Conference organised by the Ministry of Agriculture on “Doubling Food Production in Five Years” – Ignoring Parliament – In brazen support of corporate interests at the expense of farmers

Coalition for a GM-Free India

New Delhi

29-01-2013

To

Shri Sharad Pawar,

Ministry for Agriculture,

Goverrnment of India.

Re: Conference organised by the on “Doubling Food Production in Five Years” – Ignoring Parliament – In brazen support of corporate interests at the expense of farmers’ – reg.

It has come to our attention that the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) is organising a Conference on “Doubling Food Production in Five years” from February 1-3, 2013 at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. On the face of it, it appears to be a regular program of the Ministry. However, two things draw our attention to this particular Conference : first, the predominance of vested interests acting behind it i.e, the ones promoting the Conference with full page advertisements in national newspapers – the Pesticide Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India(PMFAI), the National Seed Association of India(NSAI) and the biotech lobby group-ABLE and second, some of the “eminent” speakers selected to address the Conference – some of them controversial figures well known for their support of GM crops without supporting scientific facts or evidence.

Sir, you know very well that the Standing Committee on Agriculture of the Indian Parliament has in its path-breaking report of August 2012, come down heavily on this dangerous path that your Ministry is leading the country into. It said “In their tearing hurry to open the economy to private prospectors, the Government should not make the same fate befall on the agriculture sector as has happened to the communications, pharma, mineral wealth and several other sectors in which the Government’s facilitative benevelonce preceded setting up of sufficient checks and balances and regulatory mechanisms, thereby, leading to colossal, unfettered loot and plunder of national wealth in some form or the other, incalculable damage to environment, biodiversity, flora and fauna and unimaginable suffering to the common man.” [Para 3.48].

Many of the members of the Committee were UPA Parliamentarians, as you are aware.

It is grossly irresponsible, unscientific, misleading and completely unethical for the Ministry to blatantly promote technologies such as GM crops, when as a country, India is trying to come out of the pesticide tread-mill and make its production, agriculture and its farmers livelihood sustainable, safe and remunerative. It is also reprehensible that the Ministry of Agriculture, which is answerable to the larger public and the farmers is acting at the behest of the industries who stand to profit from these unneeded, hazardous technologies. We would also like to point out that the Ministry’s own inquiry through the Sopory Committee has brought to the fore egregious failings with regard to transgenic research and regulation in this country.

This blatant attempt by the Ministry makes it clear that MoA is not genuinely interested in addressing in any lasting fashion or acting in a scientific way when it comes to many problems in our farming, but is interested in blindly promoting certain technologies, for private and possibly vested and corrupt interests.

Food security of a country like India is not an issue the MoA should let vested interests sabotage; it requires serious efforts from the Ministry and its officials to listen to all stakeholders and to arrive at a well thought out and optimal solution to address it, drawing from various areas of expertise, experience and knowledge domains. We reproduce what the Parliamentary Standing Committee had said on this matter.

The present worrisome situation” as regards food security is primarily because of “faulty procurement policy, mismanagement of stocks, lack of adequate and proper storage, hoarding and lopsided distribution, massive leakages in the public distribution delivery system, etc.” It also adds categorically that “If these shortcomings and problems are attended to along with liberal financial assistance to agriculture and allied sectors, proactive measures are initiated to arrest the decreasing trend in cultivable area and farmer friendly and sustainable agricultural practices are put in use, there would not be any compelling need for adopting technologies which are yet to be proven totally safe for biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health and which will encourage monoculture, an option best avoided.”

The committee finally recommends that “the Government come up with a fresh road map for ensuring food security in coming years without jeopardizing the vast bio-diversity of the country and compromising with the safety of human health and livestock health.” [Para – 7.71].

It is unclear how your Ministry thinks that food security can be achieved with the help of the pesticide industry, the seed industry (that is increasingly playing into the hands of the biotech majors such as Monsanto) and the biotech industry with a single agenda of promoting genetically modified seed that is not only inadequately tested but also adequately patented so as to ensure a complete rout of our agricultural sovereignty!!! It is quite perplexing how the post-modern science and discourse in agriculture has evolved towards sustainability and agro-ecology all over the world, but is being denied vehemently by your Ministry in this country. The same applies to the nuanced understanding around the complexity of hunger and malnutrition, including structural poverty-related issues, whereas your Ministry wants unproven techno-fixes to be deployed as a one-size-fits-all solution.

