Category Archives: Articles

Torch bearers for millet seed security

Jan 19, 2014:
The National Biodiversity Authority has recognised 30 villages in Zaheerabad of Medak district of Andhra Pradesh that grow traditional and fast-disappearing as Agricultural Biodiversity Heritage Site (ABHS).

The Andhra Pradesh State Biodiversity Board (APSBB), which finally gave green signal for the rare recognition, has sent its recommendation to the National Biodiversity Board, which has approved the proposal making these villages to become first villages in India to be recognized as ABHS.
“The file is now with the agricultural department. By the end of January we will announce these villages as ABHS with or without their opinion,” a determined APSBB Chairman Dr R Hampaiah says. Thus, the dryland villages in four mandals and the 5,000-strong women farmers of the Deccan Development Society () that grow only “forgotten millets” without or pesticides will join the list of 27 such other sites around that world by February.
“Nowhere in the world 60 different varieties are cultivated in 30,000 acres and the seeds are distributed among women farmers, assuring food safety and saving the environment,” says Dr SN Jadhav, Member Secretary, APSBB.

The 500-year-old banyan tree in Pillamarri tree spread on three acres of land in Mahbubnagar district and the rare forest on Tirumala hills are the other two sites in Andhra Pradesh that have such special recognition.

In fact, a few months ago, three members from the Board—Anisetty Murthy, Ashok Kumar and Hampaiah– had visited the farms to see the amazing agricultural biodiversity that was being conserved and propagated by the women of DDS.

The announcement added vigour to the 15th edition of biodiversity festival in Algole, a small village in Zaheerabad mandal in Medak district, from where a month-long bullock cart caravan yatra begins and tours 70 villages in all the four mandals of the heritage site, encouraging people to adopt forgotten crops.

“We are now trying introduce the concept in 18 other states in the country. The DDS even had its impact in Africa, where women are trying to take back farming from the hands of commercial organisations,” added DDS Director PV Sateesh.

While agriculture in other parts of the country was in doldrums, the sangham farmers were completely self-reliant as far as food, seeds and farming are concerned. When farmers elsewhere were facing the indignity of having to stand in long queues to access government supplied seeds, women of the DDS were staking their claim to the elusive mantle of food sovereignty.

Women of the DDS also succeeded in drawing the attention of the government to the need for including millets in government food programmes like , the mid-day meal scheme and so on; the spate of orders asking for the inclusion of millets in these schemes is a testimony to the extent of success of the women of the DDS.

Some women farmers of the DDS also can handle the latest version of digital camera, the daily narrow cast of the Sangham FM radio and help save bio-diversity by cultivating forgotten millet crops with equal élan. Women camera operators of the Community Media Trust (CMT), probably the only such media house in the country, can handle, shoot, edit and produce short films without any outside help.

The initial toil and success of women was then presented to the outside world through photos and then videos. Then came the launch of the CMT, which has been winning several laurels for its amazing media work over the last decade.

The CMT runs a women’s video collective (WVC) and the first-ever community radio of India called Sangham Radio. While the WVC has been functioning since 1996, the Sangham Radio took up Narrowcasting since 1998 and has been on the air since October 2008, broadcasting two hours every day. Both these outfits are managed entirely by women from farming communities.

Chinna Narsamma, a small farmer who made a film “Community Conquers Hunger”, said that the sanghams were the first group in India to have started 100 days of employment for the poor, which preceded MGNREGA by 20 years.

Summer employment

Through this employment programme which they called summer employment, they brought over 5,000 acres of near fallow lands under cultivation, produced more than a million days of employment in 30 villages in 10 years and started producing over 20 million kg food every year. This was the first step in abandoning hunger in their sanghams.

Zaheerabad Punyamma added that the sanghams started leasing lands and launched collective farming groups on these leased lands and produced additional food for their families.

In two decades, the sanghams have leased more than 1,000 acres of land and produced over half a million kg of food for their groups. Dandu Swaroopamma, a community filmmaker and a member of the DDS Food Sovereignty Trust said that the sanghams have brought over 4,500 acres of cultivable fallows under cultivation and produce nearly a million kg or more food every year.

They have done poverty mapping of their villages and identified over 10,000 families as recipients of their jowar-based millet rations. Each family has received a ration card through which they can draw between 10-25 kg of jowar every month depending on their poverty status. The jowar is sold at 25 per cent of the market price to the identified poor.

Begari Laxmamma, a community filmmaker and a community keeper, pointed out that all these villages have their own community banks from which any farmer can borrow nearly 50-80 varieties. Thousands of women in these villages have their own household banks and never depend upon outside seeds. Thus these villages have become sovereign.

Thammali Manjula, filmmaker and a coordinator of the Community Food Sovereignty programme, says “Our films have nothing dramatic but depict our lives and it’s about how we conquered hunger.”

J B S Umanadh in Hyderabad

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/381375/torch-bearers-millet-seed-security.html#

Agricultural fertilizer chemicals in water causing neonatal deaths?

original article http://people.brandeis.edu/~nmenon/Draft04_Agrichemicals_Water_Brainerd_Menon.pdf

NEW DELHI: India has been struggling to bring down neonatal mortality rate which accounts for 75% of infant deaths in the country. A paper published in the Journal of Development Economics indicates that the high mortality of neonates (babies less than 29 days old) might be due to the exposure to fertilizer chemicals in water, especially in rural areas where agriculture is the main occupation for women.

The paper titled, Seasonal Effects of Water Quality: The hidden costs of Green Revolution to infant and child health in India, examined the impact of fertilizer agrichemicals in water on infant and child health using water quality data combined with data on child health outcomes. According to the authors, Elizabeth Brainerd, Nidhiya Menon of the Department of Economics in Brandeiss University, the results of their study indicated that children exposed to higher concentrations of agrichemicals during their first month experienced worse health outcomes on a variety of measures. It also showed that these effects were most pronounced among the most vulnerable groups, particularly the children of uneducated poor women in rural India where women constituted 55-60% of agricultural labour.

“The women are directly exposed to chemical applications that are made to the soil to improve productivity; their children are exposed to these contaminants both before and after birth. This exposure may contribute to the relatively poor indicators of child health in India: Indian children have one of the highest rates of stunting and wasting among all developing countries. These rates are higher than predicted given the level of per capita income and infant mortality rates in the country,” stated Nidhiya Menon in an article about child health outcomes.

Despite a decline in infant mortality, neonatal mortality rate in India at 35 deaths per 1000 live births, remains more or less static and is among the highest in the world. Three quarters of these deaths happen in the first week of life and about 20% occur within the first 24 hours of birth.

According to the paper, the presence of fertilizer chemicals in water in the month of conception significantly increases the likelihood of infant mortality in general and neonatal mortality in particular. This, the authors explained was as expected as neonatal mortality is understood to have also occurred from things that happened at the pre-natal stage or before birth which could be in utero exposure. The presence of toxins in water in the first month after conception is also significantly associated with reduction in other measures such as height-for-age and weight-for-age for children below five years of age, stated Menon.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Agricultural-fertilizer-chemicals-in-water-causing-neonatal-deaths/articleshow/29019929.cms

Séralini retraction is black mark on scientific publishing – Georgetown professors

Hundreds of studies should be permanently removed from the scientific literature, but the Séralini study is not one of them, say two professors at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Rounding up scientific journals

Adriane Fugh-Berman and Thomas G. Sherman,  Bioethics Forum, Jan 10 2014

http://www.thehastingscenter.org/Bioethicsforum/Post.aspx?id=6684&blogid=140&utm_source=constantcontact&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=bioethicsforum20140110 (links to sources at the url above)

Scientific journal publishing reached a low point in November, when the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology retracted a study by Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues at Caen University in France. The study, published in November 2012, assessed the effect of feeding rats corn genetically modified to withstand treatment with Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup for two years (that is a lifetime in rat years). Small amounts of Roundup were added to the diet of one group of rats.

