The Monsanto/Bill Gates Plot: Genetically Engineered Rice Threatens Asian Countries

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has approved $20 million in new monies toward the development of “golden rice” — an untested, highly controversial GE (genetically engineered) crop that threatens biodiversity and risks bringing economic and ecological disaster to Asia’s farms.

The leader of the Golden Rice project is Gerald Barry, previously director of research at Monsanto.

Sarojeni V. Rengam, executive director of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), has called the rice a “Trojan horse.” According to Rengam, the rice is “… a public relations stunt pulled by the agri-business corporations to garner acceptance of GE crops and food. The whole idea of GE seeds is to make money.”

Food Freedom reports:

“Golden rice is a Trojan horse for pushing through GE-friendly biosafety regulations under the guise of humanitarian aid. Once in place, these regulations open the door for the biotech industry to bring in commercial, patented GE crops; USAID and Monsanto accomplished exactly this in Kenya with their sweet potato project.”

In Thailand at least, however, a little known and unpublicized agricultural policy protects Thai rice from the risks of GMO’s. The Thai Ministry of Agriculture’s “Rice Strategy” is a master plan committed to strengthening the nation’s rice production while promoting farmers’ livelihoods and consumer confidence — which includes keeping Thai rice GMO (genetically modified organism)-free.

Adding to the risks of GE crops is Monsanto’s Roundup, the world’s best-selling herbicide that is made to be partnered with GE Roundup Ready crops. According to a new report, regulators have known for years that Roundup causes birth defects.


Regulators were apparently aware as long ago as 1980 that glyphosate, the active chemical ingredient of Roundup, caused birth defects in lab animals. However, the information was not made public. Instead, regulators misled the public about glyphosate’s safety.

According to the Huffington Post:

“… [A]s recently as last year, the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, the German government body dealing with the glyphosate review, told the European Commission that there was no evidence glyphosate causes birth defects …

Although glyphosate was originally due to be reviewed in 2012, the Commission decided late last year not to bring the review forward, instead delaying it until 2015. The chemical will not be reviewed under more stringent, up-to-date standards until 2030.”

By Dr. Mercola, June 21, 2011
Straight to the Source

Ending Indifference: A Law to Exile Hunger?

Harsh Mander

Current Issue : VOL 46 No. 25 June 18 – June 24, 2011, EPW

Can we agree in this country on a floor of human dignity below which we will not allow any human being to fall? No child, woman or man in this land will sleep hungry. No person shall be forced to sleep under the open sky. No parent shall send their child out to work instead of to school. And no one shall die because they cannot afford the cost of hospitals and medicine. Can we agree that whatever this costs, we will pay? A comprehensive National Food Security Act will be the first step in ensuring a hunger-free India.

Download Full Article


Bihar is turning its attention to popularising and promoting organic farming in the state to usher in a new “Green Revolution”

Submitted on 06/21/2011 – 09:20:03 AM

Patna: After good roads, improving law and order, education and health services, Bihar is turning its attention to popularising and promoting organic farming in the state to usher in a new “Green Revolution” in agriculture.

In a bid to spread awareness about benefits of organic farming among farmers, hundreds of national and international organic farming scientists and experts are expected to gather in the Bihar capital here for a three-day conference beginning Wednesday.

“This conference of national and international organic farming scientists and experts will boost the government’s plans of attracting farmers to adopt organic farming,” Bihar Agricultural Management and Extension Training Institute Director RK Sohane said.

An official in the agriculture department said the effort was part of the preparation of a progressive agriculture road map for the state for the next five years.

The government has decided to promote organic farming in at least one village of all 37 districts.

“The Bihar government launched an ‘organic farming promotion programme’ early this year for the cultivation of organic crops in all the districts. The government has decided to develop organic villages for which Rs 255 crore has been sanctioned for five years,” an official of the Agriculture Department said.

There is adequate quantity of animal dung, compost, rotten crops and fodder for use in organic farming, the official said.

Agriculture Production Commissioner AK Sinha said that after delivering organic litchi of Muzaffarpur, the government has selected Zardalu mango variety and Katarni rice of Bhagalpur for organic farming.

