Is Genetic Engineering Liberating Women?
Dr. Vandana Shiva
August 6 2010
*More Desperate Science from Monsanto & Co. about Bt. Cotton in India Empowering Women
Monsanto introduced its genetically engineered Bt. Cotton in India illegally in 1997-98. As a result of a case fought in Supreme Court by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, Monsanto Mahyco were not able to sell their Bt. Cotton seeds commercially until the 2002 planting season. Since then, Monsanto has established monopoly in the cotton seed market through licensing arrangements with Indian seed companies and "intellectual property rights". In India Bt. Cotton = Monsanto.
Further, since the establishment of seed monopolies and creation of dependence of farmers on seeds that must be bought every year, and increasing dependence on agrichemicals, the cotton areas have become zones of deep indebtedness for farmers. And un-payable debt is pushing farmers to suicide. Most of the 200,000 farmer suicides in India are in the cotton belt of Maharashtra, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and most cotton is now Monsanto's Bt. Cotton. Instead of addressing the crisis it has created, Monsanto continues to offer a "spin" of Bt. Cotton miracles.
In yet another example of the desperate "science" of Monsanto and Company, it is now being argued that Bt. Cotton has liberated Indian women in the region of Vidharbha, Maharashtra which records the largest acreage under Bt. Cotton and highest rate of farmer suicides. Arjunan Subramanian of HRI Warwick, Dr. Kerry Kirwan, Professor David Pink and Martin Qaim have put out a paper which says that Bt. Cotton produces massive gains for women's employment in India. This is one more in a line of earlier papers by Martin Qaim giving a spin that Bt. Cotton is creating miracles even while hundreds of thousands of Bt. Cotton farmers commit suicide. Arjunan Subramanian is Qaim's student and Qaim represents Monsanto & Co. Every "study" done by him is public relations for Monsanto. The present paper is no different.
Every level of the paper is fraudulent. First, the argument that women have been empowered because of the introduction of Bt. Cotton.
This is false on many grounds. Firstly, women have traditionally been seed keepers and seed breeders. The knowledge and skills related to seed conservation and seed breeding have been women's expertise. The seed economy was a women's economy. As long as seed was in women's hands, there was no debt and no suicides. Women have acted as custodians of the common genetic heritage through the shortage and preservation of grain. In a study of rural women of Nepal, it was found that seed selection is primarily a female responsibility. In 60.4 percent of the cases, women alone decided what type of seed to use, while men decided in only 20.7 percent. As to who actually performs the task of seed selection in cases where the family decides to use their own seeds, this work is done by women alone in 81.2 percent of the households, by both sexes in eight percent and by men alone in only 10.8 percent of the households.
Throughout India, even in years of scarcity, grain for seed was conserved in every household, so that the cycle of food production was not interrupted by loss of seed. The peasant women of India have carefully maintained the genetic base of food production over thousands of years. This common wealth, which had evolved over millennia, was defined as 'primitive cultivars' by the masculinist view of seeds, which saw its own new products as 'advanced' varieties.
The replacement of traditional varieties of seeds with genetically engineered Bt. Cotton is an appropriation of women's skills, knowledge and decision making on issues related to seed by corporations like Monsanto. This is disempowerment of women, not empowerment.
Secondly, women have played significant role in agriculture. As I wrote in report for the FAO, most farmers in India are women. The replacement of biodiverse cropping systems evolved by women with monocultures of Bt. Cotton imposed by Monsanto leads to decline of food production. This undermines women's food sovereignty and erodes food security. Food security in women's hands is women’s empowerment. Destruction of food security by destroying food crops undermines women's food sovereignty. This is women's disempowerment,
Further, it destroys women's work related to agricultural production and post harvest processing and food processing. Interestingly women's work related to food sovereignty has been defined as "femimanual" work.
Agriculture, the growing of food, is both the most important source of livelihood for the majority of the world people, especially women, as well as the sector related to the most fundamental economic right, the right to food and nutrition.
Women were the world's original food producers, and continue to be central to food production system in the Third World in terms of the work they do in the food chain. The worldwide destruction of the feminine knowledge of agriculture evolved over four to five thousand years, by a handful of white male scientists in less than two decades has not merely violated women as experts; since their expertise in agriculture has been related to modeling agriculture on nature's methods of renewablility, its destruction has gone hand in hand with the ecological destruction of nature's processes and the economic destruction of the poorer people in rural areas.
