2 good articles from India Together:
1.Chor Bt aur Bt chor - P Sainath
2.Rice in a private grip - Devinder Sharma
EXCERPT: Fake and costly inputs have placed lakhs of farmers in grave danger... Equal numbers are at risk from 'legal' Bt cotton. Many are buying into false claims of yields between 12-18 quintals per acre. "There is no evidence they will get even seven quintals per acre," says Jawandia. "Very often Bt's own literature shows us how false the advertisements for it are." (item 1)
1.Chor Bt aur Bt chor
India Together, 29 September 2005
Fake and costly inputs have placed lakhs of farmers in grave danger. Further, despair has led many to embrace costly Bt cotton as some kind of magic bullet. Meanwhile, Bt cotton has not only been attacked by other pests, it's been struck by the bollworm itself. For many, the results could be deadly, writes P Sainath.
What does it take to be a seller of seeds in Maharashtra? A diploma in agriculture? Or one in engineering? What skills do you require?
"Only one," smiles K.K. Milmile. "You need to know how to count the money that comes in." Milmile is one of the biggest input dealers in Yavatmal district. And he worries about the fake inputs plaguing the farm community in this cotton territory. Quite a few suicides are linked to the damage these have done. The ongoing season could see many farms in Maharashtra's Vidharbha region sunk by this problem alone.
"Maybe 90,000 packets of legal Bt cotton have sold in Yavatmal this season," says Milmile. But here's the catch. "About 2.5 lakh packets of 'illegal' Bt seed have also been sold. What damage will these do? It's scary."
No less scary, though, is the 'legal' Bt cotton seed itself. In Andhra Pradesh approval for three varieties of Bt cotton seeds has been withdrawn following disasters there. Here, bloated claims of performance have sold many packets but ground realities are grim. "Here," says Suresh Bolenwar in Hiwrabarsa, gifting us a bollworm from a plant in his field right in front of us. "This is 'legal' Bt for you. It needs spraying for pests other than the bollworm - and now for the bollworm itself." Major newspapers in Vidharbha have begun reporting more bollworm attacks on Bt cotton in the region.
[image caption: 'Illegal' or 'non-royalty' Bt cotton seed packet. With no manufacturer's name or address on it. Dubious inpits are a major threat to farmers this season. However, the risks with 'legal' Bt are no less. (Photo by P Sainath)]
Bolenwar says some farmers have done better with 'illegal' Bt cotton . In Wardha, kisan leader and farm activist Vijay Jawandia scoffs at the term 'illegal.' He calls it "non-royalty Bt." "All it means is that Monsanto and other companies won't get Rs.1,250 in royalty on each packet. That is how much they extort from the farmer. Both types of Bt are equally risky, anyway," he laughs.
He has a point. If 'legal' Bt cotton could shatter Bolenwar's large holding, 'fake' Bt cotton (or 'chor Bt' as people here call it) killed small farmer Ramkishan Thakre. The packet of seed that he used bears the brand name "SUNNY" on it. It bears no manufacturer's name or address. "BesT Cotton seeds" says the packet, emphasising the 'B' and 'T' in 'Best' - to pass it off as Bt.
This is the "non-royalty Bt" mainly from Gujarat. It sells at Rs.850 a packet (against Rs.1,600-plus for 'legal' Bt cotton and Rs.450 a packet for hybrid cotton seed). It is sold by "direct marketing" in the villages. Often through local creditors enjoying leverage with the farmers.
Equal numbers are at risk from 'legal' Bt cotton. Many are buying into false claims of yields between 12-18 quintals per acre. "There is no evidence they will get even seven quintals per acre," says Jawandia. "Very often Bt's own literature shows us how false the advertisements for it are."
Besides, sowing Bt cotton could cost a farmer Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000 more per acre than hybrid cotton would. The seeds are three times costlier. It means far higher spending on irrigation and fertilizer. And, as Bolenwar shows, it still needs spraying. The fiasco in Andhra Pradesh supports his finding. And also trashes Bt's major claim - which is less spending on pesticide. So the 'profit' it brings to the small farmer is highly suspect.
Another major worry is that very few Bt fields show the "buffer zone" that is supposed to surround Bt cotton. That is, a border of non-Bt crop. That buffer is meant to ensure the pest takes longer to develop a resistance to Bt cotton.