It is surprising that solutions offered by globally recognised initiatives such as the IAASTD do not seem to have attracted your attention at all. And again here the Standing Committee on Agriculture has some excellent suggestions. It says “the Committee would like to remind the Government of India that they are a signatory to this path breaking effort (IAASTD Report) and in the opinion of the Committee, the Government would do well if they adopt this Report as the way forward for development of agriculture and allied sectors in India, in a sustainable and environmental friendly manner, and with no unwanted risks to biodiversity, human and livestock health, flora and fauna. The Committee also desire to be apprised of the concrete action taken by the Government on each of the findings contained in IAASTD Report during the four years after the release of the Report.” [Para 5.52]

All said and done, the Ministry of Agriculture seems to be least interested in anything that is even remotely connected to sustainability (farm as well as farm livelihood) and is only interested in helping corporate and MNC powers to dominate and profit, even at the cost of the lives of farmers and the hapless Indian consumer. There is also deep disrespect being shown towards the Indian Parliament, whose report your Ministry is ignoring and acting in contravention to its recommendations.

Hence, we are writing this letter to express our deep anguish and anger at the really worrying direction that your Ministry and hence the Government of India is leading Indian agriculture into. The fact that you are hosting people like Dennis Avery, Peter Raven, Patrick Moore and Mark Lynas to name a few demonstrates the desperation that your Ministry shares with the GM and pesticides industries to shove such dangerous technologies down the throats of the Indian public. As recently as last week the ruling party in its conclave promised that it will listen more to the people of the country, and this is definitely not the peoples wish!

Therefore, we are sending this letter to express our condemnation of such blatant vested interests being involved in policy-making and within the government. Moreover, there are accountability questions with public funds utilised for such promotional activities of profiteering industries and unscientific worldviews. The government should appreciate that this will only instigate a greater public outcry from citizens for their science, knowledge, experience and worldviews to be heard and taken on board, while shaping future directions.

We urge you not to go ahead with such a wrongly-founded Conference and also urge you to not host these controversial speakers and provide a platform to hazardous industries and waste precious public funds on events such as these.

With due respects and concerns

ridhar Radhakrishnan

Convener,

Coalition for a GM-Free India.

Copy to :

  1. Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

  2. Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson, United Progressive Alliance

  3. Sri.Jaipal Reddy, Minister for Science and Technology

  4. Smt.Jayanti Natarajan, Minister of State for Environment and Forests

Coalition for a GM-Free India is a broad national network of organizations, scientists, farmer unions, consumer groups and individuals committed to keep the food and farms in India free of Genetically Modified Organisms and to protecting India’s food security and sovereignty.

 Coalition for a GM-free India

c/o INSAF, A-124/6, First Floor, Katwaria Sarai, New Delhi 110 016, Phone/Fax: 011-26517814

Website: www.indiagminfo.org, email: indiagmfree@gmail.com, Facebook – GM Watch India

ANNEXURE:

The announcement of the Conference lists atleast two Chief Ministers, many ministers and officials from the Ministry of Agriculture. In addition there are representatives from FAO and ILRI. The CEO of one of the largest  agro-business corporations in Latin America and the President of EMBRAPA ( Brazil) find a place in the speakers list.  It also has four known  GM crop promoters. Some information on them is provided below:

A short note on the affiliations of some of the ‘eminent speakers’

  • Dennis Avery – Director of Hudson Institute1 , considered a conservative think tank, which is supported by large corporations including agri-business corporations2. He is an anti-organicfarming advocate and a strong supporter of biotechnology in agriculture, pesticides and a climate change skeptic.3 4
  • Mark Lynas  The biotech industrys newly minted star, according to his own profile is a speaker on climate change5, nowhere he is featured as an anti-GM activist. He began promotingGM crops since the last three years.6 He has claimed to have ‘helped start’ the anti-GM movement and also said to have ‘coordinated with Indian groups both untrue! The Coalition has already put out a detailed statement which can be accessed here.7
  • Patrick Moore Runs his own consulting firm which reportedly does “public relations efforts, lectures, lobbying.8According to Greenpeace (Moore uses his past link to GP even now)Patrick Moore is , “a paid spokesman for the nuclear industry, the logging industry, and genetic engineering industry, frequently cites a long-ago affiliation with Greenpeace to gain legitimacy inthe media.9 Greenpeace says “Patrick Moore frequently portrays himself as a founder or co-founder of Greenpeace, and many news outlets have repeated this characterization. AlthoughMr. Moore played a significant role in Greenpeace Canada for several years, he did not found Greenpeace.10 It is interesting to note that even in this profile for the Conference of Ministry ofAgriculture, he gives his long ago Greenpeace affiliation( which ended more than 25 years back) rather than his lobbying work of the past 20 years .
  • Peter Raven President Emeritus of Missouri Gardens which has a long standing and close relationship with Monsanto and is an advocate of GM crops.11 Missouri Gardens has beenworking with and receiving funds from Monsanto since 1999. Even as recently as May 2012 Monsanto gifted three million dollars to the Missouri botanical gardens.12 In addition many of thefacilities in Missuori Gardens are funded by Monsanto like the Monsanto Hall, Monsanto Center etc.13 Along with Monsanto the Missouri Botanical Gradens was one of the key groupsinvolved in forming the Danforth Plant Science Centre, which promotes GM crop research.14

10 ibid

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