Agriculture has been evolved by women. Most farmers of the world are women, and most girls are future farmers. Girls learn the skills and knowledge of farming in the fields and farms. What is grown on farms determines whose livelihoods are secured, what is eaten, how much is eaten, and by whom it is eaten.
Women make the most significant contribution to food security. They produce more than half the world's food. They provide more than 80 per cent of the food needs of food insecure household and regions.
Food security is therefore directly linked to women's food producing capacity. Constraints on women's capacity leads to erosion of food security, especially for poor households in poor regions.
From field to kitchen, from seed to food, women's strength is diversity. Women’s capacities are eroded when this diversity is eroded.
Women’s work in the food system is based on their knowledge and skills. It is an exercise of their food sovereignty. Destroying women's food related work is dis-empowerment, not empowerment. In the Deccan area, cotton was not grown as a monoculture. It was grown with sorghum and pigeon pea and chilies. The knowledge of these biodiverse systems was women’s knowledge. The erosion of biodiverse systems goes hand in hand with erosion of women’s knowledge and their power related to knowledge. Women’s work and power in the food system has declined as a result of the introduction of monoculture Bt. Cotton.
This decline in women's knowledge, work and power with the introduction of Bt. Cotton is perversely hidden. The monoculture of the mind, focusing only on Bt. Cotton, falsely projects women's dependence on cotton picking as increase in employment and empowerment. And a second falsehood introduced is that the increase in cotton picking is because of increased "yields" of Bt. Cotton.
Patriarchal science and technology have rendered women's knowledge and productivity invisible by ignoring the dimension of diversity in agricultural production. As the FAO report on Women Feed the World mentions, women use more plant diversity, both cultivated and uncultivated, than agricultural scientists know about. In Nigerian home gardens, women plant 18 57 plant species. In Sub-Saharan Africa women cultivate as many as 120 different plants in the species left alongside the cash crops managed by man. In Guatemala, home gardens of less than 0.1 ha have more than ten tree and crop species.
In a single African home garden more than 60 species of food producing trees were counted. In Thailand, researchers found 230 plant species in home gardens. In Indian agriculture women use 150 different species of plants for vegetables, fodder and health care. In West Bengal 124 "weed" species collected from rice fields have economic importance for farmers. In the Expana region of Veracruz, Mexico, peasants utilize about 435 wild plant and animal species of which 229 are eaten. Women are the biodiversity experts of the world.
Women's work in cotton picking which Monsanto and Co. celebrate and project as an increase in absolute terms has increased because monocultures have replaced mixed cultivation of cotton with food crops. The increase in cotton is because of the replacement of biodiverse farming with cotton monocultures, and the expansion of acreage under cotton. It is not because of higher yields of Bt.
Cotton. The introduction of the Bt. Gene into crops is not a yield increasing technology. It is a toxin production technology. All that increases is production of toxin. The yield traits come from the hybrid into which the Bt. gene is introduced. This is the case of cotton in India. It is also the case of all genetically engineered crops as shown by Doug Sherman in the report "Failure to Yield" of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The manipulated paper [by Subramanian and Qaim et al] says that women's additional work as cotton pickers reduces their household work which men do. However, men in the Bt. Cotton area are not becoming house husbands. They are committing suicide because of the high levels of indebtedness. Seed that used to cost Rs. 7 / kg became Rs. 3600 / kg with the introduction of Bt. Cotton. The Monopoly and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission forced Monsanto to reduce prices in response to a case brought by the Andhra Pradesh Government which argued that high prices were killing farmers. The case on seed monopolies and high seed prices still continues.
In addition, even though Bt. Cotton is supposed to control pests, the bollworm has become resistant and new pests have emerged. Farmers in Vidharbha are using 13 times more pesticides than they did for conventional cotton. High costs of seeds and pesticides lead to debt, debt leads to suicides, creating Bt. Cotton widows, not liberated "housewives".
The tragedy of thousands of widows in Vidharbha, with the majority traced to debt linked to Bt. Cotton is now being covered up with the latest spin from Monsanto & Co. that Bt. Cotton has liberated the women of Vidharbha.