Gates Foundation-IRRI attempts entry into GM-Free Kerala
Gates Foundation-IRRI attempts entry into GM-Free Kerala
1.Background: The state of Kerala is located at the southern most tip of India, and is nestled in the Western Ghats one of the bio-diversity hot spots of the world. Kerala state had declared itself GM free and said in the declaration that after examining the impact of GM crops on the environment and on other living organisms and "recognising that genetic engineering in agriculture is imprecise, irreversible, uncontrollable and unpredictable and realizing the importance of the precautionary principle as a guiding principle in this matter, declares that release of GM crops into the environment and GM foods into the market should be banned to protect the health, agriculture and biodiversity of the nation."
However that hasn't stopped the efforts of international institutions like IRRI and foundations like the Gates Foundation from attempting to introduce GM technology into the state.
2.Translation of the news report by Aneesh Jacob in Mathrubhumi (Malayalam newspaper) of 29th April 2009
Kerala Agricultural University attempts research on GM rice with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, which is probably seen as one of the monopolists of liberalization is creating a partnership with the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) to do research on GM rice in Kerala. The agreement or MOU states that the goal of the research project is to genetically modify rice to make it resistant to adverse climatic conditions. It further states that this is being done to alleviate poverty in South Asia and Africa.
This research project has been formulated on the basis of the broad agreement between Bill & Melinda Gates foundation with International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila, and they want to conduct this project in Kerala through KAU. The University officials have sought permission from the State government to conduct this research in the Vyttila Rice Research Station.
Through genetic modification they plan to develop rice varieties which can withstand climate change, tolerate salinity and provide more iron. However the Kerala government has a policy against genetically modified seeds which it has conveyed to the central government also. Environmentalists and anti-GM activists say that this research program is merely a cover for the Gates foundation to take out (from the state) genes/seeds/germplasm of varieties of paddy found with desirable traits that are of interest to them. As if to prove the accusation right, the MOU between the Gates foundation and KAU has a clause which allows for germplasm to be transferred to the Gates foundation. Ultimately it is to facilitate transfer of genes that the loophole has been provided through allowing germplasm transfer.
IRRI has specified in the MOU that KAU cannott reveal any details about the project or MOU to the public or the media. They have particularly specified that all details about the funding organization should be kept absolutely confidential. It is assumed that this instruction is due to the increasing opposition to GM crops around the world.
The results of the research will be patented in the names of KAU, IRRI and the Gates foundation. The initial period for the project is three years and an amount of two million dollars has been set aside for this by the Gates foundation.
Enhancing indigenous seeds of the region and sharing them with the farmers is the stated policy of the Kerala state government. But such research partnerships between research institutions and international foundations will lead to loss of indigenous diversity and loss of traditional varieties. Instead we would move to a system where a certain variety which is of interest to these vested parties will monopolize the agriculture realm and lead to control of agriculture by a few corporate entities. This is one of the primary reasons for objection to GM technology in agriculture. Loss of seed diversity will threaten food production, lead to loss of culture and indigenous knowledge and above all take away the self sufficiency of farmers.
While the state government has taken a strong anti GM stance, the move by the agriculture university to get into such a research agreement seems very suspicious.
3.Translation of the news report by Aneesh Jacob in Mathrubhumi (Malayalam newspaper) of 30th April 2009
Kerala agriculture minister has asked for an expert committee to look into the rice research deal with Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.
Kerala Agriculture minister Sri.Mullakkara Ratnakaran has instructed the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) to refer its proposal to do research on GM rice along with the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation to an expert committee. The Minister further added that research programs undertaken in the state should be transparent and also in line with the development agenda/vision set forth by the left front government.
The minister has instructed the university, in writing, that they may proceed with rice research proposal only if they get clearance from the expert committee consisting of the Commissioner for Agriculture Production, Chairman of the State Bio-Diversity Board, and a scientist from a prominent NGO.
The agriculture ministry believes that the confidentiality clause in the proposal agreement, ensuring that the names of the donors and details about the research will not be made public, leads to considerable room for suspicion about the proposed project. Criticism has arisen that through such research projects multinationals are trying to lay their hands on genes/germ plasm .As if to endorse this suspicion the rice research agreement with the Gates foundation does have a clause to transfer the germplasm of varieties which are being researched to the foundation.
In the recent past, the agriculture department had to intervene to stop the transfer of germplasm, from the Pattambi research centre of KAU, to Mahyco, the Indian subsidiary of Monsanto. At that point KAU had entered into an agreement for transfer of germplasm. After putting a halt to the transfer the agriculture minister had also asked KAU to take action against the staff involved, which the university has not done till date ostensibly due to some technical reasons. As per the bio-diversity act of 2002 a case should have been filed for bio-piracy. The investigation by the Secretary, Department of Agriculture, about the Pattambi incident had also established that effort was made to pass on rice germplasm to Mahyco. Authorities suspect that such efforts by multinationals, centered on agriculture universities, are an attempt to establish their control over agriculture research in India.
On Wednesday during the discussion on bio-diversity the agriculture minister strongly condemned the proposed research deal between the Kerala Agricultural University and Bill& Melinda Gates foundation.