In April, Bihar became the first state to set up an agriculture ‘cabinet’ to improve the agrarian sector and address the plight of the farmers. This move was seen as not only big news for the millions of farmers of Bihar, but the beginning of turnaround for the agriculture sector.

“This will help Bihar achieve a second ‘Green Revolution’,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh said.

He said that agriculture scientists and farmers had expressed concern over diminishing fertility of the soil due to the constant use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and had requested the government to take measures to improve conditions.

The government chalked out a roadmap for the agriculture sector in 2008.

“Several steps, including promotion of modern techniques of farming, organic farming, use of improved seeds among others, have been taken in last two-three years but it is still a long way to go in developing the agriculture sector,” the Agriculture Department official said.

Agriculture is the backbone of Bihar’s economy, employing 81 per cent of workforce and generating nearly 42 per cent of the domestic product.


Is NREGS stealing labour?

The coexistence of both job and labour shortages points to the urgent need to tweak the scheme and reform labour laws
Ajit Ranade /  June 21, 2011, 0:54 IST

The data on last year’s economic growth in India had one curious aspect. It was related to construction activity. Usually it is a sector that is highly correlated with the overall economy. It captures commercial and residential real estate, public and private infrastructure and decisions of millions of single home builders, as also their architects, masons, painters and bricklayers. If we had a better organised mortgage market and more transparent process of title registrations, we could also have used “housing starts” as a leading indicator of the economy. After all when home builders commit themselves to creating a housing asset, it represents a substantial long-term financial commitment and vote of confidence for the future. Hence, housing starts if properly measured are a good bellwether of what to expect in the economy. The proportion of decision makers who are building a single home (not a flat) is remarkably high in India, and if these decisions are aggregated systematically, they can be a good leading economic indicator. Last year, the construction services grew at only 8 per cent, below the GDP growth rate of 8.5 per cent. This is odd, since the services sector as a whole (which makes up two-thirds of GDP) usually grows faster than GDP, making up for slow growth in agriculture, and also industry that fluctuates around the mean. But even more curiously, the cement and construction material sector grew at less than 6 per cent, much below the GDP. This kind of negative divergence has not been seen for a long time. This abnormal deviation does not have one solid explanation. It seems to be a combination of several factors. Unseasonal rains caused some disruption. The protracted elections in five states caused many public projects to be temporarily suspended. The Telangana agitation and related uncertainty caused many construction-related investments to be put on hold. Subsequently, there is the impact of repeated interest rate increases which have affected private construction negatively. Many of these factors have appeared in previous business cycles, during which cement and construction still kept ahead of GDP growth. So, were there any new factors?

NREGSOne new factor is the shortage of sand, owing to a ban on sand mining in certain key markets like Maharashtra. The ban was motivated, in turn, due to environmental damage. The second new factor is the shortage of labour. It is remarkable that several construction projects across the country have been hit by an acute scarcity of not just skilled but unskilled workers as well. These workers would be typically migrant labour from states like Bihar and Orissa, and also from eastern Uttar Pradesh. This shortage of workers has been an important supply bottleneck, which explains the shortfall in construction activity.

The Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Association says they are facing a shortage of 10 million workers. The absence of workers is being felt in other sectors as well, such as rubber plantations of Kerala, or rice and wheat fields of Punjab, or garment units around Tirupur. Even diamond polishing and ship-breaking activities are running into labour scarcity. For a country with an impressive demographic advantage, this is a strange phenomenon. We have people but they are not available. And it is not as if there is an abundance of jobs that is causing this labour scarcity. Any government recruitment camp, whether it is the railways, or the police, or even cooks and gardeners for the Indo-Tibetan Border Patrol, attracts a stampede of applicants. There are hundreds of seekers for every low-level government job. So, there is a simultaneity of job and labour shortage.