The purported advantage of genetically modified “Roundup-ready” crops is that herbicide can be spread directly on crops, killing weeds but not the crops. Most previous animal studies had found no ill effects of genetically modified crops, but Séralini found that animals that ate the genetically modified corn or ate Roundup itself developed more cancers and died earlier than control animals.

A sustained and vitriolic attack on Séralini’s paper began within hours of publication. Thirteen letters to the editor were published in the journal, accusing the authors of a multitude of errors including using the wrong strain of rats, using the wrong number of rats, and animal cruelty for allowing tumors to grow to a large size. Fraud was implied. The authors wrote a comprehensive, reasoned response, and that should have been that.

Instead, a year after publication, the journal announced that it was retracting the study.

According to SpinWatch, a European muckraking organization, 11 of the authors of letters to the editor slamming Séralini’s study had undisclosed financial relationships with Monsanto. In 2013, Paul Christou, the editor of Transgenic Research, coauthored an attack on Séralini and the FCT editors in his own journal, calling for a retraction of the study. Christou did not disclose his multiple conflicts of interest, including being an inventor on patents on GM crop technology, many of which Monsanto owns. Meanwhile, back at Food and Chemical Toxicology, a new position for an associate editor was filled by Richard E. Goodman, a University of Nebraska professor who previously worked for Monsanto, and who has a longstanding association with the industry-funded International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). Months later, Elsevier, FCT’s publisher, announced the retraction.

The quality of Seralini’s work aside, the process by which his paper was retracted reeks of industry pressure. The progression of science is not the least bit linear, but the process has to proceed unencumbered by censorship of unpopular or commercially disadvantageous results. The peer review process is imperfect – there are countless bad studies in the medical literature – but peer review works best when the efforts of reviewers and editors are devoid of conflicts of interest and outside pressures. The self-correcting nature of science can only work when industry does not taint the process.

According to the Committee on Publication Ethics, a group that advises medical editors and publishers on ethical issues, particularly, how to handle cases of research and publication misconduct:

Journal editors should consider retracting a publication if:

  • they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)
  • the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper crossreferencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication)
  • it constitutes plagiarism
  • it reports unethical research.

There are hundreds of studies that should be permanently removed from the scientific literature, but the Séralini study is not one of them. The FCT retraction announcement very clearly states: “Unequivocally, the Editor-in-Chief found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data” – and then goes on to say, incredibly, that the study is being withdrawn because the journal’s own review of the primary data show that the results are inconclusive.

Inconclusive? Until a hypothesis is proven, all results are inconclusive.

It would have been perfectly appropriate for the journal to have written an editorial expressing its concerns. Instead, it seems the editors may have succumbed to industry pressure to do the wrong thing. The media coverage in the U.S. has been one-sided; criticism of Séralini’s study has been widely covered in mainstream press, while information about the conflicts of interest of critics have remained in the alternative press.

Anecdotally, we have heard several stories of journal editors being pressured by industry to suppress publication of papers that cast a commercial product in a poor light. How often does this intimidation occur? It would be a service for the editors and writers involved to make these stories public. Industry should not be allowed to intimidate medical and scientific journals, and journal editors need to have a united front against industry influence and a unified strategy on how best to combat it.

The retraction of the Séralini study is a black mark on medical publishing, a blow to science, and a win for corporate bullies.

Adriane Fugh-Berman MD and Thomas G. Sherman PhD are associate professors in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC). Dr. Fugh-Berman directs PharmedOut, a research and education project that promotes rational prescribing. Dr. Sherman chairs the Graduate Advisory Committee at GUMC and teaches medical and graduate courses in biochemistry, genetics and nutrition.

వ్యవసాయ రంగం పై ‘జేపి’ ఆలోచనలు

Comments on JPs articles on GM crops and price policies

వ్యవసాయ రంగం పై లోక్సత్తా ‘జయప్రకాశ్ నారాయణ్’ గారి ఆలోచనల పై తొలకరి సంపాదకులు ‘రవి’  రాసిన వ్యాసం.

Women Living Near Pesticide-Treated Fields Have Smaller Babies

Women in northern California farm towns gave birth to smaller babies if they lived within three miles of strawberry fields and other crops treated with the pesticide methyl bromide, according to researchers

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=women-living-near-pesticide-treated-fields-have-smaller-babies

By Lindsey Konkel and Environmental Health News

 

HAZARDOUS FARMING: A soil fumigant, methyl bromide is deemed critical to the practice of strawberry farming despite its harmful effects on Earth’s protective ozone layer. Now it is believed to be behind reported smaller birth weights of women in northern California farm towns.

Women in Northern California farm towns gave birth to smaller babies if they lived within three miles of strawberry fields and other crops treated with the pesticide methyl bromide, according to researchers.

“There’s been very little research on residential exposure to methyl bromide. Our study is the first to look at methyl bromide and birth outcomes,” said Kim Harley, study author and associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

The soil fumigant, which is injected into the soil before planting, can volatize into the air, exposing nearby neighborhoods.

Use of methyl bromide has been declining over the past decade under an international treaty that phases out chemicals that deplete the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Strawberries and a few other crops are exempt under the ban because they are deemed “critical uses.”

The researchers studied babies born to 442 pregnant women, mostly Latinas from Mexico, living in the Salinas Valley in 1999 and 2000, when methyl bromide was widely used. Its use near each woman’s home was based on data from the state’s Pesticide Use Reporting system.

Use of the pesticide within three miles of the home during the second trimester of pregnancy was associated with an average birth weight about 4 ounces less than babies from areas with no methyl bromide use.

That 4-ounce difference is about half the birth weight decrease linked to smokingduring pregnancy, the researchers said.

The significance of the slightly smaller babies when it comes to their health is unknown because they are within normal ranges. Only 4 percent of the babies were born at what is considered a low birth weight, less than 5.5 pounds. Low birth weight babies may be at risk for developmental delays and learning problems.

“This data would be more meaningful if it demonstrated that exposure led to abnormality,” wrote Giffe Johnson, a toxicologist at the University of Southern Florida who studies pesticide levels in agricultural workers.

Harley said that while the clinical significance of the findings remains unclear, “for a baby on the low end of normal birth weight, 4 ounces could make a big difference.”

Harley also noted that while this group of agricultural workers, and Mexican immigrants in general, tend to have healthy birth weight babies, “across the board, we saw a shift toward slightly lighter babies.”

One major limitation is that no one knows how much methyl bromide the women were actually exposed to. Their exposures were estimated based on their addresses, with no actual measurements.

“A woman could work 12-hour shifts 40 miles from home or spend little time outdoors near her own home. It’s impossible to say whether these estimates represent an accurate picture of exposure,” said Myles Cockburn, an epidemiologist at the University of Southern California who studies pesticides.

