1.More on Bt cotton problems in central India
2.Prevalence of patents could spell doom

1.More on Bt cotton problems in central India

Kavitha Kuruganti of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh, India, has sent us some further information on the report of the fact finding team sent to Badwani district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to investigate large scale wilt problem with Bt cotton (termed "new wilt" in some reports).

Kavitha has reminded us that something called Para-Wilt was reported in previous years as a problem by scientists, mostly with Monsanto's MECH 184 Bt cotton. At that time there was an attempt to atribute the problem to the hybrid in question rather than to the fact that it was occurring on Bt cotton plants. But this year wilt is being found on different Bt cotton hybrids which means further scientific investigation into the real source of this problem is urgently required.

Kavitha also reports that "since the formation of the Monitoring & Evaluation Committee [MEC] by civil society groups in different states and the formation of Beej Swaraj Abhiyan in Madhya Pradesh, reports about problems with Bt Cotton are beginning to emerge from states other than Andhra Pradesh too."

The current wilt problem in Madhya Pradesh is a case in point and this undermines the attempts by biotech proponents to paint Andhra Pradesh as somehow an isolated case of failure. It now seems more likely that the problems that other states were experiencing have simply been under-reported in the past.

Kavitha also emphasises again that the government is unfairly "trying to say that it is farmers' management failure that has resulted in this phenomenon". they are also trying to claim that it is a problem that has only emerged post-harvest. But the work of the Monitoring & Evaluation Committee's fact finding team shows that there is no foundation to either of these claims.

Finally, Kavitha says that "earlier in the week, there was a large public hearing [jan sunwai] in Dhar district supported by people's movements where scores of farmers testified in front of a large audience consisting of farmers, activists, biotech experts, government and company representatives about the failure being witnessed there in Dhar district.

"For the companies, however, it seems to be business-as-usual, with nobody fixing liability on them, as they are busily filling up jeeps and cars with farmers and taking them to "successful farmers" as part of their marketing gimmicks."

Read the report of the Fact Finding Team's visit to Badwani:


2.Prevalence of patents could spell doom
Financial Express (India), October 24, 2005

The worldwide extension of patent regime on life forms has raised new concerns for both agriculture and public healthcare sectors.

The frequency of bio-piracy has also increased. Attempts to patent turmeric, neem fungicide, basmati rice, naphal wheat landrace and method of preparing wheat flour are a few of several recent examples of how traditional knowledge of countries was sought to be misappropriated.

Swiss biotech giant Syngenta has recently sought patent rights over thousands of gene sequences of rice. Rice is the staple food in most countries and if Syngenta is accorded patent rights over these gene sequences, it would practically "own" the world's staple crop.

The company has filed for patent rights before the European Patent Office, US Patent and Trademark Office and the World Intellectual Property Organisation. It has claimed that most of gene sequences it has "invented" are identical in other crops and therefore the patent needs to be extended to other crops like wheat, corn, sorghum, rye, banana, soyabean, some fruits and vegetables.

There are also reports of more than 4,000 out of 24,000 discovered human genes being patented in the US. The patent right holders are mainly private companies like Incyte, A Palo Alto and universities. The US patent treats human DNA as any other chemical product. It recognises minor changes as innovation.

Patenting of genes resulted in boom for biotech companies in 1980s and 1990s. Earlier most of the research institutions and companies were in favour of a strong patent regime on life forms as they thought it would promote research. It was only the NGOs which were opposed to this from the very beginning.

But as the the current situation has come to mean a total monopoly on life forms, a rethinking has begun amongst researchers and companies who now think that such a patent regime is a hindrance to future research. Some of them even say that the situation is leading to what can be called "scientific apartheid."

Patent holders have already started dictating their terms. Patented planting material, drugs, research tool kits have become costlier.

Strangely in such a situation WIPO is adamant on pushing the agenda for the Substantive Patent Law Treaty (SPLT) which aims at harmonising patent laws across the globe on the lines of those prevalent in developed countries.

The patent laws in developed countries aim at strengthening monopoly rights even over minor changes and if the developing countries follow this example it would spell doom for their farm and healthcare sectors.

However, in the last WIPO general assembly meeting, early this month, developing countries were successful in deferring discussions on the draft SPLT. It was decided that a 3-day informal forum will be held in Geneva in the first quarter of 2006 to discuss the draft and member countries could suggest changes in the draft.

But the threat is far from over. Intellectual property rights (IPRs) issues are also discussed in fora like TRIPs and WTO. Even though TRIPs is under review as per the Doha mandate, India rushed to amend its patent laws to make it TRIPs compliant. The new patent laws will facilitate patenting of genes, markers (in which some innovative process is involved) and micro-organisms. Even though the TRIPs, WIPO and the Budapest Treaty has failed to clearly define micro-organism, the new Indian patent law has provisions for patenting of micro-organisms.

Transgenic seeds and seeds which contain patented gene markers and micro-organisms would come under the IPR regime, despite prevalence of sui generis system in the country. The seeds will become costlier for farmers who will be made to pay a heavy royalty.

Worse still - India has begun documenting its traditional knowledge in digital format and is unilaterally sharing the information with overseas patent offices. This would further activate biopiracy as there are chances of leaking out of information.