto,
have according to sources within the companies, indicated that they
propose using their position to enter into retailing in agriculture
and agricultural trade in India.
Currently, farmers can sell their produce at special markets set up by
the government but a retail giant such as Wal-Mart would be able to
sell food for much lower prices, and so threaten the farmers'
Gene bank break-in?
What is known about the new Indo-US deal is that it will focus on
developing agricultural biotechnology, accessing biological resources
in Indian gene banks, and discussing India's intellectual property
rights regime all of which are of crucial interest to the United
To develop the GM crops (and fish and livestock) that will dominate
the collaborative research, the US bioscience corporations involved
want access to the rich biodiversity in Indian gene banks, research
stations and university collections.
Such corporations know that high-quality local varieties are vital for
the success of GM varieties. The failure of Mahyco-Monsanto's Bt
cotton will have taught them this important lesson: the cotton
varieties that the companies used to make Bt cotton were at best
modest performers that failed to compete well with other varieties.
The results were crop failure and severe losses to farmers.
But many in India are uneasy about providing the United States with
access to its genetic resources. Will, for example, the requirements
of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which the United
States has not ratified, be met?
Unless the CBD terms are met, India cannot allow US corporations
access to its genetic wealth. US failure to meet the CBD provisions
would leave India in default of its own convention commitments and
violate the provisions of its national law, the Biological Diversity Act.
As for India's intellectual property regime, the new initiative's
board has discussed rights to products that the planned research
programmes will develop. Many fear that this means that India's
Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act the only law in
the world granting legal rights specifically to farmers could come
under threat from US pressure.
Along with multinationals such as Monsanto, the United States has been
lobbying for a change in India's intellectual property laws to
introduce patents on seeds and genes, and dilute the provisions
protecting farmers' rights.
A combination of physical access to India's gene banks and a possible
new intellectual property law that allows seed patents will in essence
deliver India's genetic wealth into US hands. This would be a severe
blow to India's food security and self-sufficiency.
And this is not all. The US negotiators have asked for restrictions on
imports of US farm products into India to be removed. This amounts to
asking for the right to export GM crops and foods to India.
India must avoid becoming the dumping ground for controversial
products that have been rejected in many parts of the world because of
questions about their safety and usefulness.
Suman Sahai is director of Gene Campaign, an Indian research and
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