About 41 percent of the women did some field work while pregnant, although few worked in fields that had been treated with methyl bromide.

The link to birth weight was reported only for exposures in the second trimester, not for the first or third trimesters. “The second and third trimesters are major periods for fetal growth. The second trimester may be a critical period for exposure to the pesticide,” Harley said.

Previously, animal studies have suggested that methyl bromide may harm fetal development.

While strawberry growers have been trying to replace methyl bromide for several years, no suitable alternatives have been found to work on a large scale.

Methyl bromide use has been cut nearly in half in California since 2002, but growers there still used almost 4 million pounds in 2011, according to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Despite the decline in usage, “the findings remain very relevant for the farm worker population, especially those living in agricultural areas where strawberries are grown,” Harley said.

The methyl bromide study is part of a 14-year, ongoing project by the scientists to investigate potential health effects of environmental exposures on children born in the Salinas Valley, one of the nation’s most productive agricultural regions.

The California Strawberry Commission and CropLife America, a trade group representing pesticide manufacturers, were unavailable for comment on the new study.

This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.

India: Direct cash transfers is aimed at dismantling food procurement, and moving away from food self-sufficiency.

#DevinderSharma

Some weeks back, I was participating in a panel discussion on on a national TV channel. While the discussion wheeled around the merits and demerits of cash transfer, I think the anchor was taken by surprise when I said that is in effect a ‘cash-for-vote’ programme. Supporting my argument with a World Bank study for Latin America, I found the entire focus of the discussion thereafter shifting to whether the real intention behind the aggressive push for is aimed at the 2014 elections.

While the media as well as most panellists who frequent the TV channels, for some strange reasons, were and are still reluctant to talk about the political ramifications of cash transfers, it was Rahul Gandhi who made it abundantly clear when he told his party men that cash transfer could win them not only 2014 but also the 2019 general elections. The entire academic euphoria over the proposed aggressive roll out of Aadhar-based (UID-lined) cash therefore is simply overbearing and needs to be seen in the light of political bias. In fact, the visible trend in the ongoing national debate is more towards being seen as politically correct.

A World Bank working paper, entitled: “Conditional Cash Transfers, Political Participation and Voting Behaviour,” studied the voting behaviour for a conditional cash transfer programme launched in Colombia just before the 2010 elections. Subsequently, a 2011 study of an unconditional cash transfer programme in Uruguay clearly established that cash transfers did help the ruling party get a large share of the votes, and thereby helped the party to romp home at the back of cash transfers. In India, the political urgency and the aggressiveness with which the massive cash transfers are expected to cover the entire country by April 2014 is therefore quite obviously aimed at bringing electoral benefit to the ruling party.

The unconditional direct cash transfer programme that is proposed to be launched from Jan 1 in three phases will start with 43 districts involving a cash provision of Rs 20,000-crore. Eventually, all forms of subsidies to the poor, including food and fertiliser, will be in the form of cash flow, and would add up to Rs 3 lakh crore annually. I fail to understand how and why such a massive cash outflow pipeline will reach the beneficiaries without first putting up a fool-proof delivery system in place. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) too was envisioned with a lot of expectations but has failed miserably to deliver. Several studies have pointed to nearly 70-80 per cent leakages, and yet somehow the impression is that MNREGA has transformed the rural economics.

With only 40 per cent of the population having access to banks, and with an over ambitious target of reaching the remaining population through banking correspondents – who will be operating like the village postmen except they will now be equipped with portable handheld machines acting like micro-ATMs – we are perhaps expecting too much from the most important human link between the technology and the money delivery. So far, there are only 70,000 banking correspondents and the experience has not been very encouraging. In the next one year, the number of banking correspondents will have to increase ten-fold to reach a staggering figure of 7 lakh.

Knowing that the entire rural and agricultural banking operations are rooted in corruption, I wonder how we have accepted that the banking correspondents will not be swayed by corrupt practices. If 60 per cent of the beneficiaries have to be reached through an army of banking correspondent, who will be handling over Rs 1.5 lakh crore by any conservative estimate, the delivery mechanism is certainly fraught with over-confidence stemming from political urgency. This is where I think the policy makers and bureaucrats have failed to rise above assumptions. This is where I think the aadhar-based cash-for-vote will end up being no different than the hype generated at the time of launching MNREGA.

Nevertheless, what worries me more is when cash transfers move to the next phase, and that means meeting food entitlements directly with cash. Thanks to the concerns raised by the civil society, the government has deferred cash-for-food for the time being. It was more because of the fear that the cash-for-food programme could go completely out of control, and therefore could negate the political advantage that the ruling party is hoping to garner, that it has been kept in abeyance. At a time when the proposed National Food Security bill is pending introduction before the 2014 elections, any tampering without a proper evaluation could backfire.

It is true that close to 60 per cent of the food that is channelized through the public distribution system is either wasted or siphoned off in transit, and that the entire system is mired in corruption. What reaches the poor beneficiaries is often not even fit for consumption. The answer however does not lie in dismantling the system, but reforming the world-largest food delivery system to riddle it of corruption, and make it more effective. This is certainly possible, but given the extent of political meddling in the allotment of ration shops to transportation of grains, it has never been attempted in right earnest.

For several decades now, the international emphasis has been to force India to dismantle the PDS. The first attempt was made at the time of the infamous Dunkel draft during the primitive years of world trade negotiations. WTO aimed at curtailing the PDS role, and wanted markets to ensure food security. Strong opposition from India, cutting across political lines, forced the WTO to eventually withdraw that clause.Subsequently, in the name of decentralisation of food procurement and storage system, an attempt was made during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to divest the Centre of its onerous responsibility of procuring foods for the central pool, and leave it to the States to manage grain procurement, storage and distribution.

Several chief ministers had opposed the decentralisation move thereby forcing the government to retreat.

For several years now, the emphasis has once again been on discarding food procurement. Allowing Food Corporation of India (FCI) to increasingly take on a commercial role by shifting focus from its sovereign role of ensuring domestic food security to looking for opportunities for grain exports, and finally to engage in future trading in wheat so as to offload and earn profits from the mounting surplus it carries. This has also to be seen in conjunction with the proposal to cap food procurement to the country’s buffer stock needs, and thereby deprive farmers of getting benefit of the assured price of wheat and rice. At present, FCI is under an obligation to purchase the surplus grains flowing in to the mandisat the Minimum Support Price. Once this role is withdrawn, farmers would be left at the mercy of trade.

Providing cash in the hands of poor beneficiaries means less emphasis on the PDS ration shops. The idea is to provide coupons or provide food entitlements in the form of cash, and leaving it to the people to buy their quota from the market. Whether the money provided would be used primarily to buy liquor, junk foods or other consumer goods is an important issue, but what is more important is to understand how it is aimed at dismantling the food procurement system. This subtle way, very cleverly designed, would undo the gains of food self-sufficiency so assiduously achieved after the advent of Green Revolution.

The underlying objective is very clear. Once the direct cash transfers begin, the ration shops would be gradually phased out. Once the PDS shops are removed, the cap in food procurement that is being suggested for FCI will come into play. With food procurement limited to meet the buffer requirements, which is somewhere between 14 to 22 million tonnes a year (against 82.3 million tonnes stocked with the FCI in June 2012), wheat and rice farmers would no longer get the benefit of the minimum support price. Farmers would be left to face the vagaries of the trade, and as has been the experience in those States which do not have a robust system ofmandisand thereby unable to provide farmers with assured prices, distress sale will become a norm.

