Supposedly scientific intervention on behalf of Bangladeshi farmers, largely developed under the aegis of Monsanto (plus its Indian outpost Mahyco), has in fact been forced upon them unscientifically
The film review below isn’t new but it’s still highly relevant. The film, Bt Brinjal in the Dock, exposes the scam of GM Bt brinjal (eggplant) in Bangladesh. It can be viewed here.
GMWatch’s review of the film is here.
In the theatre of the absurd
Shayan S. Khan
Dhaka Courier, June 30, 2016
Bt Beguner Bismbad (2016)
Faisal Rahman, Delowar Jahan, Pavel Partha and Yasir Wardad
Faced with a government machinery visibly determined to ride roughshod over all dissenting voices in its quest to establish ‘the way of science’, a new documentary – Bt Beguner Bisambad (BT Brinjal In the Dock)- seeks to bring back some of the issues surrounding the controversial initiative to introduce genetically modified brinjal crops in Bangladesh squarely into focus. It does this most compellingly by driving home the point that this supposedly scientific intervention on behalf of Bangladeshi farmers, that has largely been developed and marketed under the aegis of US agrochemicals giant Monsanto (plus its Indian outpost Mahyco), has in fact been forced upon them most unscientifically – based on woefully muddied research, and an alarmingly hurried testing cycle. Many of the farmers who took part in trials want out already.
In a February 2016 article for The Ecologist, Farida Akhter, executive director of UBINIG and one of the strongest voices against the introduction of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh, wrote: ”[H]ardly any of the farmers who grew the GM plants in previous years have come back for more after their crops wilted, failed to ripen, or were devastated by pests.” This was after UBINIG contacted 40 farmers in 9 districts who had previously taken part in two trials carried out among 128 farmers over 2014-15, and found that 37 of them had not been contacted by the authorities, nor were they themselves interested in growing Bt brinjal. A third trial run was underway at the time, amongst 200 farmers. The results have so far been very closely guarded.
BT Beguner Bisambad however, takes us to various parts of Bangladesh to meet some of the farmers who took part in the first two trials, of which the results have been a cause for widespread debate in the national and international media. The four individuals acting as the driving force behind the documentary – Faisal Rahman, Delowar Jahan, Pavel Partha and Yasir Wardad – didn’t happen upon the topic at some anti-globalisation protest march outside their university campus. Each has a record of engagement with the issue that lends Bt Beguner Bisambad added credence as well as gravitas. As such, they are able to home in on the most crucial points of injustice and danger that a government institution, namely the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute, is recklessly exposing the public to, without any discernible concern for the consequences.
In the documentary, BARI officials are captured in a variety of settings. On each occasion, what comes through is their indifference and intransigence. Once they are shown to be outright lying, about having carried out a particular test at the Dhaka University laboratories, that in the very next scene a DU professor confirms could not have been: the facilities for it simply don’t exist at the DU lab. And it isn’t the only test that has seemingly been overlooked in the mad rush to bring Bt Brinjal to market. Although BARI has apparently done its own agronomic studies, it is relying on Indian bio-safety data gathered from Mahyco. Through a USAID project, ABSP (don’t ask) II, Mahyco-Monsanto have offered the Bt technology gratis, that is, free, to BARI for use in open pollinating varieties. Bless them, how very generous, you want to exclaim! But the company will reserve the right to sell Bt hybrids in Bangladesh. Which of course is just a matter of time once Bt brinjal has been introduced, that will cause a fundamental change in the characteristics of the type of brinjal grown here, paving the way for hybrids stemming from it.
Farida Akhter appears in the documentary, and warns that it isn’t just the government agency that should be held responsible; powerful forces in the private sector are also now involved in this high-stakes game, and they aren’t for turning. As is stated, there is significant investment at stake already. To be fair, the interview with Abdul Awal Mintoo, chairman of the seed company that has already reserved the rights to be the sole distributor in Bangladesh of the BT hybrids in future, is disarmingly frank. One of his revelations, of having signed a ‘profit-sharing contract’ with Monsanto, gives the lie irrevocably to one of BARI’s most baffling claims: that Monsanto-Mahyco do not stand to profit in any way from their involvement in the entire, sordid enterprise.
Does the state take its citizens for fools? That is the abiding feeling out of the whole episode around the move to introduce Bt brinjal in Bangladesh, home to 248 natural varieties of it as it is, where it is ubiquitous in national life. Indeed, in the birthplace of the humble plant. All under the guise of supposed savings for local growers, in the form of less spending on pesticides. It is claimed to be resistant to the notorious shoot borer, that on a good run can lay waste to much of the seasonal crop. The fundamental question hinges upon whether the potential damage to the crop outweighs the risks involved in taking this step into the unknown – Bt brinjal would be the first GM food crop in the region. We learn all this too, watching Bt Beguner Bisambad. Yet when we get up from our seats, or minimise it on our screens more likely, we are sure to leave it more appalled, at the picture drawn up by its darkest revelations.