Its absence could devastate both Bt cotton and next door non-Bt crops, say farmers here. They fear this could see the rise of a "super pest."
But Bt cotton or not, the larger issue of spurious inputs is explosive. Fake stuff exists in fertilizer and pesticide as it does in seed. And the scale of it is massive. So-called legal producers have been behind some of the fake inputs.
Yavatmal has some 1,200 krishi kendras today. That is double the number a decade ago. It has just one quality control inspector for the whole district. Most shop owners have no qualifications for their role. But as Collector Harshdeep Kamble points out, quite reasonably, a diploma-holding input dealer could be as bad as the others. "If his intent is wrong, there will be damage," he says.
At that level, this is true. The fact, though, is that the scuttling of larger regulatory structures in agriculture has brought immense harm.
"Private seed companies," points out Jawandia, have been given "a free hand in the name of research cotton. There are no regulations, no scrutiny. Agricultural universities put out no more than 3-4 varieties in 10 years. Then how do these companies bring twenty varieties to the market in ten years? Because that's where they are doing their testing. On the lives of the farmers. Using them as guinea pigs in experiments that could destroy millions."
With the banks turning down lakhs of farmers seeking crop loans, many turn to their inputs dealer as the new moneylender. Ramkishan Thakre had bought his bogus seed from his creditor. "I'm ashamed to say that our trade has got so linked with sahucari," says Milmille in Yavatmal. This creditor-debtor equation lets the new sahucar do more than extort money from his clients. He can also sell them those inputs he wants them to use.
Today, lakhs of farmers use large quantities of inputs of very suspect quality - both legal and illegal. Despair has seen tens of thousands embrace Bt cotton as a magic bullet. Many of these own non-irrigated lands with little acreage to experiment on. So for a lot of them, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
The sale of non-Bt cotton seeds has fallen sharply, says Sunil Pawde, a dealer in Panderkauda. From about 15 lakh packets last year to five lakh this year. This means that both legal and non-royalty Bt cotton account for about a third of all sales. If the giant drama now underway ends in tragedy, the phrase "Chor Bt" could well be replaced by "Bt chor."
29 Sep 2005
(Courtesy: The Hindu)
P Sainath is one of the two recipients of the A.H. Boerma Award, 2001, granted for his contributions in changing the nature of the development debate on food, hunger and rural development in the Indian media
2.Rice in a private grip
India Together, 21 September 2005
Swiss biotech corporation Syngenta has tightened its monopoly control over rice. Seeking global patents over thousands of genes in rice, the multinational based in a country that produces no rice itself, is set to own the world's most important staple food crop, says Devinder Sharma.
The journey of rice, beginning with the emergence of wild rice some 130 million years ago, transcending through the Himalayas, passing through southern China, hopping to Japan, travelling to Africa, traded to Middle East and the Mediterranean, shipped to Mexico and America, has finally ended at the banks of river Rhine in Basel, Switzerland.
Swiss biotech giant Syngenta, based at Basel in Switzerland, has tightened its monopoly control over rice. Seeking global patents over thousands of genes in rice (a single grain of rice contains 37,544 genes, roughly one-fourth more than the genes in a human body), the multinational giant is all set to "own" rice, the world's most important staple food crop.
Interestingly, Syngenta and another seed multinational, Pioneer Hi-Bred, were earlier agitated when the European Patent Office (EPO) on May 6, 2003 upheld the European Patent No. 301,749, granted in March 1994, which provided Monsanto exclusive monopoly over all forms of genetically engineered soybean varieties and seeds -- irrespective of the genes used or the transformation technique employed. It appears Syngenta's objection to Monsanto's claim over soybean was only to ensure that the proprietary control over food crops remains with them.
The trade negotiators who have been relentlessly winding and unwinding the complex maze around intellectual proprietary at the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) negotiations, and the international scientific community had refused to see the signs on the wall. With the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) clearly and steadily backing the biotechnology industry's agenda of private control of the world's food supply, and with the governments of major rice producing countries of Asia refusing to wake up to the emerging threats, Syngenta has been allowed to take control.
Delivering a keynote at the inaugural ceremony of the International Year of Rice 2004 at Basel in Switzerland, which for understandable reasons was jointly organised by the Swiss government, this writer had warned against the strengthening of the private control over rice: "The celebration of the year 2004 as the international year of the rice is a toast to acknowledge the emergence of Switzerland on the world's rice map". Incidentally, Switzerland does not grow any rice.
A year later, Syngenta spilled the beans. In August 2005, in a communication to four NGOs -- Berne Declaration (Switzerland), Swissaid (Switzerland), the German NGO "No Patents on Life" and Greenpeace -- Adrian Dubock, head of Biotechnology ventures in Syngenta, stated: "Syngenta's original commercial interest (discontinued for now, but not necessarily for ever) was for sales in the industrialised countries of nutritionally enhanced crops, included, but not limited to rice." Accordingly, the patent on the GE rice will not be dropped because "Our shareholders wouldn't thank us if we had forgone that possibility." Yet the company claims there are no commercial interests in this technology at the moment.
The civil society groups had asked Syngenta to drop some of its rice patent claims. The proprietary claims are also aimed at other important food crops like wheat, corn, sorghum, rye, banana, fruits and vegetables besides others. The company claims that most of the gene sequences that it has 'invented' are identical in other crops and therefore the patent needs to extend to those crops also. In all, Syngenta has filed for mega-patents on 15 groups of gene sequences covering thousands of genes, peptides, transgenic plants and seeds, method of genetic engineering etc. One patent application, for patent 1 through 6, belongs to the 'same patent family' (application # 60/300, 112) and runs into 12,529 pages.
Syngenta claims it invented more than 30,000 gene sequences of rice. Syngenta in collaboration with Myriad Genetics Inc of USA had beaten Monsanto in the game of mapping the genetic structure of rice by sequencing more than 99.5 per cent of the rice genome. Top executives of Syngenta had then told the New York Times that while the companies would not seek to patent the entire genome, they would try to patent individual valuable genes. They categorically stated that Syngenta and Myriad were well on their way to finding many of those.
True to its words, Syngenta finally filed for global patents before the European Patent Office, US Patent and Trademark Office and the World Intellectual Property Rights Organisation (WIPO). Thanks to the untiring efforts of four civil society organisations, which have been on a hot trail of the patenting follies, the world would have never known the patently unfair designs of the private companies. While the company does acknowledge that the scope of many of these patents will be reduced as the examination of patents proceeds, but the mere fact that the scientific community and the Asian governments have turned into mute spectators is worrying enough.
Syngenta's efforts to seek control over rice have severe implications for the future of rice research and its resulting impact on food security and hunger. For countries like India or Japan, one of the seats of origin of rice, it is an ominous sign. In other words, biological inheritance of the world's major food crop is now in the hands of a Swiss multinational. If Syngenta's application for global patents is accepted, the Asian countries will lose all control that comes through 'sovereign' control over genetic resources (as defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992) of the staple grain.
Staple food for more than half the world's population, rice is part of the Asian culture, rice is the unstated religion of Asia, and in essence rice is the life of Asia. It is in Asia still that more than 97 per cent of the world's rice is grown. Nearly 91 per cent of world's rice is produced in Asia, and 92 per cent is eaten in Asia. Rice is the principal food of three of the world's four most populous nations: People's Republic of China, India and Indonesia. For more than 2.5 billion people in these three countries alone - rice is what they grow up with. For centuries, rice has been the sociology, tradition and lifeline for the majority world.
Syngenta has already made it clear that the patents will restrict access to the genomic map and expects proprietary control over any research carried out with the information. By denying access to these genes of commercial value, the company will in reality block public sector science in the developing countries. At the same time, it raises serious questions over the validity of the sui generis legislations that a number of developing countries are formulating to protect the rights of the researchers and farmers. This writer has time and again warned that the sui generis laws being framed under the trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPs) regime is merely a strategy to allow the passage of time while the seed multinationals tighten their private control over public property.
In essence, it is the beginning of a scientific apartheid against all Third World countries.
21 Sep 2005
Devinder Sharma is a food and trade policy analyst. He also chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security. Among his recent works include two books GATT to WTO: Seeds of Despair and In the Famine Trap