Withdrawal of food procurement system will have an impact on food production. This would help farmers to abandon farming, and migrate to the urban centres. This is exactly what the World Bank has been proposing for several years now. The 2008 World Development Report had called for land rentals and providing farmers with training opportunities so that they can be absorbed in the industry. The government, as directed, made budgetary provisions for setting up 1000 industrial training institutes across the country. It is therefore obvious that the government had wanted to withdraw from food procurement and distribution for quite long now, following the dictates of the World Bank/IMF. Cash-for-food will facilitate the process and make it easy. Food requirement will then have to be met from imports, and there is already a dominant thinking within the government which advocates importing subsidised food off-the-shelf from the western countries rather than spending more on growing food within the country.

FDI in retail comes at a time when contract farming is receiving greater attention. The idea is to link the farmers growing cash crops with the supermarkets. This will help the government from doing away with the system of announcing the minimum support price and thereby reduce the subsidy outgo. This is exactly what the World Trade Organisation (WTO) had wanted several decades ago. The process to dismantle food procurement, a highly emotive issue in India, actually began in mid 1990s. It is now receiving the final touches.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had repeatedly said that the country has 70 per cent more farmers than what is required. Cash-for-food will provide the smokescreen needed to accomplish what the WTO/World Bank/IMF have been telling India for long. It is only when of the farming population is moved out of the villages that the agribusiness can find a stronghold in India. The predominant economic thinking is that the population in agriculture has to be cut back drastically for any country to grow economically. Cash transfers will then be part of the bigger promise of igniting country’s economic growth. #

Indian scientific community for stopping open air releases of GMOs –

Highlights growing scientific evidence on adverse impacts

 New Delhi, 21st November, 2013: At a time when the debate around Genetically Modified (GM) crops in the country is heating up, hundreds of Indian scientists have written to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, asking him to ensure that Government of India heeds to the voice of science and accepts the recommendations in the final report of the independent scientists in the Supreme Court Technical Expert Committee. They also urged for the stopping of all open air releases of GMOs in the country, as recommended by the majority TEC report. The letter initiated by five leading scientists from the fields of Molecular Biology, Agriculture Science, Immunology, Ecology and Science Policy Studies was released to the media at a press conference here by Dr Tushar Chakraborty and Prof Dinesh Abrol who are amongst the initiators. The letter has been endorsed by more than 250 scientists from various fields of expertise including 11 former and present Vice Chancellors of Universities across the country as well as 3 Padma awardees.

The letter comes at a time when the Supreme Court is scheduled to have a crucial hearing in the coming week, to take a view on the recommendations of a Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) set up in a PIL related to environmental release of GMOs in India. Five independent members of the TEC, who are eminent scientists in the fields of Molecular Biology, Biodiversity, Nutrition Science, Toxicology, Sustainability Science etc., and therefore, highly qualified in commenting on the safety aspects related to GMOs, in their Final report to the Court had strongly reccomended against any open release of , including field trials, until ‘major gaps in the regulatory system’ are addressed.

Speaking at the press conference, Dr Tushar Chakraborty, Head of the Gene Control Laboratory, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology and Member, State Biotechnology Council of West Bengal, pointed out that “there is an undue haste in getting GMOs released into the environment while the science behind its development is still controversial and evolving”. He further bemoaned the fact that “while there is a growing body of scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GM crops to human health and biodiveristy, there is hardly any effort from the Indian government or public sector research institutions to take up rigorous, independent safety assessment. We are instead in a dangerous and unneeded rat race of developing more GM crops and push them out into the environment without even understanding their longterm as well as cumulative impacts”

The GM debate in the Indian scientific circles has seen a polarisation due to the contradicting views between the final report submitted to the Court by the 5 independent members in the TEC and a separate report by the sixth member inducted into the Committee on the insistence of the Agriculture Ministry, Dr R.S Paroda. Dr Paroda was brought into the TEC by the Union Ministry of Agriculture and other GM advocates after an interim report of the TEC recommended strongly against any open releases of GM crops until flaws in the regulatory system are corrected. There has been strong condemnation of the fact that somebody like Dr Paroda, who has an explicit conflict interest of being an advisor to Monsanto, the world’s largest biotech giant and of leading organisations which are funded by companes like Mahyco, the Indian collaborator of Monsanto, was made a member of the TEC, when the Supreme Court in this very case has time and again issued orders that upheld the importance of independent expertise driving decision making in this matter.

“The history of GM crops, not just in India but across the world, has been laden with such conflicts of interest and corporate control of agriculture research” said Prof Dinesh Abrol, a science policy studies expert, and a visiting professor to Centre for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

 The speakers pointed out to studies that show that scientists with relationship with industry are more significantly associated with data withholding than others, in genetics and other life sciences. Research also shows that existence of financial and professional conflict of interest was associated to study outcomes that cast genetically modified products in a favorable light. Another study which looked at risk assessment studies found that such research is still limited, especially in particular crops; this study found an equilibrium in the number of research groups suggesting on the basis of their studies that a number of varieties of GM products to be as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns. It also noted that most of these studies have been conducted by biotechnology companies responsible for commercializing these GM plants. “All of this illustrates the lack of independent scientific research to the extent needed, in addition to lack of scientific consensus. Without addressing these issues, there is no urgent need to rush into GM crop open air releases”, Prof Abrol said.

 The press conference also saw the release of the 2nd edition of the compilation of scientific references and abstracts of more than 400 peer reviewed papers on various adverse impacts of GM crops/foods published across the world2. The compilation also has brief commentarieswritten by eminent leading scientists like Dr M. S Swaminathan, Dr Pushpa Bhargava and Prof Madhav Gadgil, considered as doyens of agriculture science, molecular biology and ecology respectively, in India.

Releasing the compilation, Kavitha Kuruganti, Coalition for a GM-Free India, stated that “There is no dearth of scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GMOs in our food, farming and environment; what is needed is the eyes to see it, the wisdom to understand it and the conscience to accept it”. She further stated that “GM crops are one of the biggest scientific frauds that Biotech seed Industry, ably supported by some of our unscrupulous policy makers and public sector scientists, are pulling off on our country”.

 In another development on the biosafety research front, researchers from the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, have confirmed the carcinogenic potential of Roundup herbicide using human skin cells exposed to extremely low concentrations of the world’slargest selling herbicide, used along with GM herbicide tolerant crops3. The study gains a lot of significance at a time when there are efforts from the Biotech Industry to release Herbicide Tolerant (HT) GM crops that will substantially increase the usage of herbicides like Roundup. The Final TEC report by the five independent members had strongly recommended against the release of any HT GM crops in India due to various such concerns.

 The speakers urged the Prime Minister to be responsive to science and responsible to society when deciding on such risky technologies like GM crops which pose a threat to human health, biodiversity and farm livelihoods. They demanded that the Government of India stay clear of any vested interests and accept the recommendations of the TEC Final report as it is based on sound science, principles of sustainability and intergenerational justice. This, they said, would help in ensuring the speedy delivery of justice in the PIL on the issue of GM crops .