For some time now, many employers have been muttering about the role played by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in the emergent labour shortage.  Whether it is farmers in Punjab, or construction projects in Mumbai, or garment makers, they are all saying that the NREGS is keeping labour from moving out. If you can get minimum wages at home (with relatively less hardship), why would you venture out halfway round the country? This year the NREGS completed six years, and it is growing in strength. Social audits are getting better, leakage is reducing, women and Dalit participation is substantial. It is the world’s largest publicly sponsored employment programme, and it generated more than 2.5 billion person-days of work last year. But this makes up less than 2 per cent of all work, so how can you blame the NREGS for labour shortage? That’s because at the margin, it has a bigger impact. Thanks to this scheme, wages have risen by 30 to 100 per cent across sectors. In agriculture, higher farm wages, coupled with a need to introduce labour saving mechanisation, lead to much higher costs, causing higher food prices. Even though employment creation is only 2 per cent, the number of NREGS job card holders is 50 per cent of the workforce. Even highly urbanised states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have a high number of NREGS card holders. The scheme was supposed to be an unemployment insurance proxy. But it has become an entitlement scheme, and is now manifesting as a distortionary labour market intervention.

It is time to tweak and reform the NREGS. The scheme was inspired by Maharashtra’s three decade-long successful experiment with the rural employment guarantee. But even in Maharashtra, the scheme was periodically tweaked. It was modified to include private sector activity (like horticulture) and higher capital outlay for better asset creation. The NREGS definition should now be expanded and private- sector employment like farm, garments and construction should be made eligible to be counted as NREGS. After all the government will not be paying this additional bill. Just as the public distribution system was modified in 1997, the NREGS can also be made region-specific (“targeted”). It was meant for the most backward districts initially, and that focus can be re-introduced. It was meant for only one adult member of every rural household, not all adults. Most importantly, the NREGS’ success is not to be seen as an end in itself to be pursued mindlessly. Instead, it is to be seen in terms of its long-term impact on rural livelihoods, productivity enhancement, asset creation, labour markets and, of course, public budgets. It is very important that NREGS converges back to being an unemployment insurance, and does not expand and swallow everything else.

The author is chief economist, Aditya Birla Group.
The views expressed are personal


Why our food is so dependent on Oil?

Are we eating food or oil? Why our food production is so dependent on oil and what are links between the ways of production, consumption and climate change? Two interesting articles on this topic

Why Our Food is So Dependent on Oil

Eating Oil: Food Supply in a Changing_ClimateFighting Global Warming at the Farmer’s Market The Role of Local Food Systems In Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The cost-effective way to feed the world


By 2050, the world will have to feed 9 billion people, adapt to climate change, reduce agricultural pollution, and protect fresh water supplies – all at the same time. Given that formidable challenge, what are the quickest, most cost-effective ways to develop more productive, drought-, flood- and pest-resistant crops?
Some will claim that genetically engineered (GE) crops are the solution. But when compared side-by-side, classical plant breeding bests genetic engineering. Coupled with ecologically based management methods that reduce the environmental harm of crop production, classical breeding could go a long way toward producing the food we will need by mid-century.
Producing better crops faster certainly would help the world feed itself, but genetic engineering has no advantage on that score. Not only can classical breeding programs introduce new varieties about as fast as genetic engineering, technical improvements are making classical practices even faster.

