1.Why is Sharad Pawar promoting field trials of GM crops?
2.Why is Sharad Pawar so pro-GM
EXTRACT: P Sainath describes multinationals like Monsanto as having played a "devastating" role in India's current farm crisis. But it's policy makers like Sharad Pawar who've promoted their interests and given them free rein. (item 2)
1.Why is Sharad Pawar promoting field trials of GM crops?
DNA, November 3 2012
Activists working in the field of agriculture has severely criticised Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar’s efforts to get field trials of genetically modified crops in the country.
The technical expert committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court of India following a writ petition has unanimously said that all field trials of GM crops should be stopped yet the agriculture minister is writing to states asking them to allow field trials of such crops, said Kapil Shah of NGO Jatan.
It should be noted that the TEC had sought a moratorium on GM field trials until a given list of conditions was met, including setting up of independent committee to find out the pros and cons of GM crops.
It is known that Bt cotton helped up the total yield from the year 2000 to 2006. “But what is not known is that since 2006, the yield has gone down drastically. This is the primary reason why cotton production is going down in the country,” said Shah.
Devinder Sharma, a food and trade policy analyst, said that so far there has been no independent research on the effects of GM food. “Whatever research on GM we are talking about are presented by corporates themselves,” said Sharma. “This is perhaps the only country where the government subsidises urea but offers no help to promote organic farming,” said Sharma.
2.Pawar - unleashing the corporations, ignoring their victims
GMWatch, 1 October 2006
Nobody should be more aware than India's Minister for Agriculture of the devastating nature of the country's current agrarian crisis. Sharad Pawar was formerly chief minister of the state at the very epicentre of the escalating farmer suicides wracking rural India, and Maharashtra still provides Pawar with his power base.
The critical role played by Bt cotton in the plague of suicides affecting India's debt-burdened farmers, has been identified by a whole series of observers. Here, for instance, is the New York Times in its report on the death of a Bt cotton farmer in Maharashtra:
"[Monsanto] has more than doubled its sales of Bt cotton ...but the expansion has been contentious... The modified seeds can cost nearly twice as much [many reports say 3 times as much] as ordinary ones, and they have nudged many farmers toward taking on ever larger loans, often from moneylenders charging exorbitant interest rates."
And here's the Times of India:
"Most suicide cases relate to those farming families which have run up huge debts because of the high cost in using the expensive genetically-modified cotton seeds, which have to be bought every year. "
And here's the Rural Affairs editor of The Hindu, P Sainath, spelling it out still more bluntly:
"Firstly, Bt Cotton technologies are themselves suspect in a number of ways. However, promoting them in a dry and un-irrigated area like Vidarbha [the main cotton-belt of Maharashtra] was murderous. It was stupid, it was killing. The Bt Cotton packet was costing Rs 1800 to 1850 for a packet of 450 grams. On each packet of Rs 1850, Monsanto was making a royalty of Rs 1250."
Pawar, you might think, with his intimate knowledge of Maharashtra, would have the strongest possible reason for recognising the danger of glibly promoting GM crops as the solution to India's problems. But you'd be wrong, as the following press release from India's Ministry of Agriculture, reporting Pawar's comments at a biotech conference, makes clear (see item 2 at http://bit.ly/aq0NnP).
Pawar, it seems, is all to keen to promote GM research as the way to meet India's agricultural needs. He boasts about India's "ambitious programme on agricultural biotechnology to ensure food security," and emphasises that while only GM cotton has so far been commercialised, there's a long list of other GM crops in India's development pipeline. Pawar also places a particular emphasis on the "decreasing availability of water for agricultural purposes", and underlines "the need for developing transgenic crops tolerant to increased drought conditions." (item 2 at http://bit.ly/aq0NnP)
But, as P Sainath has pointed out, India's agrarian crisis is not the product of water shortage but of failed policies from agriculture ministers, like Sharad Pawar, in a state of denial about the real problems afflicting India's farmers. It's thought that more than 18,000 of those farmers may end up killing themselves this year, the most ever recorded, but prior to the Prime Minister's visit to Maharashtra, Pawar tried to make light of the crisis, dismissing the spiralling suicides as nothing that wasn't "normal".
The PM's visit is condemned as mere PR by Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a local pressure group for hard pressed farmers, which says over 900 farmers have committed suicide in Maharashtra's main cotton-belt of Vidarbha in just the last 15 months. Over 300 of those deaths have actually ocurred since the Prime Minister's summer visit and his announcement of an aid package. 124 farmers took their lives in September alone, more than in any of the preceding months. And VJAS has consistently reported that the majority have been Bt cotton farmers burdened by debt.
Worse still, Pawar has personally been involved in promoting Bt cotton in Maharashtra, according to VJAS. VJAS spokesman, Kishor Tiwari, also says that one of the brands of Bt seeds on sale - "Ajit Bt" - is actually owned by Pawar's nephew, Ajit Pawar. Pawar's political associates in the State government have also had a big hand in pushing Bt cotton.
With that background, it's perhaps unsurprising that India's Agriculture Minister has never once visited any of the distressed families. But Pawar is perfectly happy to get up at a biotech conference and advertise his plans to give Indian farmers more of the same.
Indeed, Pawar told the conference that, "If used in a responsible manner, [GM crops] can help reduce poverty and improve the livelihoods of the rural poor." (item 3 at http://bit.ly/aq0NnP) That, of course, was exactly the promise held out by Monsanto and its political associates to desperate cotton farmers in places like Vidarbha.
But the main conference organisers will have been delighted with Pawar's message. The International Life Sciences Institute-India claims to be part of "a global network of scientists devoted to enhancing the scientific basis for public health decision-making," but ILSI is actually an international food lobbying outfit founded by the likes of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft (owned by tobacco giant Philip Morris) and Procter & Gamble. ILSI was originally led by the vice-president of Coca-Cola and the funding of its regional groups, like ILSI-India, comes primarily from industry. Both Monsanto and Syngenta are on ILSI's governing board of trustees.
But that won't have made them uneasy bedfellows for Sharad Pawar. The Indian Government has signed up to an Indo-US pact with George Bush to promote biotechnology in Indian agriculture - an initiative overseen by a board including the agribusiness giant ADM, Wal-Mart and Monsanto.
P Sainath describes multinationals like Monsanto as having played a "devastating" role in India's current farm crisis. But it's policy makers like Sharad Pawar who've promoted their interests and given them free rein.