Notes to the editor:

  1. The letter from Indian scientists to the Prime Minister on the issue of GM crops and their regualtion can be accessed athttp://indiagminfo.org/?p=654
  2. The 2nd edition of the compilation of scientific references and abstracts on various adverse impacts of GM crops/foods is available at http://indiagminfo.org/?p=657
  3. The study from Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, can be accessed at http://www.hindawi.com/isrn/dermatology/2013/825180/

Contacts:

Dr Tushar Chakraborty, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology and member, State Biotechnology Council of West Bengal, Mob: 09831746294 , email: chakraborty.tushar@gmail.com

Prof Dinesh Abrol, Institute of Studies in Industrial Development, New delhi, Mob: 09868242691,email: dinesh.abrol@gmail.com

Kavitha Kuruganti, Coalition for a GM Free India, Mob: 09393001550              email: kavitha_kuruganti@yahoo.com

Rajesh Krishnan, Co Convenor, Coalition for a GM Free India, Mob: 09845650032 email: rajeshecologist@gmail.com

 

 

India: Why property rights for women matter

http://southasia.oneworld.net/features/india-why-property-rights-for-women-matter#.UnzjXYVvA7B

Nov 07, 2013

For women, effective rights in property are critically important, not just for their economic well-being but also for their political and social empowerment, writes Bina Agarwal.

Indian rural women

DelhiBina Agarwal is a prize-winning development economist and Professor of Development Economics and Environment at the University of Manchester. Earlier, she was Director, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. Her work, ‘A Field of One’s Own: Gender and Land Rights’ in South Asia, came out in 1994. She also spearheaded a successful campaign for the comprehensive amendment of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, which resulted in the enactment of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. In this conversation with Pamela Philipose, she talks about how women’s property rights have evolved in India.

For women, effective rights in property are critically important, not just for their economic well-being but also for their political and social empowerment.

Why is women’s command over such property important? Consider land. As I have spelt out in my writings, for the vast numbers still living in villages, land remains the mainstay of livelihoods. It is the primary factor of production and the main source of income and welfare for millions.

There is also a strong correlation between landlessness and poverty. Even a small plot can protect a family from destitution by providing supplementary income. Simply getting a title to land can be greatly empowering for women in a context where they have none. This was wonderfully encapsulated in the words of women who received land titles for the first time after the Bodh Gaya movement in Bihar in the late 1970s. They were quoted as having said: “We had tongues, but could not speak/We had feet, but could not walk/Now that we have land/ We have the strength to speak and walk.”

These benefits of possessing land are compounded for women, who are even more dependent on agriculture than men, since men have been increasingly migrating to non-farm jobs. Land in women’s hands not only enhances their own livelihood options, but also the welfare of their families. Many studies reveal that women tend to spend a larger proportion of their incomes from employment or assets on family needs, especially children’s needs, than men.

An additional finding from research I did with a colleague a few years ago is the security against domestic violence land ownership can provide. We studied 502 ever-married women in the 15-49 age group in the rural and urban areas of Thiruvananthapuram district in Kerala, and found that the incidence of spousal physical violence was 49 per cent among those who owned neither land nor a house, but only seven per cent among those who owned both; and 10 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively, for those who owned only a house or only land.

Apart from these benefits, given the feminisation of agriculture, secure land rights for women are necessary for increasing farm output. About 40 per cent of agricultural workers in India are women but their productivity is seriously constrained by their lack of access to land, credit (for which land can serve as collateral), inputs, technical information, and so on. Without land titles women are not even seen as farmers and seldom benefit from government schemes meant for marginal farmers. According to FAO’s 2011 State of Agriculture Report, reducing the constraints faced by women farmers in developing countries could raise farm yields by 20-30 per cent and raise total agricultural output by 2.5-4 per cent.

Women can gain access to land in many ways: via inheritance, through the state, or through the market. Of these, inheritance is especially important since almost 86 per cent of arable land in India is privately owned. It is sometimes argued that granting daughters equal inheritance rights will fragment holdings and reduce farm productivity. This argument has two problems. First, fragmentation can occur even where sons are involved, so privileging one sex over another cannot be justified. Second, the unit of ownership need not be the unit of cultivation. Families often continue to farm together and land can be consolidated in many other ways as well, including by groups of women pooling their plots and cultivating them jointly – this has been happening for many years in parts of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

The early 20th century also saw the emergence of a number of women’s organisations demanding inheritance rights for women in a predominantly patrilineal context. This was one of the central issues taken up by organisations such as the All India Women’s Conference and the Women’s Indian Association. An important part of that history was the setting up of the Rau Committee in the 1940s. The Committee recommended enactment of a Hindu Code with provisions for stronger inheritance rights for women, more liberal divorce laws, etc. Encapsulated in the Hindu Code Bill of 1947, the provisions were widely debated in the Legislative Assembly. Both Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru were committed to the Bill but it was deferred till after the first general election of Independent India of 1951, because of resistance from conservative elements within the Congress.

As finally passed, the original elements of the Hindu Code Bill were unpacked, and enacted in four separate Acts, including the Hindu Succession Act (HSA) of 1956 which dealt with inheritance. In retrospect, it was very helpful that there were four separate Acts, since this made it easier to subsequently reform the HSA in women’s favour. For instance, in 2005, when I worked for the amendment of the HSA to make it gender equal, the chances of success would have been greatly diminished if issues of succession had got enmeshed with issues of marriage and divorce.

The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005 (HSAA 2005) was in fact a landmark. It brought all agricultural land on par with other forms of property, and made Hindu Women’s inheritance rights in land legally equal to men’s across states. The amended Act also made all daughters (married and unmarried) coparceners along with sons in joint family property, with the same rights to shares, to claim partition, and (by presumption) to become kartas (managers) of that property.

The amended Act is thus a significant legal step forward and has the potential for substantially empowering women. But so far we have little information on this count. In fact, we still do not have systematic data across the country on women’s actual ownership of immovable property. A 1991 survey in seven states by development sociologist, Marty Chen, although on a small sample, is indicative. It showed that only 13 percent of women whose fathers owned land had inherited any as daughters, although Kerala did much better with a figure of 43 percent. We also know from the Agricultural Census of 1995-96 (when gender disaggregated data were collected) that women held only 9.5 per cent of all operational (that is cultivated) land holdings. We need more up-to-date information, however, and there is a strong case for strengthening the database by disaggregating land owned and operated by gender in agricultural censuses and NSS surveys.

Moreover, although we now have a gender-equal inheritance law for Hindu women, there have been rather few efforts by women’s organisations to use this ammended law innovatively. The neglect of the HSAA 2005 by women’s groups is surprising, since the Act can go a long way in protecting women even from domestic violence. The HSAA, as noted, allows women to reside in their parental home as a right and not on sufferance. It is therefore time the enormous potential of the HSAA 2005 in empowering women is given due cognisance, both by civil society groups and government.

In the long term, of course, it is not desirable that families be torn apart by litigation over property. What we would want is a voluntary recognition by society that daughters are equal to sons in terms of their rights over property, especially immovable property. This will need substantial attitudinal change.

Community managed system sows the seeds of success

http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/community-managed-system-sows-the-seeds-of-success/article5322435.ece

M. J. PRABU

SHARE  ·   COMMENT   ·   PRINT   ·   T+
PRODUCTION: A total of 2,888 acres of seed production was taken up in 183 villages with more than 2,000 farmers.
Special ArrangementPRODUCTION: A total of 2,888 acres of production was taken up in 183 villages with more than 2,000 farmers.