Early steps in the genetic engineering process avoid the multiple rounds of cross-breeding inherent in classical plant breeding by directly inserting engineered genes into the crop. But seed companies then use classical breeding to transfer engineered genes to the crop’s numerous varieties for different markets and climates – and that takes time. And just as in classical breeding, new engineered varieties must be tested in the field for several years to ensure they perform as expected.
Second, GE crops are significantly more expensive to develop. Industry estimates of the cost of developing a single GE trait are in excess of $100 million. By contrast, a classical breeding program for similar traits typically costs about $1 million. Most of the cost differential is attributable to GE crops’ research and development requirements, which include DNA synthesizers and sequencers and other expensive equipment, in addition to classical breeding facilities.
Genetic engineering might be worth the extra cost if classical breeding were unable to impart such desirable traits as drought-, flood- and pest-resistance, and fertilizer efficiency. But in case after case, classical breeding is delivering the goods.
Plant breeders have already produced drought-tolerant varieties of sorghum, corn, rice, cassava and pearl millet – all critical for poor farmers in developing countries. Genetic engineering, meanwhile, has yet to commercialize its first drought-tolerant crop varieties. U.S. biotech companies have been working for years on drought tolerance, but two of the three varieties they plan to introduce within the next two years are the result of classical breeding.
Scientists using classical breeding enhanced with genomic information – a process called marker-assisted breeding – also have produced rice varieties that can tolerate flooding. These varieties, now cultivated in the Philippines, Bangladesh and India, are expected to increase food security for 70 million of the world’s poorest people.
Classical breeders likewise have developed papaya resistant to ringspot virus and corn that can fend off destructive rootworms – traits previously touted as requiring genetic engineering. And in Uganda, scientists have successfully bred sweet potatoes to resist virus diseases, while a multimillion-dollar, multi-year project in Kenya to genetically engineer similar virus resistance failed.
Finally, classical breeding and better farm management are responsible for all the yield increases for soybeans and most of the yield increases for corn in the United States. Recent yield increases are often erroneously attributed to genetic engineering, but data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and academic scientists show that even during the past 15 years that GE crops have been commercialized, classical breeding and crop management improvements contributed the large majority of the increases, not the newly inserted genes.
Public sector crop breeders have succeeded despite shoestring budgets at public universities, international institutes and the USDA. By contrast, the biotech industry’s lavish budgets have produced commercial crops with only two types of GE traits. More than 60 percent of all GE crops planted worldwide are merely designed to survive being doused with herbicides.
So if the conventional wisdom is wrong, and classical breeding is superior, what does that mean for public policy?
Federal and state governments should dramatically increase their support for tried-and-true, cost-effective classical breeding technology – including better funding for breeding programs at public universities and nonprofit institutes where breeders can work with farmers to develop a wider range of farmer-ready crop varieties. Big biotech companies do not focus on small-acreage crops, which include most fruits and vegetables. Nor do they market many classically improved varieties without including their patented engineered traits, which doesn’t help farmers who don’t want to grow GE seeds or pay the high prices biotech companies charge for them.
We are not suggesting that genetic engineering has no role to play in developing improved crops. But its modest contributions come with an extremely high price tag. If we are going to meet the challenges of feeding a growing population and protecting the environment, the scientific evidence says we place our bets on technology that works – classical breeding.
Margaret Mellon is the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program. Doug Gurian-Sherman is a senior scientist in same program. Readers may write to them at: Union of Concerned Scientists, 1825 K Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20006-1232; website:
This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

Read more:

Response to the Stakeholders workshop on GM foods organised by Asia Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology and TAAS on 19th May in New Delhi

Dear Colleagues,

This is in response to the attached 6-page report of a one-day (on 19 May 2011) meeting titled “Stakeholders’ Interface on GM Food Crops” at IARI, New Delhi. The meeting was organized by Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB) and Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS). APCoAB is a program of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) whose Executive Secretary at present is Dr R.S. Paroda (and he has held this important position for about 13 years). TAAS is a New Delhi based trust whose founder Chairman is also Dr R.S. Paroda.

The names of seven reputed scientists that are mentioned in the attached report are Dr. M. K. Bhan, Secretary, DBT; Dr. S. Ayyappan, Secretary, DARE and DG, ICAR; Dr. R. S. Paroda, Former Secretary, DARE and DG, ICAR, Dr. Manju Sharma, Former Secretary, DBT and Dr. R.B. Singh, President, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), Dr. M. S. Swaminathan and Dr. G. Padmanaban. The last two persons did not attend this meeting and organizers stated, in the attached report, that messages were received from them and circulated in the meeting. Names of eminent persons in the report is creating a perception that the output has their support. It may be noted that in the past, Dr. M. S. Swaminathan as head of the Task Force on Agri-Biotech of the Government of India has cautioned against transgenics in crops for which India is the Centre of Origin/Diversity. In addition, he has stated other do’s and don’ts on use of GM technology (see Chapter II, point 1.6 of report of Task Force on If indeed all scientists in the meeting support these recommendations, it is urged that they read (particularly the sentences in red-font) what authors of the seven publications in the Appendix I told the world through their research on GM crops or published reviews. It may be noted that all of these publications are in peer-reviewed journals, Indian or international.

