1.Agribusiness versus poor farmers
2.Punjab agriculture director cosying up to Monsanto
EXTRACTS: [Director of agriculture, Mangal Singh] was at a private function of Mahyco Monsanto in a hotel here on Monday.
Mangal Singh is rare to be seen at any of the interaction programmes with farmers and the Kisan Melas [agricultural extension meetings for farmers] of his own department. However, this wasn't his first time as guest of Mahyco Monsanto in the district.
1.Agribusiness versus poor farmers
Syed Mohammad Ali
The Express Tribune, November 6 2012
The stalemate between the Punjab government and a US-based agribusiness giant is indicative of the increasing complexity of interests involved in agricultural production. The Punjab government remains keen to gain access to genetically modified (GM) seeds, especially Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) cotton, yet remains reluctant to ensure intellectual property rights of Monsanto, the multinational corporation (MNC) which owns this technology.
In the absence of adequate patent protection capacity, Monsanto is demanding that a fine of between $12 and $15 per acre be paid by the Punjab government. The Punjab government seems ready to make a one-time payment to Monsanto for the right to permanently market its seeds and then let farmers share these seeds amongst themselves. Monsanto, however, wants that farmers be compelled to purchase its seeds for each sowing season.
While sharecroppers and small-scale farmers increasingly rely on expensive pesticides and fertilisers, the majority of them still uses seeds from preceding harvests or borrows seeds from other farmers, instead of purchasing expensive seed varieties. Although there are now hundreds of companies in Pakistan, licensed to market seeds, they still account for about a third of the total market share.
MNCs are thus keen to tap this market potential. Our Senate textile committee is in favour of promoting the use of BT cottonseeds to boost cotton production for the textile industry. International agencies such as the World Bank and the WTO also support the need for protecting intellectual property rights of multinational corporations and place faith in their high-tech solutions for boosting agricultural productivity.
However, environmentalists and development practitioners point to the adverse impacts of using GM seeds. Some of them insist that BT cottonseeds do not protect the crop from the sorts of pests most prevalent in Pakistan and may even be dangerous for consumers.
Reluctance to using GM seeds is not confined to Pakistan alone. Via Campesina, the global, million-strong peasant movement for land, seed, and food sovereignty, particularly in the Latin American countries, stresses how poor farmers produce ecologically sustainable and healthier crops, than a monoculture of crops using GM seeds.
In India, while these expensive seeds promised lucrative profits, multitudes of poor farmers experienced crop failures leaving them heavily indebted and compelling hundreds of thousands of suicides. Genetic modification of seeds is also deeply unpopular in Europe. French scientists have just released a study claiming that rats fed GM corn or exposed to its top-selling weedkiller suffered tumours and multiple organ damage.
After a damning report of a parliamentary committee on agriculture, the Indian Supreme Court recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all GM foods and the termination of all ongoing trials of transgenic crops across India. Such developments need to be given attention by our Technical Advisory Committee of the National BioSafety Committee, which has recently allowed field trials of BT corn in the country.
Besides health safety issues, critics point out that BT corn is a highly-pollinating variety and its pollen can easily travel and contaminate adjoining crops using normal seeds, inhibit their seed germination and even make farmers with contaminated crops liable to patent infringement.
The existing version of our Plant Breeders Rights Bill 2012 is primarily focused on acknowledging corporation patent rights instead of protecting farmers concerns. The drafters of this bill should have paid greater attention to how other developing countries, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ethiopia, and Vietnam, have sought to protect farmers' traditional knowledge and biological diversity in their legislative measures.
There is little evidence on the ground of attempts to bolster indigenous seed stocks to prevent the potential monopoly of GM seeds in our rural areas. This is an issue which NGOs and other development agencies working with poor farmers must particularly turn their attention to.
The writer is a development consultant and a PhD student at the University of Melbourne
2.Bt cotton: no seed of doubt left
Kamaldeep Singh Brar
Hindustan Times, November 6 2012
[image caption: Director of agricultre Mangal Singh Sandhu speaking at a promotional event of private cottonseed firm Mahyco Monsanto in Bathinda on Monday.]
Bathinda - Jury is still out on the benefits of Bt cotton to farmers but the Punjab agriculture director has given his decision in favour of the seed's unfinished next version.
Private cottonseed producer Mahyco Monsanto has earned big support from director of agriculture Mangal Singh Sandhu for the launch of its under-trial technology in Punjab. The company has projected the seed as answer to the weed problem.
The next phase of the introduction of Bt-cotton seed in the state, thus, is about to begin. On January 9, the union ministry of agriculture issued an internal advisory to the cotton-growing states, which suggested that farmers were in economic crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. "The spate of farm-related suicides in the year 2011-12 has been severe among Bt-cotton growers," it added.
Coming up as next generation of the Bt-cotton seed, Roundup Ready Flex is still an experimental technology of Mahyco Monsanto. Only the government of India can allow the introduction of any new genetically modified crop in states.
However, director of agriculture Mangal Singh Sandhu has said he will go ahead and recommend a technology similar to Roundup Ready Flex to the chief minister for the control of cottonweed. He was at a private function of Mahyco Monsanto in a hotel here on Monday.
Mangal Singh is rare to be seen at any of the interaction programmes with farmers and the Kisan Melas of his own department. However, this wasn't his first time as guest of Mahyco Monsanto in the district. He accepted the company's invite even earlier this year.
Bathinda is the cotton belt of Punjab and private companies host their functions here to promote new products in the district. The presence of top agricultural official of the state at such functions helps the company make a good impression on farmers.
The company press release suggests that farmers invited to the event require herbicide-tolerant cotton technology in the upcoming sowing season, and they have made a written requisition to agriculture director Mangal Singh Sandhu.
"Sandhu endorsed the benefits of BT cotton as experienced by the farmers of Punjab, and was in agreement with the farmers' statement about weed challenge and the need of biotechnology that built herbicide tolerance in cotton," the release read.
The department of agriculture supported the introduction of new technology such as Roundup Ready Flex for the benefit it promised to the cotton farmers of Punjab, Sandhu said on the occasion.
He affirmed that he would recommend the experimental technology to the CM as best alternative for diversification to quit the wheat-paddy cycle.
What is Monsanto
A US multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation headquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri; leading producer of genetically engineered seed and glyphosate herbicide.
Monsanto and India
Monsanto has a controversial history in India, starting with the accusation that it used terminator genes in its seeds (farmers get no seed from the plant and have to keep buying it year after year). It brought demonstrations against the company.
Later, its genetically modified cotton seed was the subject of NGO agitation because of its higher cost. In 2009, high prices of Bt cotton were blamed for forcing farmers of Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh into severe debt when the crop died because of lack of rain.
In 2009, insects developed resistance to the Bt cotton planted in Gujarat and Monsanto communicated to the Indian government and its customers that it was natural and expected, and they should switch to its second generation of Bt cotton (Bolguard II) that had two resistance genes instead of one. The ministry of environment suspected it could be a business strategy to phase out single-gene seeds and promote double genes that were costlier.
In the early 2000s, farmers in Andhra Pradesh were in economic crisis because of high interest rates and crop failure, leading to social unrest and suicides. Monsanto was the focus of protests with regard to the price of its Bt seed and poor yields.