This model helped many growers get access to good quality seeds

Like many other farmers across the country, preserving and using seeds is a major issue for Andhra Pradesh groundnut cultivators. In Anantapur district, farmers mostly grow groundnut.

The crop diversity in this region earlier included many dryland crops like sorghum, finger millet, pearl millet, foxtail millet and groundnut. Farmers used to grow various crops and groundnut was alternated between red gram, coriander, sesame, sorghum and finger millet. But over time, groundnut became a major crop in the region due to its commercial value.

Perennial debt

“The high input costs on one side and decreasing yields due to prolonged usage of chemical fertilizers forced many growers to borrow money from private money lenders and the moment the crop is harvested, it is sold immediately to pay off the debts. Often the area is prone to droughts and seed availability has been a serious issue for more than 15 years,” says Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Secunderabad.

Farmers could raise only one good crop every three years. Being already in debt they sold off the harvested nuts for repaying loans and other expenses rather than preserving the seeds for next season.

Also, absence of proper storage facilities posed a serious problem; many felt that the seed from the same land will not grow well if sown for the next season. Subsidised government seeds are available at half the price in the market so farmers preferred to buy those seeds rather than save some for themselves.

But buying the seeds is an arduous task, according to Dr. Ramanjaneyulu. Every year soon after the monsoon season farmers start to queue up for buying subsidised seeds from Government cooperatives.

Each farmer has a passbook which he needs to show in order to get the seeds. Very often, a farmer ends up making at least three to four trips to the town to buy the seeds.

Different varieties

“Sometimes they do not get the seeds (due to no stock) or get them very late in the season. If he does get it on time, there is no guarantee of its quality. Earlier Ananthapur farmers used to grow different groundnut varieties depending on demand, but the subsidy seeds given by the government covers only a few or sometimes only a single variety,” explains Dr. Ramanjaneyulu.

In 2006-07, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), Hyderabad and Rural Environment Development Society (REDS), Kadiri, initiated groundnut seed production through women self help groups as part of the ‘Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture’ programme in different villages.

Different farmers’ groups took responsibility for managing the entire programme.

Subsidy

However, seed subsidy could not be extended as the Department of Agriculture was not ready to support farmers own seeds. In 2011 another initiative, a community managed seed system () was started in partnership with WASSAN (Watershed Support Services Network) a Hyderabad based NGO with the objective of meeting the requirements of both seed producers and consumers.

The programme was started in 2011 during rabi season to supply seeds for 2012 kharif. The foundation seed was supplied with 50 per cent subsidy from the department of agriculture

The Government agreed to facilitate the process of exchanging the seeds at farmer level and extended subsidy for them.

“A total of 2,888 acres of seed production was taken up in 183 villages involving more than 2,000 farmers under the programme. The group was able to procure 3,763 quintals of seed and distributed it to nearly 4,000 farmers. Similarly in 2013 they have distributed 11,518 quintals of seeds in 260 villages covering nearly to 10,000 acres,” adds Dr. Ramanjaneyulu.

Control

The seed production, supply and distribution, administration are localized within a cluster of villages where the overall control is by the farmers.

This model helped many growers get access to good quality seeds at affordable prices and also saved enormous expense for the Government.

To know more contact Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, 12-13-445, Street no-1, Tarnaka, Secunderabad-500 017, website: www.krishi.tv, email: ramoo.csa@gmail.com, facebook: ramoo.agripage, mobile: 09000699702.

How Agribusiness Corporations are Pushing hard to Privatize and Monopolize our Seed – GRAIN

The world’s agribusiness corporations are pursuing their attempts to privatize and monopolize our seeds. Their goal is clear: they want to convert the millennial practice of plant breeding into a crime, for their own profit and nothing else. Latin America is one scene of such attacks on public property.

Much of this corporate activity is being carried out under the aegis of an international convention known as , but not all of it – some Latin American governments have come up with farm-unfriendly provisions of their own devising, involving patents on biotechnology “events,” health standards, marketing standards, certification laws, various types of record keeping requirements, tax rules, the misnamed “good agricultural practices,” research programs, market establishment policies, and more.

Eight years ago we wrote, “If we look at them today, seed laws are all about repression. They’re about what farmers can’t do. They dictate what kind of seeds can’t be sold, can’t be exchanged and in some cases can’t even be used. All in the name of regulating trade and protecting food growers! In this sense, seeds laws go hand in hand with intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes like plant variety protection and patents. The two kinds of laws – marketing regulations and property rights – reinforce each other.”1

If anything has changed since then, it is that privatization strategies have become more numerous, extreme, and ambitious. What the multinationals and the governments were not expecting was the level of the popular resistance that has emerged at the national and regional levels.

What is UPOV?

The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is an intergovernmental organization with its head office in Geneva, Switzerland. UPOV came into being with the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. The Convention was adopted in Paris in 1961 and was revised in 1972, 1978, and 1991. The mission of UPOV is, according to the organization, “to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society.”2 In UPOV-speak, “protection” means privatization.

The history of UPOV is that of an ongoing and apparently limitless expansion of seed company rights along with a concomitant shrinkage of farmers’ rights and freedoms. The original convention only granted property rights over varieties developed by the party requesting them; it granted little more than an exclusive right to market a private variety and did not establish specific sanctions. With its subsequent revisions, UPOV now grants monopoly rights over “discovered” varieties and the production, marketing, export and import thereof. In addition, it allows property owners to apply for the confiscation of crops, plantations, harvests, and products derived from the harvest. It even allows companies to file criminal complaints, which can lead to prison terms for farmers.

UPOV 91 is the version of the convention now being imposed around the world under the pretext of “protection.” However, it has been clearly demonstrated that UPOV 91 violates farmers’ individual and collective right to save seed for replanting and allows corporations to monopolize biodiversity. These provisions give the corporations total commercial control over seeds and knowledge that were once owned collectively by whole communities. A further menace represented by UPOV is that it accelerates the erosion of biodiversity by promoting varietal uniformity. This is tremendously risky because uniformity can lead to crop loss and greater food insecurity. Finally, seed privatization hinders research and the free flow of knowledge.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the following countries are UPOV members: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. Of these, only Costa Rica, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Peru are currently applying UPOV 91.3

The bottomless pit of corporate ambition

The seed laws now being drafted amount to the wholesale application of UPOV 91 and in some cases go even further. For example:

a) They allow for the privatization of “discovered” varieties. Not only is this nonsensical from the standpoint of intellectual property law (only human inventions are patentable), it is absurd when applied to plant varieties, which are mostly the work of many human beings over long periods of time. In other words, the new laws allow companies or research institutes to take what does not belong to them: the indigenous plant varieties developed by farmers. This theft is facilitated by the absence of any provision in the laws that would prevent varieties shown to be already circulating in peasant agriculture from being declared “new.”

b) The theft becomes truly outrageous where new laws grant property rights over “similar” varieties as well, regardless of how long these have been in existence. That is, UPOV laws legalize retroactive theft. One such clause, included in ICA Resolution 970 in Colombia, touched off a farmers’ strike that forced the government to withdraw the resolution.

c) Penalties for those who refuse to make sense out of this nonsense are significantly increased. Not only can seeds be confiscated, so can the crops, plantations, harvests, and products derived from them. The offences are summary in nature, meaning that complainants can avoid lengthy evidentiary proceedings and still obtain the confiscation of the materials in question. Practical experience provides good reasons to fear that the corporations will try to scare farmers and peasants who dare to rebel by hitting them with multiple complaints under these laws. The situation is exacerbated by the option for the corporations to file criminal complaints, which can result in jail terms for the farmers.

