Another controversial seed-based project favoring big corporations is emerging in Rajasthan, after the recent controversy around MoUs with seven seed companies by the state government which led to a scrapping of the agreements due to civil society pressure. Releasing a Fact Finding Report on Project Golden Rays of the Rajasthan Government here today, civil society activists and farmers’ leaders demanded to know how this project came about and who is really benefiting from the project. They pointed out that there is no scientific basis on which the large project has been undertaken with poor tribal farmers of the state, that accountability systems were completely missing, that food and nutrition security questions are coming to the fore with projects such as this and asked for an immediate scrapping of the project.
“The Rajasthan government has utilized around eighty crores of rupees from the public-funded central scheme called Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana to expand the proprietary seed markets of anti-farmer corporations like Monsanto. It is apparent that there is no basis on which particular companies and particular brands of seeds have been chosen for this project called Project Golden Rays, in five tribal districts of the state. There is no process visible by which this project has been designed and implemented – why and how are such decisions related to Public Private Partnerships and other projects being taken? Why is it that public sector varieties tested for the growing conditions of farmers in these regions are not being promoted? Why is it that farmers’ preferred varieties are not being improved with these kinds of investments? Where is the ex-ante impact assessment of this project, which has assessed short, medium and long term impacts of such a project? Given that many of these villages are Schedule V areas, why is it that the local governance structures were not consulted and involved in the project formulation stage? Even the weak seed laws in the country do not seem to apply to these projects, increasing the vulnerability of farmers in case of failures as happened this year. There are several issues of concerns with this project as a fact finding visit show and the project should be scrapped immediately. Further, farmers who incurred losses should be compensated”, said Dr Alok Vyas of CECOEDECON, Jaipur.
Rajasthan government has been implementing Project Golden Rays from 2009, utilizing funds from RKVY, in Banswara, Dungarpur, Pratapgarh, Sirohi and Udaipur. The project is huge in its magnitude and in 2011-12, the project is supposed to have covered seven lakh farmers. The Fact Finding visit was undertaken in December 2011 by civil society activists from different parts of the country, for a rapid assessment of its implications on food and livelihood security in addition to environmental sustainability.
The Fact Finding team had the following to say: “It is obvious from our interactions with farmers from three districts (Udaipur, Dungarpur and Banswara) that the yields with proprietary hybrid maize from Project Golden Rays are not as high as claimed or projected; in fact, they are on par with desi varieties of the farmers. Further, there are emerging questions on food security with this project as farmers do not prefer consuming hybrid maize and the fact that shelf life of hybrid maize grain is significantly lower. Further, monocropping is increasing, which in turn affects resilience of a farm as well as food/nutrition security of a poor family, especially in the era of climate change. It is also clear from our interactions that the adverse weather conditions in which a majority of farmers cultivate their crops are not suitable for the hybrid maize seeds being promoted. The cost of cultivation is shooting up with hybrid maize and it is foreseeable that the poor farmers in the region cannot sustain the kind of investments that this technology requires. Our fact finding visit clearly shows that there is misplaced and inappropriate emphasis on hybrid maize and that too, proprietary hybrid maize in this project and we want to know who is ultimately benefiting from this project”.
Even though there are public sector maize lines (composite as well as hybrid) tested and cleared for these parts of Rajasthan, Project Golden Rays chose to promote seeds of Monsanto, an American MNC ignominous the worldover for its environmental pollution and anti-farmer behaviour. It is only in 2011 Kharif that the Rajasthan government, coming under pressure from critics of the PPP project, changed its seed procurement procedures to open bidding and included other seeds too in the project. There have been no questions asked about the high seed price charged by this corporation in two years of the project before the open bidding took place, even as no compensation has been paid to loss-incurring farmers.
Reiterating the demand to the Rajasthan government to immediately scrap the project, Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture) which organized the fact finding visit, along with Astha and Vagad Mazdoor Kisan Sanghatan, questioned whether such aggressive promotion of maize is really supposed to cater to enhanced food security needs of the country. “If that is the case, why is the larger picture showing that 51% of maize is being utilized for Poultry Feed, 11% for Animal Feed (62% in all for Feed!), 11% for Starch, 1% for Seed, 1% for Breweries and only 25% as Food in India? If that is the case, why are cultivars which are not suitable for local food consumption, but for other purposes being promoted? Why are cultivars that cannot be stored by the farmer’s family for more than 2-3 months being promoted? Why are agronomic practices that increase mono-cropping being promoted? Will this benefit industry or poor tribal farmers, in the name of Food Security?”, she asked. She lamented the fact that sustainability and accountability, in addition to self-governance for development by tribal communities are all critical missing components in the project.
Nilesh Desai of Beej Swaraj Abhiyan, who was also a part of the fact finding visit pointed out that seed sovereignty is being compromised by these ill-thought-out projects by governments, where medium and long term concerns are being given the short shrift. “It is not as though alternatives to such projects, which will focus on livelihood improvement of the farmers, are not present. There are certainly several examples which show that alternate seed production and supply mechanisms can be put into place which do not compromise seed sovereignty, which rely on suitable composite lines etc.. Further, agro-ecological approaches to cultivation will ensure higher net returns rather than promoting chemical-based intensive farming. We would like governments to scale up such efforts”.
The fact-finding team demanded for the immediate scrapping of the project in Rajasthan, and instead asked for appropriate financial investments on projects that promote food security and seed self-reliance at the grassroots level.