As one would note from Appendix I, there is ample research data suggesting that the GM food/plants, released as of now by commercial companies, were either harmful to the environment and/or to the health of test animals. Yes, there are reports that their use improved yield of relevant crops. The side effects of the GM crops are harmful enough to caution against their promotion unless more research is done, including on their long-term effects. It is worth noting that synthetic pesticides like “Endosulfan” were also stated as safe by vested interests when released by the Government. It is after more than a decade that the public noted its harmful effects (particularly in Kerala) and now-a-days withdrawal of this pesticide is being talked about. But still the vested interests are preventing to get rid of such toxic chemicals. Moreover, Bt-GM is also a pesticide of new kind that has been developed to kill only one particular insect and its sub-species, while a given crop gets attacked by several insect-pests.

I trust that the organizers of the one-day meeting have seen these publications and the data provided in them, because all of these were available online before the meeting was held on 19 May 2011. If yes, they should have provided built-in safeguards in the recommendations of the meeting. If not, it is not a healthy sign for progress of science in India.

Agricultural Scientists should support every agro-technology or agri-practice that empowers small holder farmers/producers (about 80% of farmers in India own 10 acres or less), meets their nutrition, health, food and cash needs, improves their purchasing power, increases their net income. The desired/targeted agro-technologies should also be eco-friendly, sustainable and should address issues related to climate change. With the available data and information to us, GM technology, as of now, does not fit these criteria.
On the other hand, several low-cost and eco-friendly agri-practices without synthetic pesticides are scientifically sound and are being used by a large number of farmers in India. Some of the practitioner farmers are award winners from different states for their innovations and/or for high yield. It is unfortunate that hardly any research institution is promoting these practices as pro-actively as they are for GM technology. An assemblage of such practices without synthetic pesticides was called Non Pesticidal Management (NPM) by Dr. M.S. Chari (former Director, Central Tobacco Research Institute, an ICAR institute), a renowned entomologist while working with the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, an NGO based in Secundrabad. The NPM further graduated to Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) in partnership with the Federation of Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) in Andhra Pradesh in 2005 onward. It has been proved to alleviate poverty in Andhra Pradesh (see After evaluation/verification, the CMSA is being scaled-up by SERP (Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, a program of the Government Andhra Pradesh) from 2007-08 season. In the 2009-10 season it was practiced on 23 lakh acres spread in 8033 villages. In the coming season (2011-12), the Andhra government plans to extend the practice to 35 lakh acres and cover 8500 villages under this program (personal communication, Dr. D.V. Raidu of SERP, phone: 09000400509). A video ( ) and report ( is available for those interested to have more data/information.
I would like to end this response note by the following views of COLIN TUDGE, a biologist and writer (see full article on
“Can we still rely on what scientists tell us? Alas, no. Their conferences and papers are sponsored by industry, their bad results are concealed, their jobs are threatened if they step out of line….. .

In agriculture the conflict is even more stark. The real threat of genetically modified crops is not that they will poison us but that they are designed to place all agriculture, including that of the developing world, in the hands of a few companies. If the developing world takes its farming down the western industrial route that those companies follow, half of its enormous population will be permanently out of work. All in all, anyone who believes that big corporations do work in the interests of all humanity is living on another planet. Yet I have met many people in high places who do believe this.

More pernicious still is the way that privatisation has corrupted the fabric of science itself. Science is dead without honesty, which should be judged as the lawyers judge it: the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As things are, this most fundamental principle is compromised at every turn. Bad results are concealed; apparently favourable results are bruited in the spirit of PR; people are bought and/or threatened so that they comply, and even that once final guarantor of honesty, “peer review”, is now routinely circumvented.

The above views are a wake-up call for scientists, science managers and policy-makers. For scientists to maintain their credibility, it is suggested that organizers of conferences/workshops on scientific topics of public interest, particularly of controversial nature, provide internet-interface (eg. e-conference) so that more stakeholders can participate in the discussions. A report brought out by less than 50 persons in conference halls cannot decide on the fate of the millions of the cash poor small-holder producers in the Asia Pacific region in general, including those in India.

Readers are urged to share this document widely.

Om Rupela
former Principal Scientist, ICRISAT

Response to TAAS report by Dr Rupela

Stakeholders interface GM food crops

Sticky: Bt gene harms GM plant: New answers to old questions on biosafety of GM crops

Issue: Jun 30, 2011

G V Ramanjaneyulu
Entomopathogenic bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and its toxins have been extensively used for pest control in agriculture and forestry and in public health programmes since the 1930s. At the core of such application are protein crystals that get synthesised when Bt cells develop spores. The proteins called Cry (from Crystal) are inimical to certain insect groups.

Transgenic plants containing Bt genes, commercially available since the 1990s, are developed by transferring genes to produce specific Cry proteins like CryIAc and Cry2AB. It is presumed the genes perform the same function of producing the toxin in the plant as they were doing in the bacterium and hence are safe for the environment.

However, field experiences show various problems: allergenicity, toxicity to non-target organisms and effects on soil fertility. Industry and pro-GM scientists dismiss such problems, asserting that Bt toxins have no unintended effects and claiming that GM and non-GM crops are substantially equivalent. Latest studies have raised questions about such claims. In an article in the June 2011 issue of Journal of Biosciences, Delhi University scientists reported that the expression of the Cry1Ac endotoxin has detrimental effects on the development of transgenic plants. The plants that showed appreciable CryIAc expression were phenotypically abnormal: they were malformed. This suggests preferential selection is at work while transgenic plants mature: those that express low level of Cry1Ac have better chances of coming through compared with ones expressing appreciable levels of the gene.

Deepak Pental, one of the authors of the paper, is a member of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) and was the chairperson of the Expert Committee-I on Bt Brinjal.

Several researchers, including Kesavraj Kranti, director of the Central Institute of Cotton Research and member of GEAC, have observed that the expression of the Cry1Ac gene is not uniform during the life cycle of the Bt cotton. Kranti has also observed that the expression of Cry1Ac protein is highly variable in different parts of eight Bt cotton Bollgard hybrids and—more importantly—the expression declined progressively over the plant’s life cycle. He observed the lowest expression in the ovary of flowers and rind of the young green bolls—the sites most preferred by the bollworm—implying the crop could be most vulnerable to insect attack during flowering. This could hugely reduce crop yield.

Low expression of the Cry1AC gene will also negate the Insect Resistance Management strategy, which dictates the toxin level be several-fold higher than that required to kill all target insects. The low expression militates against development of plants bearing high levels of the toxin. Bt cotton in Gujarat and other areas in the country where the pink bollworm has become Bt-resistant are most likely plants with low levels of CryIAc expression. Bt Brinjal is likely to meet the same fate because the brinjal and fruit shoot borer it targets is a monophagous pest like the pink bollworm—it feeds only on brinjal.

The reason for the detrimental effects of Cry1Ac on plant growth and development is not known. However, the finding gives leads to understanding several problems about Bt genes.

Phenotypical abnormality in plants with high levels of CryIAc expression could be a result of a metabolic aberration during the process of gene transfer or gene itself. Such metabolic abnormality can also cause allergies and produce toxins detrimental to non-target organisms like friendly insects, soil microbes, cattle or other mammals, including humans, feeding on the plants or its products. Earlier reports on toxicity to monarch butterflies, reduced soil fertility and the controversial phenomenon of animal morbidity/mortality could be explained with more research along these lines.

The authors suggest that targeting of Cry1Ac into chloroplasts rather than nuclei can lead to plants expressing higher levels of Cry1Ac and better insect resistance. However, the finding that expression of a Bt toxin per se is detrimental to plants is significant since the toxin was thought to harm only certain insects. The findings reveal large knowledge gaps and actual problems associated with Bt crops. Bt crops should be banned till further research shows the technology can be precise, predictable and controllable in addition to being safe.

The author is a scientist with the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad

Feed-grade maize turns costlier than wheat

New Delhi/Chennai, June 15:

Chickenfeed is far from that. Today, it is probably as, if not more, expensive to feed chicken than humans!

Feed-grade maize, or corn, sells at Rs 1,230-1,240 a quintal, which is more than the Rs 1,150-1,200 for wheat in most mandis near key producing centres.A year ago, maize ruled at Rs 960-980, while wheat quoted over Rs 1,250.

. On the futures market, too, maize is ruling above wheat. The most actively traded maize contract for July delivery quotes at Rs 1,306 a quintal against Rs 979.30 during the same time last year. In the case of wheat, the actively traded contract for delivery in July is quoting at Rs 1,197.80 against Rs 1,223 a year ago.

Far-month contracts of maize for delivery in September are ruling at Rs 1,332 for maize (Rs 988). In the case of wheat, they are traded at Rs 1,244.20 (Rs 1,266.40).

The trend is similar globally too, with the July corn contract at the Chicago Board of Trade quoting, for the last one week, higher than the corresponding futures price for wheat (See chart).

This is the first time since 1996 that the wheat-corn spread has turned negative over a sustained period — contrary to the general perception that wheat, being a foodgrain, would trade at a healthy premium to corn.

Corn prices have surged on multiple floods hitting the crop in the US, the biggest producer, lower carryover stocks and demand for ethanol.

Given that an estimated 60 per cent of India’s corn production is turned into poultry and animal feed, would the relative cheapness of wheat lead to its displacing the former as the preferred food for chicken and livestock? Not yet, says Mr Balram Yadav, Managing Director of Godrej Agrovet Ltd, the country’s largest feed miller, which consumes half a million tonne of corn every year.

“Corn has a calorific value of 3,400 Kcal/kg, which is more than the 3,080 Kcal/kg for wheat. So, in terms of energy equivalent, wheat prices have to drop to below 90 per cent of corn for being viable to be incorporated into compounded feed formulations,” says Mr Yadav.

However, Mr K.S. Ponnusamy, a feed producer in Tamil Nadu’s Namakkal district, says that if the landed price of wheat is on a par with maize price then they would go for equal mix of wheat and maize.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 16, 2011)

Rajasthan seed initiative wilts: MoUs with biotech seed companies in limbo as protests force a rethink

Author(s): Latha Jishnu
Issue: Jun 30, 2011

Krishi Vigyan Kendras of agriculture universities are conducting little research (Photo: Jyotika Sood)
Ten months after Rajasthan signed its extraordinary memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with seven biotech seed companies, the state government finds itself caught in a cleft stick. Owing to a series of protests by farmers’ organisations, the government has thought it prudent not to execute the MoUs. At the same time, with pressure mounting from some of the seed companies to formalise the agreements, it has been unable to put together a policy framework for the public-private partnerships (PPPs) it wants to implement.

When Rajasthan signed MoUs with seven seed companies, it was seen as a pathbreaking initiative on PPPs in agriculture. Never before had any state government signed such wide-ranging PPPs that brought together the departments of agriculture and horticulture along with four state agriculture universities (SAUs) and the Rajasthan State Seed Corporation. Nor had any state initialled such a comprehensive agreement as with Monsanto that would involve the total recast of its agriculture. The MoUs, although non-binding in nature, signalled a dramatic policy shift, with private companies getting access to the entire range of the state’s research facilities to test and market their hybrid seeds (see ‘Rajasthan Opens Farm Gates’, Down To Earth, November 1-15, 2010).

The MoUs were signed with Monsanto Company of the US, represented by its wholly owned subsidiary Monsanto India Ltd and the majority-owned Monsanto Holdings Pvt Ltd (MHPL); PHI Seeds Ltd, the Indian arm of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a DuPont business; leading Indian biotech seed companies Advanta India, JK Agri Genetics, DCM Shriram Consolidated and Krishidhan Seeds, and local company Kanchan Jyoti Agro Industries on different dates in July-August 2010. The state government claims these were the first to respond after it wrote to two dozen companies asking them to enter into PPPs.

Predictably, there were protests over the nature of the PPPs by farmers’ organisations and NGOs. The biggest rally was held on March 14 outside the Vidhan Sabha when legislators were meeting for the 2011 budget session. According to reports from Jaipur, around 1,000 farmers had gathered outside Legislative Assembly demanding that the MoUs be scrapped. Alok Vyas of the Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society (CECOEDECON) explains that the campaign was initiated by Sajha Manch, a collective of 150 community organisations, and Kisan Sewa Samiti Mahasangh, because the PPPs had not taken into account the concerns of farmers. The Mahasangh is a federation of farmers’ organisations that works on agriculture-related issues and has been opposing genetically modified or GM crops for a long time.

And what are the farmers’ concerns? Vyas says that apart from the haste and secrecy with which the agreements were concluded, farmers were suspicious why public institutions like the agriculture universities and their facilities such as Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) that provide the research link to farmers had been made available to companies such as Monsanto without any conditions. This was a clear violation of democratic norms since these institutions were being handed over to private companies without discussion. Besides, “Monsanto will charge for the seeds and technologies developed by using public infrastructure,” says Vyas.

With protests turning into an anti-Monsanto campaign, the company had at one time criticised the “incorrect and unbalanced news reports” put out by the media, which misrepresented the facts and did not share the real perspective on the PPPs’ benefits, besides “wrongly and unnecessarily” implying that Monsanto was the only private company to partner with the state government. Now, however, Monsanto is not speaking. It has refused to respond to queries from Down To Earth (DTE).

According to sources, representatives of the biotech industry have been meeting officials in Jaipur, urging that the MoUs be executed through specific agreements. These representatives are known to speak for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a powerful lobby group for international GM crop developers. ISAAA is funded, among others, by Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, JK Agri Genetics and Mahyco, a Jalna-based seed company in which MHPL has a 26 per cent stake. Two of these companies have signed MoUs with Rajasthan.

The Ashok Gehlot government’s efforts to find a way out of the impasse have not been very successful. In January, it set up a five-member committee of experts to suggest the next course of action before making the MoUs operational.

Meeting on February 14 for the first time under the chairmanship of Amar Singh Faroda, former vice-chancellor of Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, the committee proposed measures that have done little to resolve the state government’s dilemma. If anything, these have added to the uncertainties surrounding the MoUs.

The recommendations are broadly this: SAUs should do basic and applied research on their own; public sector hybrids/varieties can be included in PPPs with non-exclusive rights according to university guidelines. Private companies should produce and market these under their original names and without losing the standard genetic purity. Another measure suggested by the committee to meld the strengths of the public and private sectors is that the latter should harness the scientific manpower available with state and provide funds to conduct research that would specifically “be in the interest of the company, state and the farmer”.

It is a carefully put together committee that includes Sain Das, formerly director of maize research at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Shivraj Singh, former adviser to the World Bank on plant breeding, and Surjeet Singh, agricultural economist with the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur. However, its suggestions (see ‘What the experts committee recommended’) have not met with approval from the state government.

Agriculture minister Harji Ram Budrak is reported to have rejected its recommendations but in a conversation with DTE, he said: “Another meeting will be called to discuss these suggestions but we have not fixed a date yet.”

So where does Rajasthan go from here? While multinationals in the group are getting increasingly restive over the government’s dilatoriness, farmers’ organisations say they will continue to oppose the MoUs. The Sajha Manch points out that in the name of R&D (research and development) Monsanto experts will define the need and direction of future research. “This in itself is dangerous because it allows a purely-for-profit entity to take such important decisions but worse, the document (MoU) clearly avoids fixing accountability in case of any crop failure or loss to the farmers.”

A senior government official dismissed such fears, saying that the MoUs were not contracts. Speaking to DTE on the condition of anonymity, he said: “The specific agreements we sign with the companies will incorporate all safeguards. We have taken the MoU route only to promote Rajasthan’s agriculture which is under severe stress.”

His argument is that KVKs, which provide farmers with the critical vital link to technologies developed by the research laboratories, are in the doldrums. “For the past two decades there has been no recruitment. Many of the KVKs hardly function and the average age of technician/scientist is 50 years. PPPs were planned to infuse fresh blood and research from the private sector into the system,” pointed out the official who was involved in putting together the MoUs. “Believe me, it was a well-thought-out move.”

Not so, says a former chief justice of the Rajasthan High Court Pana Chand Jain. He has questioned the legality of the agreements on several grounds: Were all those who signed the MoUs authorised to do so? Being institutions providing education, can universities enter into PPPs with private companies? The rules say that all government property or anything related to government needs to be auctioned. So how could the PPPs give away their land to private companies without going through due process? Justice Jain also says the Rajasthan has violated Article 299 of the Constitution, which deals with government contracts, by entering into PPPs.

For Rajasthan that’s a lot of legal mess to sort out before it can commence its agriculture revamp.