This is the nucleus of the UPOV laws. Some of them go even further: in the Chilean case, the law initially gave enforcement power to the seed companies, creating a de facto private police. The Argentine bill creates a mandatory registry of “seed users” – meaning anyone who grows food, for a living or otherwise.

And the UPOV laws themselves are only part of the story. Certification and marketing laws have been a central feature of seed privatization campaigns in Mexico and Colombia. Brazil has turned to marketing standards. In Argentina, the privatization of biotechnological “events” is making unfortunate headway, while throughout the Southern Cone, corporations are creating a parallel legal universe by forcing their customers to sign royalty-bearing private contracts. Almost everywhere we find credit and technical assistance policies being made contingent on the use of seeds produced by corporations or research institutes.

All these mechanisms work together towards a single goal: absolute corporate control over seeds.

Resistance is growing and spreading

But it’s also in Latin America where citizens have successfully many such attempts to take away their rights. It is here that the most committed resistance has been seen. The following is a rundown on ongoing popular and peasant campaigns that have been key to the defeat of these corporate machinations.

Chile

The UPOV offensive in Chile differs little from what is taking place in other countries. Various provisions facilitate the appropriation of local seeds by corporations and criminalize peasants’ use of their own seeds. Absurd situations are created in which companies registering any variety as their own can stop people from using varieties “similar” to it. And the threat of confiscation of seeds, crops, and plantations is among the new measures imposed on peasant families who dare to continue doing what they have always done.

What the corporations and the government did not expect was the societal reaction against these measures. The first act in the drama was the passage on first reading, in 2010, of the UPOV 91-compliant Seeds Act, this over fierce opposition by peasant organizations (especially ANAMURI and CLOC-VC) and civil society groups.

Despite this initial defeat, the organizations continued to raise public awareness to the dangerous aspects of the act. As a result of their efforts, by the time Chile joined UPOV 91, domestic opposition had become much broader and more vehement. A group of senators appealed to the Constitutional Court to declare Chile’s UPOV membership unconstitutional. This initiative too was unsuccessful, but public education efforts continued under the impetus of the widespread social mobilization that has taken place since 2011.

Today, rejection of seed privatization and the “UPOV 91” Act has become a broad-based national concern which has, so far, kept the bill from being passed. Under pressure from the US government, the right-wing government fast-tracked the bill, attempting to push it through before the opposition could react. This time, mobilization took place all across the nation and involved high-profile marches, Internet-based information campaigns, radio programs, TV interviews, information sessions in rural communities and universities, meetings with religious authorities, conversations and discussions with senators, and so forth.

The impact of all this mobilization work was to break the silence on the issue in Chile and to convince a majority of senators (21 of 38) to vote against the bill. Faced with this new situation, the government withdrew the bill, intending to postpone voting until after the November 2013 elections, when a number of its senatorial opponents will have retired.

At time of writing, in early October, peasant and civil society organizations are continuing to mobilize to ensure that the bill goes down to defeat.

Argentina

The bill to amend the Seeds Act in Argentina is the fruit of pointed lobbying by Monsanto beginning in 2003. It was then that the company began to request “legal certainty” for its investments in GMOs. Since the government of the day was not receptive to its overtures, the company announced that it was withdrawing from the country and would not introduce new events. In its battle to collect royalties, Monsanto asked the European courts to stop whole shiploads of GE soybeans from departing for Argentina because Argentina refused to pay for the genes they allegedly contained. The courts threw out Monsanto’s claim.

At the end of the last decade, the government repeatedly announced that it was going to table a new Seeds Act in Congress, but it was only in 2012 that a radical change of official stance took place. In June 2012, President Cristina Fernández announced at the Council of the Americas that further to conversations with Monsanto, the company would be making new investments in the country, focusing on a GE corn processing plant in the Malvinas Argentinas district of the city of Córdoba.

A few months later, in a joint press conference, Minister of Agriculture Norberto Yahuar and Pablo Vaqueros, President of Monsanto Argentina, announced the approval and launch of a new genetically modified soy variety called “Intacta” (resistant to glyphosate and insecticide) and an amendment to the Seeds Act to protect investors “because of the high costs they incur.” A commitment was made to table the corresponding bill in Congress before the end of 2012.

Civil society organizations reacted immediately, and with even greater vehemence when it became known that the draft under discussion was being negotiated in secret by the Ministry of Agriculture with the large seed trade associations and landowners. The call to reject the Seeds Act amendments spread across society and was taken up by a great many associations. It led to a range of oppositional activities, mobilizations, presentations, and documents.

An analysis of the leaked draft, obtained by its opponents, showed that it includes amendments to the existing act (dating from 1973) designed to incorporate nearly the entirety of UPOV 91 into domestic law.

The National Indigenous Peasant Movement, Friends of the Earth, and GRAIN started a petition campaign which, by late November, had garnered the support of more than 500 civil society organizations and 3,500 individuals.

The document “10 motivos para luchar contra el proyecto de ley que pretende privatizar las semillas en la Argentina”4 reads as follows: “the bill does not protect knowledge or biodiversity; it merely promotes privatization and protects property rights to what is in fact the collective heritage of our peoples, especially the peasant and indigenous communities. In this way, it puts forward an unacceptable principle: that it is possible and acceptable to privatize knowledge and various life forms.” It continues: “This paves the way to further expropriation and privatization of agricultural and wild biodiversity in Argentina. The bill makes possible the greater privatization of Argentina’s genetic resources and native biodiversity by expanding so-called plant breeders’ rights. In addition, it makes illegal or gravely restricts practices that have existed since the beginning of agriculture: seed selection, breeding, improvement, saving, reproduction, and exchange based on the previous harvest.”

The document concludes with a call to “reject this bill, which represents a grave attack on every inhabitant of this country. Agriculture fulfills an eminently social function, that of sustaining and feeding the entire population. To jeopardize the food security and sovereignty of Argentina by granting new privileges to transnational agribusiness corporations is to take the road of surrendering our national sovereignty.”

Due to the broad-based rejection of the initiative, the bill never made it into Parliament, and its opponents claimed a partial victory. In the initial months of 2013, the Minister of Agriculture announced that the bill would not be sent to Congress in an election year. However, he soon announced (under pressure from Monsanto, it seems clear) that the bill would be submitted to Congress right after the elections.

In the meantime, Monsanto is keeping up its offensive by forcing people who buy the new “Intacta” RR2 soybeans to sign an “extended royalty” contract. Monsanto states on its web site for this variety5 that “growers wishing to opt, at their own discretion, to use soybean seeds containing the Intacta RR2 technology must sign with Monsanto a limited-use license for the technology.” This provision attests to a very peculiar understanding of the concept of discretion that verges on the illegal.

Argentine civil society continues to monitor these developments closely and to act accordingly. One important step is a blockade, spearheaded by the groups “Asamblea Malvinas Lucha por la Vida” and “Mothers of Barrio Ituzaingó Anexo,” of the intended construction site for a Monsanto plant, which has been ongoing for three weeks.

Colombia

In April 2012, the Colombian Congress passed Bill 1518 adopting the International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties, thus complying with its obligation to protect the interests of agribusiness corporations under the free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States.

Colombian civil society immediately denounced the fact that the law had been passed without regard for higher-order provisions and international legal frameworks which obligate the government to guarantee the rights of everyone under its jurisdiction and, more specifically, to preserve the country’s food sovereignty and security.

According to Grupo Semillas and the “Semillas de Identidad” campaign, UPOV was ratified “without regard for the fundamental right of ethnic minorities to prior consultation,” and its main goal is to achieve “the granting and protection of plant breeders’ rights. The strategy begins by establishing a set of conditions that native and indigenous varieties cannot meet because their genetic improvement was the result of farmers operating according to entirely different principles from those of modern plant breeders. It continues by enacting provisions for the protection of [corporate] economic interests and essentially forces farmers to use these seeds at the behest of the transnationals.”6

Based on this analysis, a number of organizations appealed to the Constitutional Court and, in December 2012, obtained a decision declaring Law 1518 unenforceable.7 In so doing, they halted the progress of UPOV 91, arguing that the government had failed to consult the indigenous and tribal peoples in regard to legislative or administrative measures affecting them directly, as required by Article 6 of Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO). While the threat of UPOV’s approval still looms, the consultation process required by the Court has yet to be put in place. This decision caused consternation on the part of the United States, which asserted in the media its entitlement to sue Colombia for losses caused by the Constitutional Court’s decision to declare the unenforceability of Laws 1518 and 1520, since these laws were intended to bring the country into compliance with the FTA.8

During 2013, events related to peasant struggles put the fate of seeds back in the spotlight. A documentary film, 9.70: la historia de la semilla privatizada,9 by the young director Victoria Solano, sent shock waves through Colombian society as people woke up to the impact of seed privatization.

Resolution 9.70 of the ICA (Colombian Agricultural Institute) dates from 2010 and is intended to control the production, use, and marketing of seeds. This resolution applies the concepts of intellectual property law to seeds and was passed as a requirement for approval of the US-Colombia FTA. “The documentary analyzes the impact of the resolution, focusing on the case of Campoalegre, a town in southern Colombia where it was applied. In 2011, the ICA went to the town and confiscated 70 tons of rice. It later returned with law enforcement officials, and ultimately dumped the rice into a landfill, claiming that it was illegal,” said the filmmakers.

The powerful public impact of the documentary coincided with the beginning of peasant mobilizations on August 19, which shook the country. The peasants’ rejection of Resolution 9.70 became a central component of their demands. As a result of these campaigns, Resolution 9.70 was “frozen for two years” – an immense triumph for Colombia’s peasants and civil society organizations. However, the central demand of the people of Colombia has yet to be granted: the outright repeal of the resolution along with any attempt to impose UPOV 91 through other channels.10

Venezuela

In Venezuela, a bill to amend the Seeds Act is making its way through the legislative process and causing great concern among civil society organizations. The situation there is complex because the initiative inaugurates an intellectual property regime even as it takes the salutary step of banning GMOs.

The GMO-free Venezuela campaign11 has been monitoring this bill and has called for “a ban on transgenic seeds in the country, a ban on any type of intellectual property rights or patents over seeds, and an expanded debate over the bill with a view to building an appropriate legislative framework in conjunction with the revolutionary popular collectives and movements.”

The bill’s proponents have stated in public that it will ban GMOs in Venezuela, but the popular campaign has expressed concern in regard to the “language of the bill, which continues to recognize plant breeders’ rights, does not clearly define the mechanisms that will be used for surveillance and punishment of those who violate the transgenic seed provisions, establishes a strict oversight regime for indigenous or common seed, establishes sanctions that may result in the criminalization of traditional seed exchange practices, and still lacks mechanisms for public participation. We consider all these aspects to be issues of concern to the popular movement in the continuing debate over this bill.”

The commitment to a broad public debate and the intense mobilization on the part of Venezuelan social movements have opened up the political space necessary for amendments to be made to the bill so that it meets popular demands.

Mexico

With the entry into force of NAFTA, a sequence of laws were passed12 – first the Plant Varieties Act (1996),13 followed by the Biosafety Act (2005)14 and the Seeds Act (2007)15 – whereby the Mexican legal system took a big step towards seed registration, certification, patenting, and privatization. It is a clear attempt to force farmers to use lab-created seeds and to criminalize the saving and exchange of native seeds, even though these practices have formed the basis of indigenous, peasant, and indeed the entire country’s food systems for millennia.

Although Mexico did not sign the 1991 version of the agreement, its Seeds Act of 2007 explicitly provides for the criminalization of native seeds by establishing arbitrary quality and “stability” criteria that essentially amount to the freezing of varietal traits in time. It is as if seed evolution itself is being outlawed, and farmers are being made accomplices to the crime.16

This law, along with the Plant Varieties Act of 1996 (enacted to comply with UPOV) and its regulation of 1998, paved the way for the privatization of plant varieties and breeding materials, as well as for-profit variety concessions and sales under regulations highly favourable to the corporations.

In 2012, a vast coalition of peasant and civil society organizations succeeded in halting the UPOV 91 amendments to the Plant Varieties Act. The amendments would have had the grave outcome of granting private breeders “monopolies to obtain exclusive profits from the sale of seeds and other plant material for up to 15 years, or 18 in the case of perennial ornamental, forest, or orchard plants – even when the plants they used to develop the new varieties are in the public domain.”17 Genetically modified organisms were included pursuant to the Biosafety Act, which was absurd “since GMOs are created by introducing genetic material from non-plant species.”18

The “reloaded” version of the Plant Varieties Act would have given a key boost to the Seeds Act of 2007 in that it would have inaugurated a seeds policy along with a search and seizure system for uncertified or unregistered seed – absurdly termed “pirate seed” for lack of an invoice, when these varieties have been saved and exchanged for at least 6000 years. The amendments to the Plant Varieties Act have been postponed, but it would be a mistake to suppose they have been abandoned.19

In the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, the situation varies depending on whether or not an FTA has been signed with the United States. This is the case for Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, which have had to change their domestic laws in accordance with CAFTA, and for Peru, which also has an FTA with the United States. As for the rest of the continent, while there are no active attempts to push through UPOV 91, the general pattern of industry influence over government continues, and we may well see a push for UPOV in the coming months (e.g., in Paraguay).

Resistance bears fruit

The surprising thing in a context of regional agribusiness ascendancy is that resistance to corporate control of seeds has borne fruit in nearly every country where campaigns have been mounted.

In Argentina, the draft of the Seeds Act being discussed in secret never emerged from the Ministry of Agriculture to be tabled in Parliament.

In Chile, societal mobilization helped secure a majority of senators to vote against the “Monsanto Bill.”

In Colombia, peasant mobilization put a temporary stop to Resolution 9.70.

In Venezuela, there are firm commitments to keep the principles upheld by Hugo Chávez from being betrayed.

And in Mexico, societal campaigning prevented the Federal Plant Varieties Act from being revised for compliance with UPOV 91.

This brings us to October 2013. We don’t know what will happen in the coming months, but it’s clear that these wins do not mean the battle is over. The social movements are well aware of the continuing challenges involved with coordinating activities, raising awareness, and finding new allies to fend off future attacks. If we are to defend seeds as a heritage for all peoples, nothing less will do. We must all continue to dedicate ourselves to the success of the Seeds Campaign of Via Campesina.

Source: