Bt brinjal has no history of safe use

Author(s): Latha Jishnu
Issue: Mar 19, 2012

Jack A. Heinemann, professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, has expertise in genetic engineering, bacterial genetics and biosafety. As director of the University’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI) since 2001, has contributed in no small measure to a better understanding and management of emerging biotechnologies.

INBI, says the academic, has special responsibility for developing tools that improve safety assessments of genetically modified organisms. These tools are aimed at helping government regulators and scientists with other specialities to access the best available and latest research and apply it to hazard identification. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, Heinemann explains why he was taken aback by the way Mahyco’s Bt brinjal data was assessed by the GEAC, the regulator, and its experts committees.

Jack A. HeinemannJack A. HeinemannWhat, according to you, are the most serious of the shortcomings/misrepresentations in the developer’s data? 

I can’t answer this question for all dossiers. At best I could answer it only for those I’ve seen. If you mean the Bt brinjal data, I don’t know where to begin. I think the most disappointing aspect of that dossier was that every experiment I personally reviewed seemed to have some significant flaw, or was only half finished, leaving effectively nothing to support the conclusions of safety. It had the semblance of authority, but lacked the substance.

Were you taken aback by the findings of your evaluation? Did you expect better monitoring by the Indian regulator and the expert bodies appointed by it given the agriculture profile of the country where farming is essentially a livelihoods issue rather than a commercial proposition?

Yes, I expected more attentiveness to the details, and for the regulator to exercise a greater distance from the data. At the very least, I would have expected the regulator to ask for clarification and data wherever the claims being made were based on assumption and reasoning rather than data.

You say that “the developer reports that a leucine residue at position 766 has been replaced by a serine residue in planta”. What does this mean and what are the consequences?

This means that the gene used in the plant is different from the gene in nature. It is different in several ways and this is just one of those ways. While this one particular amino acid change might sound insignificant, serine is very different from leucine. For example, plant cells often link arrays of sugar molecules to serine residues and these arrays can be structurally variable, affecting many different properties. In particular, the kinds of properties we would be concerned with are those that might affect the immune response of people or wildlife. These structural changes can also interfere with detection of the product after it enters the food chain. Lack of traceability reduces consumer choice and makes it more difficult to recall a product if it is later found to be unsafe.

Again, I quote from the report: “What appear to be small differences can be physiologically and immunogenically important. The change from leucine to serine at position 766 is of interest to the biosafety investigator because only the latter can be O-linked glycosylated by the addition of N-acetylgalactosamine through a side chain hydroxyl group (Mitra et al., 2006).”  How serious are the implications?

We don’t know. No one can say without proper testing. That is the purpose of pre-market risk assessment, to identify molecular changes which might cause adverse effects. Once they are identified, then they can be evaluated through testing. Since developers keep complete control of these products, it would not even be possible for independent scientists such as those in INBI to even attempt testing. Only the regulator can insist on that testing.

You say: “Taken together, PV-LEBK04 has at least 10 different DNA elements that have been taken from different species, including soybeans, viruses, plasmids isolated from different species of bacteria, and many of which have also been extensively and separately subject to in vitro modification after being taken from their natural sources.” What does this mean for a consumer?

What it means is that in many different ways the Bt brinjal has no history of safe use. It is exceedingly unlikely that this diverse combination of genetic elements has come together in nature much less in plants that potentially could be the source of a significant amount of food someone eats. Thus, by international consensus and agreement, the Bt brinjal should benefit from credible safety testing.

Does this poor regulation stem from lack of expertise with the monitoring bodies? For instance, this inability to understand the finer points of a vector/plasmid map. In a case of research fraud in Bt cotton, scientists of public research laboratories passed off a genome sequence as their original DNA construct. The vector map went unchallenged.

This is not something I can answer. The question should be directed at the regulator. But I would ask both the senior managers of the regulatory authority and the minister what pressures are being placed on the regulator and whether these pressures are consistent with expectation that the regulator serves the broader public interest and is precautionary.

Is there a readiness on the part of regulators, specially in the US and Europe, to accept the developer’s data unquestioningly?

In my opinion, some regulators I have worked with seem to be less critical of the data from industry than I experience when I try to publish a scientific paper which has almost no impact on public health or the environment. This strikes me as strange. Not that the standard of review shouldn’t be high for academic research. What is strange is that it does not appear to be as high on a regular and uniform basis for research used by regulators. Most importantly, the requirement that the work and materials be available for independent replication of the results is blocked by proprietary secrecy. Really sound science can be, and is, regularly replicated by other scientists with no strings attached.

Other independent scientists have also pointed out huge shortcomings in the developer’s data and in the evaluation by the ECs. Yet, our regulators have done little to rectify the position. How can INBI help in such a situation?

INBI’s founding mission is to assist civil society and the public to find answers to questions raised by biotechnology. We particularly work with those who have limited or no access to research grants or private funding, essentially those who would be asked to live with any adverse consequences of a biotechnology but not receive the financial benefits. With our limited resources, this is how we try to help. We have no power of compulsion. We can only make the case to the public or to the political decision-makers who, if they agree, can then change policy or legislation to effect better review.

Has INBI been instrumental in strengthening biosafety regulation elsewhere? 

INBI’s work on a variety of corn called LY038 was used by many governments around the world. In the end, the product was pulled from pre-commercial development because some of these governments insisted that the developer answer some of the outstanding safety questions we raised. See  Europe balks at GE corn in NZ and Authority ignored corn risk – expert

INBI has participated in the development of international biosafety guidance documents under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and made submissions to Codex Alimentarius. We have directly worked with training of officials, such as in Solomon Islands. With our partners Third World Network and GenOK-Centre for Biosafety in Norway, we conduct biosafety courses for regulators, civil society leaders, scientists, industry, journalists and decision-makers from developing countries. Through this activity we reach 50 people a year. INBI was also the major partner in production of the Biosafety Assessment Tool, a free to the public risk assessment mentoring website – The Biosafety Assessment Tool

Would you agree with the perception that the large majority of scientists are determined to gloss over the biosafety aspects of transgenic crops because they believe it is the magic bullet for all the problems of agriculture?

I could not possibly say what other scientists think. However, I find convincing the sociological research that shows that independent science is under threat from a network of public-private funding systems and the entrepreneurial aspirations of public universities and government departments. All too often these aspirations also lead to contractual obligations between public institutions and the companies, creating conflicts of interest. I review and discuss this research in my book, Hope not Hype: The Future of Agriculture Guided by the International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. It can be downloaded free at

How does INBI manage to provide such a service without charging any fees? 

We work weekends and evenings!  All those working in INBI do so because we believe in the mission. We are public researchers working in a good public university and allied with other like-minded researchers in similar situations. While this work does not pay the bills, it does build our own competence and helps to focus us on the science that is important. The work has attracted some of the best students I’ve ever had, because they want to make a difference, not just make money. We benefit too. Not directly, but because we think it makes our other work better. So far, our employers agree!

The right to food: Joan Mencher


Interview with Joan Mencher, an anthropologist who has worked in India for long on issues such as agriculture, ecology and caste.


Joan P. Mencher: “Indian scientists should focus on sustainable agriculture with an emphasis on reform from below.”

JOAN P. MENCHER is a Professor emerita of Anthropology from the City University of New York’s Graduate Centre and Lehman College of the City University of New York. She is the chair of an embryonic not-for-profit organisation, The Second Chance Foundation, which works to support rural grass-roots organisations that work with poor and small farmers in India and the United States on issues of sustainable agriculture. She has worked primarily in South India, but also in West Bengal briefly, on issues relating to ecology, caste, land reform, agriculture, women, and so on over the past half a century. She has published widely both in the U.S. and in India on all of these subjects, primarily in academic journals. She has also, for several years, been a consultant with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank for their India operations. Excerpts from an interview:

Can you start off by discussing briefly your work in India? You are an anthropologist. So how did your engagement begin and what have been the academic areas that your work has extended to in this period?

After finishing my PhD research in anthropology, for which I researched on a slum in New York City, I got a Fulbright scholarship to come to Kerala to do research on child rearing and family life. That was the first time I came to India, in 1958, and even had a chance to meet Jawaharlal Nehru, who encouraged American students to visit India so that they would get a chance to observe India directly. I came from America when McCarthyism was at its peak, and as an American researching in Kerala, I also had to constantly prove my research credentials to the Marxists in Kerala.

I was in India for almost two years, until 1960, and then I went and came back in two years. This time I was looking at ecological issues and the differences between Tamil Nadu and Kerala and looked at how changes in ecology affected agriculture and social life. From then on I began to do other kinds of things. My most intensive work has been in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, but in 1963 I first spent about four to five months in West Bengal, and then I have kept coming back and forth for 50 years and have researched on various aspects, including women and agriculture, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I also began to publish about caste this time. Caste was always there while I was working in Kerala, but I began to be acutely aware of the issues in Tamil Nadu. I have also written extensively on the problems with the Green Revolution and the efficacy of land reforms in India.

In your view, what were the main problems with the Green Revolution?

I think the main thing was the damage done to the soil because of the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers. The crop patterns also changed significantly from diverse cropping to mono-cropping during the time of the Green Revolution. The agricultural methods led to a much more excessive use of water. It was really quite striking how this could happen. It also ended up favouring large farmers. I remember farmers telling me that they did not want to use artificial fertilizer, that they did not believe in it, but they did not have a choice because everybody around them was using it and they were using pesticide too and so all the bugs were coming to their lands. It took away choice from many of the farmers. In rain-fed areas, many of the farmers continued to grow [crops] in the old pattern, but in irrigated areas they could not.

Even the cropping pattern changed significantly. In one of my early studies in India, in a village in Tamil Nadu they were rotating ragi with rice and they were also growing other coarse grains. It certainly led to a switch to rice and away from coarse grains, which were so much more nutritious. It’s beginning to come back with its health values beginning to be recognised.

Certain changes in agricultural methods took place in the U.S. before the Second World War when the government adopted a corporate model of food governance. Why has this model been emulated in India?


A farmer sprays fertilizer in a paddyfield on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Indian agriculture should go back to an ecologically sound approach based on local food production, says Joan Mencher.

Well, to answer that complicated question, let me briefly start off by discussing how research in agricultural universities in America has been compromised, and its connection with India.

When agricultural universities were first established in the United States, the land was given to the universities and all the research at that time was financed by the State governments and not the federal government. When food corporations became more and more powerful, they began to pay for most of the research. Slowly, over time, most of the research done in America was supported by corporations rather than by the state, which means that any independent research was totally compromised. All the research began to serve an agenda of profit. The research was not supposed to benefit farmers but was supposed to help investors make more money.

The change in American agriculture started even before the Second World War. It was during that time that Dow Chemical, Dupont, and so on were making poison gases for the American government. When the War ended they shifted into making chemicals for agriculture. They started making fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides for agriculture. There were more companies in the beginning but slowly they consolidated and consolidated to form fewer companies. So this is something that didn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that took place over 50 years. And these ideas came to India through the Green Revolution.

In the 1960s, there was a bad time in India when the country went through a drought, and America offered aid, but India had to concede several things in order to get the aid. Several young scholars from India, the brightest in Indian agricultural studies, were sent to America to get educated and brainwashed at the same time. Even Indian agricultural universities were influenced by this model and began to teach a similar corporate syllabus. Two generations of agricultural scientists began to think in certain ways because of the brainwashing they got in America. There is a continuing alliance between agricultural universities in India and these American universities.

All these people began to be influenced by a certain ‘modern’ pedagogy. Well, modern means you don’t get dirty and you use machinery. Modern means you have many more machines and fewer people involved in agriculture. There is a certain belief in ‘growth’, ‘modernity’, or ‘progress’ in shaping policy, while the world faces economic collapse, unemployment, and [there is] a worldwide food deficit. The food deficit is being used as a rationale to deprive farmers of their autonomy and traditional assets and knowledge. People both in the West and in rural India are being manipulated to accept corporate approaches by myths like ‘individualism works best’, that all forms of ‘socialism’ in farming do not work, and the belief that private industry is the only mechanism that can solve today’s major food security problems.

What were the main processes that changed the face of Indian agriculture?

There were three processes that destroyed the traditional face of Indian agriculture. First, the Green Revolution; second, the 1991 liberalisation of the Indian economy; and third, the George Bush-Manmohan Singh summit in July 2005 [U.S.-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture], which really gave free entry to large American food corporations into India.

But there are people trying to revive ways of traditional forms of agriculture. One of the important things to be aware of is that large corporations are spreading the idea that anyone who tries to oppose all these scientific innovations is anti-science, anti-technology, [and] anti-modern, whereas I would argue that what they are calling modernity is not modernity and, furthermore, they ignore the much more complicated discipline of eco-science completely. Colleges have a big deal of knowledge about what works, but they do not support ecological sciences. Even eco-sciences are often pressured to do absolutely simple research. Eco-scientists are testing only one part of a thing when they do research on it without understanding the larger implications of such work. It’s the synergy between various parts that matters. Research in the ecological sciences needs to be improved.

What are your current concerns?

My current concerns are with issues of sustainable agriculture and alternative agriculture. Two things I have been concerned about are: one, the destruction of our environment, the total pollution of our environment through pesticides, herbicides, GMOs [genetically modified organisms]; and the other, corporate control, with companies getting more and more powerful.

I remember reading in a publication that one of the public relations men for Monsanto had the gall to say, “When we can control land, water and the sea, we can feed the world.” I was so shocked by this. The implications that one or a few companies could control the entire humanity’s food are just terrifying. I see it as really, really frightening.

It’s not that many large corporations control the food system in the world, I think it is four or five. What’s interesting about them is that they have interlocking directors so that people who sit on the board of one sit on the board of another. Even in India, after this treaty was signed by Bush and Manmohan Singh, between India and the United States, the way these companies have been allowed freedom in India is scary. One of the things I was impressed with earlier [before the liberalisation of the Indian economy since 1991] was that India had import substitution; India had kept out unbridled corporate power. I think that once liberalisation started, it broke the back of Indian industry in many ways. It broke the autonomy; once you are part of a large corporation you don’t have autonomy – maybe you make more money but you don’t have autonomy. India’s economy started growing at a much faster rate but who benefited from this? It still has not reached people who are poor; the agricultural labourers did not receive any of this benefit.

I want Indian agriculture to go back to an ecologically sound approach based on local food production, imitating nature instead of fighting natural processes, while increasing healthy food production by focussing on small family farms as well as medium-sized and cooperative farms. A recent study by IFAD [International Fund for Agricultural Development] noted the greater efficiency of production and the higher growth potential of small-holder farms, but there is an unstated belief among agricultural planners that getting rid of all family farms is good.

What should Indian agricultural scientists and economists focus on right now?

Indian agricultural scientists and economists need to pay more attention to poor farmers. They should not decide that a one-hectare farm is small. They should focus on small farms. I hope that agriculture departments will encourage small farms and give them money for alternative agriculture. Agriculture needs to be seen as tied to the human right to food, land, seeds and water. There must be support for NPM [Non-Pesticidal Management], water harvesting, SRI [System of Rice Intensification] rice, WSHGs [Women Self-Help Groups] and farmers with a range of holdings. There should be diversification of crops.

They should totally focus on sustainable agriculture with emphasis on reform from below. And they should combine it with poverty alleviation. Do not let traditional knowledge of agriculture disappear. Use it, don’t sell it to companies. Use it for the welfare of the community. Another is helping people to help themselves.


Sustainable smallholder agriculture: Feeding the world, protecting the planet

What promise will Rio herald for agriculture?” A conversation with Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda

As the international community prepares for Rio+20 in June 2012, Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANPRAN),  will speak with Naga Munchetty, international journalist and television presenter, on the prospects for elevating the role of agriculture in the climate talks.  Dr Sibanda will present her views on what global policy and investment changes are needed to ensure that smallholder farmers in developing countries can play a central role in meeting the multiple challenges of increasing their production to ensure food security while preserving the natural environment and coping with the effects of climate change.

At the centre-stage event, Dr. Sibanda will discuss the ways in which smallholder agriculture is impacted by resource scarcity and climate change – and how farming can and must become environmentally friendly.

A leading supporter of the Farming First campaign, Dr Sibanda advocates a holistic approach to sustainable agricultural development. At FANRPAN, she coordinates policy programmes aimed at making Africa food-secure. Since 2009, she has led “No-Agriculture, No-Deal” global  campaign that has mobilized African civil society organizations to push for  the inclusion of agriculture in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations. Recently, Dr Sibanda joined some of one of the world’s most influential thinkers and provocative voices as a member of the Guardian Global Development advisory panel as one of the world’s most influential thinkers and provocative new voices on the future of agriculture.

“FAO recognition of traditional farming should keep GM away”

The traditional agricultural system of Koraput (Odisha) has been recognized by the FAO as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site (GIAHS) at the recently concluded 99th Science Congress. This recognition is for outstanding contribution to promoting food security, biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and cultural diversity for sustainable and equitable development. Living Farms is a non profit working in the Koraput region of Odisha with the tribal communities practicing the traditional form of agriculture. Debjeet Sarangi of Living Farms spoke the to The Environment Health Bulletin and explains what this recognition means for the region.

Debjeet Sarangi What does this recognition by the FAO mean for agriculture in the Koraput region ?

The recognition of this traditional form of agriculture as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site (GIAHS) is quite significant for the local communities, their traditional knowledge and agriculture systems. To begin the UN body has recognized the intrinsic value of the tribal agriculture system which is the custodian of thousands of traditional rice varieties, rich millets based mixed farming, sacred groves and agricultural ecosystems. We hope that our policy makers, institutional researchers, and research bodies also recognize this. We expect them to take strong policy decisions to conserve this heritage and ensure that the tribal communities of the region continue to live with dignity.

We also expect from the state and central government that Genetically Modified (GM) seeds and /crops will not be introduced here. The GM crops will contaminate the local agriculture system especially the local rice biodiversity and marginalize and weaken the local farming population. This recognition should also ensure that the chemical intensive mono cropping trend driven by the second Green Revolution program is not imposed or implemented here. It is also important that the land under agriculture in this region is conserved and not diverted for any other purpose.

Is this traditional system restricted to Koraput alone?

The Jeypore tract (undivided old Koraput district), is conceived by rice researchers as a centre of genetic diversity and secondary center of origin of rice. This traditional form of agriculture is not just practiced in Koraput. Its practiced in all the tribal districts of Southern Odisha. Koraput  has the highest population growth in the state. The district is primarily a tribal district; more than 70% of the total population belongs to one of the district’s 52 tribal groups. Some of the numerically large tribes in the district are Khond, Bhatada, Paroja, Bhumia and the Bondas.

What do the tribals largely rely on?

They practice millets based  mixed farming system consisting varieties of millets, sorghums, varieties of pulses, legumes, oil seeds, roots and tubers and vegetables. They have been conserving thousands of traditional varieties of rice. Apart from the cultivated sources a lot of their food, nutrition and livelihood come from commons- forests and waterbodies. So, there is an urgent need to conserve the commons in this region as well as to ensure that local tribal communities continues to  have access to their commons. (For instance if people upstream use pesticides it flows through the river and those living downstream are going to be affected)

How is this tribal agriculture and food system of Koraput different from the conventional agriculture or even the chemical free agriculture?

The tribal agriculture and food system consists of cultivated and uncultivated ecosystems. Apart from the agro-climatic situation their cultural practices and food habits, play a very important role in shaping up this system. Many festivals and rituals revolve around their agriculture and food system. They  view  cultivation as more than just a means of their food and  livelihood, they view it as a way of life.

The topographic diversity of the Koraput region has resulted in a wide diversity in ecosystems under which rice is cultivated: upland (unbunded as well as bunded), medium land (irrigated and rain fed) or low land condition. Within each ecosystem, innumerable rice varieties are grown depending on the local preferences for morphological characters (such as plant height, pigmentation of plant parts, grain shape and size, presence of awns) or cultural practices such as broadcasting, transplanting, food preparations (such as cooked rice, popped rice, puffed rice), palatability (aromatic or non-aromatic).

The official net sown area is around 25% of the total area of the region and is concentrated in plateaus and the wide river valleys. In the hilly areas however, permanently cultivated fields can be as low as 10% of the landscape. 33% of the cultivated area is irrigated; paddy occupies around fifty percent of the cultivated lands. Upland paddy and ragi (finger millet) are cultivated on around one third of the cultivated area.

Using their indigenous knowledge they take the viability test for seeds before sowing, maintain the soil fertility and conserve the landraces of rice and other crops. This knowledge has been transmitted from generation to generation among the family members.

How do the tribals preserve their plant genetic resources?

The “Sacred Grove” is an effective method of preserving plant genetic resources. It is a biological heritage as well as social mechanism by which a forest patch is protected. The concept of “sacred grove” is found deep rooted in the minds of different communities in Koraput region. Even today some forest patches are left to local deities as a traditional custom. Studies carried out by the Botanical survey of India and National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources reveal that there is a rich assemblage of species useful for food.

Rice is the predominant crop in the Jeypore area –both in terms of land as well as in terms of production. More than 40% of the land is under paddy cultivation. The other crops grown are maize, finger millet (Eleusine coracana), green gram (Vigna radiata), black gram (Vigna mungo), mustard (Brassica juncea), sesame (Sesamum orientale), groundnut (Arachis hypogea) etc. The tribal people in the hills grow minor millets, littlemillet (Panicum miliaceum), foxtail millet (Staria italica), niger (Guizotia abyssinica), pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) and horse gram (Dolichos biflorus).

Are these traditional forms of agriculture in any kind of a risk from the much talked about second green revolution ?

The second green revolution has been promoting subsidized  hybrid rice, hybrid maize, hybrid sunflower along with synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides. A region of mixed farming, local resource based agriculture is witnessing replacement of mixed farms of food crops by mostly mono cash crops. Traditional maize was never grown as a mono crop in this region. It used to be a part of a mixed farming. Are we not making the farms and farmers more vulnerable especially in this era of climate crisis ? What will happen to farmers of this region once the subsidy is withdrawn? Who will be held responsible if these tribal farmers are pushed out of their farms due to increased cost of production followed by indebtedness as a consequence of the second green revolution. We sincerely hope that the government revisits its decision on the present format and structure of the second green revolution program and re-design it to support local resource based farmer led ecological agriculture  in Koraput region as well as in rest of the Odisha.

How is this recognition going to affect the tribals ?  This agriculture system was awarded in the past on two different occasions – the Equator Initiative Partnership Award in 2002 and the plant genome saviour community award in 2006- How did they help in promoting the agriculture system and the state of tribals in the region?

We do not know whether the news of this recognition and its significance has reached to the local tribals. We hope that the cash associated with the previous  two different awards – the Equator Initiative Partnership Award in 2002 and the plant genome saviour community award in 2006 and the present one have reached the local communities. It is their community based institutions which have been the bed rock of their traditional knowledge and farming system and they should decide how the prize money should be utilized.

‘Food Security Bill is somewhat defective’ : Dr. MS Swaminathan

Jan 6, 2012, 04.40AM IST

Q: Is food security just a concept or is achievable? 

A: Of course it is attainable. There are three main issues. First is availability of food in the market. For which farmers have to produce more. Second is access to food, whether one has the money to buy it. That’s what the (food security) Bill aims to achieve. Third is absorption of food in the body, which is a function of clean drinking water. Drinking water is the most important component. That is why Rajiv Gandhi Water Mission, Total Sanitation Mission and National Rural Health Mission should be brought together under the food security Act. Otherwise, the child may eat a lot but, what we call leaky pot, yet not absorb the food.
Q: What should be the approach to ensure food for all?

A: One is the conception to cremation lifecycle approach. That is why there are different programmes such as the school meal programme, programmes for pregnant women and so on to feed right from conception stage to death. We have to enlarge the food basket through the public distribution system. Not only wheat and rice but nutria-millets such as jowar, ragi, bajra, madua should be included in the PDS. In China, out of over 500 million tones food grains, 140 million tones are nutria-cereals and millets. It is 50 to 60 million ton in our country. Secondly, women must be declared head of households for entitlement under the PDS and food security Act. They should be considered in-charge of food security in the family. That is important because women can ensure nutrition from newborns to the eldest in the family.
Q: How can cereals and millet production increase?

A: Procurement is the greatest stimulation for production. The more the government will procure, the famers will produce more. Farmers will increase production if the consumption capacity in the country increases. We should look at grains other than rice and wheat which are nutritious to have a big range. The crop holiday in Andhra Pradesh should be a wakeup call when farmers stopped production because there was no demand.
Q: Are you happy with Food Security Bill?

A: The Bill is somewhat defective in some respects. It calls for selective PDS. I personally believe there should be universal PDS as is in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The country should follow the principle of exclusion as against inclusion. Categorization of below poverty line (BPL), above poverty line (APL) and targeted PDS are controversial issues and there is large amount of corruption in such classification. One has to pay money to be a BPL. Why to get into those? There should be transparent criteria to exclude people. For example income tax payers, those who own a car and so on can be excluded from food security provisions. The proposed food security Act is the largest social protection against hunger anywhere in the world. Its success will depend upon how far we are able to reach all those who need food. In the current approach, lots of street children and the destitute will be left out.
Q: So what should be done?

A: I am pressing for the principal of exclusion. Besides putting a number of transparent criteria for excluding those from food security, selfexclusion should be the guiding principle. Tell people that those who do not need food should not ask for it. Even if you include a man who should be excluded doesn’t matter. But never should a deserving man be excluded. Freedom from hunger is freedom from corruption. The Bill must be based on a culture of honesty. Don’t develop a bill on a negative basis that people are always dishonest. The Bill has been referred to the select committee. I am sure it will take evidence from a large number of people and have a transparent criteria.
Q: Why are you a votary of traditional technology?

A: I am for combination of traditional and modern technologies, what is called eco technology. We must combine the good ecological principles of the past with the latest technology. Take for example Koraput, which was recognized as globally important agriculture heritage system. The conservation of biodiversity by tribals is commendable and is very important. Traditional wisdom is very relevant. Don’t destroy the good habits, rather build on previous knowledge. Don’t discard something because it is old or don’t worship something because it is new.We must ensure that technology is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.
Q: How come you got so much interested in Koraput?

A: I started my career in Central Rice Research Institute at CRRI Cuttack in 1954. Soon after my post-doctoral research at the University of Wisconsin, I had joined CRRI. I had visited Koraput many times then. The tribals protecting biodiversity should be encouraged more. This will help stop genetic erosion.
Q:What is the biggest challenge for food security?

A: Conservation of natural resources, mainly land and water, is the biggest challenge. Land is going out of agriculture. Real estate has become so expensive. This is becoming more important in the context of climate change.
Q: Are we prepared for climate change?

A: The world is not prepared so far. People need to be aware of the impact of climate change, which is real. Thousands of people living close to the sea coast will become climate refugees. The world must take anticipatory action to check the impact of high temperature, floods, and other fallouts of climate change. Diversification of food grains is also very important in context of climate change because one or the other of these can be produced in adverse climate conditions, which we don’t know as yet. The business as usual approach people must change.
Q: Do you foresee a workable solution to climate change?

A: Well, the solution has to be both technical and political. We need a synergy between science and public policy. Everybody starting from the grassroots level to the world leaders must be climate-change literate. Our foundation (MSSRF Foundation) has started a programme called ‘Every child is a scientist’. Not that everyone will grow to become a scientist. But everyone must have a questioning mind and understand what is biology, climate and so on.


Let farmers decide the price’: Mani Chinnaswamy, Apache Cotton

Author(s): Jyotika Sood
Issue: Jan 15, 2012
Mani Chinnaswamy’s contract farming model has prompted IIM graduates to study his Appachi formula. After all, it gives farmers the right to bargain the price of their produce with the buyer. Talking to Jyotika Sood, the entrepreneur shares the hurdles in the implementation of the formula and its potential to change farmers’ lives


Mani ChinnaswamyMani ChinnaswamyWhat makes your formula a novel contract farming model?

Appachi formula differs from conventional contract farming models, especially on the price front. We do not create uncertainty by fixing the price of the produce in advance. Our contract allows farmers to sell their commodity at the prevailing market rate. Though we have the first right to negotiate, farmers are free to auction off the produce in case of a disagreement. We motivate them to form self-help groups to enhance their bargaining power.

Our pricing mechanism usually does not disappoint them as it takes into account the labour put in by the farmer and his family. My company, Appachi Cotton, deals only in cotton because it is a family business, but alongside we encourage our farmers to grow millets, legumes and vegetables, which helps them meet their daily needs and expenses.

Another component of the formula is to ensure that farmers never go short of money and material throughout the cultivation period. The contract assures them easy availability of credit from banks, quality seeds, doorstep delivery of unadulterated fertilisers and pesticides at discounted rates, expert advice and field supervision.

We hear you have stopped facilitating farm credits.

I developed the formula with a vision that everyone who is part of the contract will fulfil their responsibilities. If a farmer takes a loan, he must repay it. It worked well for 10 years. But in 2006, during the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, some political parties promised waiving off agricultural loans in their manifesto. This led to wilful default by farmers and a bitter end to the idea. To fill the void we started looking for ways to reduce cultivation cost. This made us switch from conventional to organic cotton in 2009. Farmers are always under fear and defensive, applying fertilisers and pesticides indiscriminately, thus increasing cultivation cost. They would sanitise the entire field at the sight of a single insect. There was a need to teach them when to pick up their pesticide guns.

Is organic cotton more profitable than the conventional cotton?

In agriculture, profit can be increased either by increasing the yield or by reducing the cultivation cost. Chemicals and technologies like Bt are pushing up the yield, but they are also increasing the cost of cultivation.

Farmers are organic by default. Through Appachi, we remove middlemen, passing the benefits directly to farmers. An increasing number of farmers are switching from conventional to organic cotton lately. Since the yield reduces during the conversion period, we offer them financial support to keep up their interest in organic cotton. We help them get organic certification.

What are the challenges before organic cotton?

No doubt Bt cotton poses the threat of contamination to organic cotton, but the biggest challenge is seed. All our seed banks have run out of traditional cotton varieties. Hardly any company or agriculture university is coming forward with seeds suitable for organic farming. The government and universities are promoting Bt crops, while people want safe organic crops.

What are the other endeavours of your company?

We have an integrated model for organic cotton farmers and weavers. At present, we have 165 farmers and 50 weavers. We make products like sarees and dress material under the brand name, Ethicus. We put our craftsperson’s name and picture on every piece he creates and mention the time it took to weave the fabric.

Q&A: Vandana Shiva ‘Retail FDI is not about investment, but market grab’

Q&A: Vandana Shiva
‘Retail FDI is not about investment, but market grab’
Sreelatha Menon / November 27, 2011, 0:40 IST

The Cabinet’s decision to allow up to 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail was taken without consulting the states, activist Vandana Shiva tells Sreelatha Menon.

Three years ago, you had campaigned against FDI in retail. But, with the Cabinet’s decision to open the sector to foreign chains, it has been made a reality. Do you accept it now? You have been silent on the issue.
It is still wrong, and many times over so. First, the model of FDI in multi-brand retail has completely failed. The failure has been established in the West. Why else do you have the Occupy Wall Street protests? Also, the decision was taken by the government on the third day of the Opposition demanding action on price rise and the economic crisis. The government seems to be saying, “We don’t care about Parliamentary democracy”. As far as I am concerned, I am writing to the states to improve the understanding on implications of the Cabinet’s decision. The media has been silent, too. In fact, it has been celebrating it, as if it was a big achievement.

One of the reasons in its favour is it would cut wastage and create a cold chain.

In the last one year, I wrote foreword to many books; most were on the wastage in the giant retail model. There is 50 per cent wastage. That India records 40 per cent wastage of food is a lie. It is another matter that the Prime Minister is allowing grains to rot by not picking them up.

How can there be wastage in big retail?
About 50 per cent of the wastage is at the farm level. If you order bread from a bakery, the baker has to stock it all day, and throw what is not sold.

But isn’t it supposed to help farmers, since 30 per cent of the procurement is local?
That is another lie. They call small retail ideological. But it is a reality in this country. The entry of Walmart and the likes started only after India inked the knowledge agreement on agriculture with the US.

As for farmers, if Monsanto’s entry led to a quarter million suicides, Walmart would pave the way for more. The model thrives on making everyone reduce margins, till none exist at lower levels. People reduce their margins till they go out of business. Besides, the criterion for 30 per cent local procurement qualifies businesses below $100 million. That is not small-scale in India!

Also, their model is to use five companies for two years, and then abandon these for new ones.

What would be the implications on labour? Won’t it create jobs?
Why is Walmart importing 80 per cent of what it sells in the US from China? Walmart can’t exist where there are labour rights. They had to leave Germany. As for jobs, the difference between India and the US is we have surplus labour. However, the irony is displaced farmers would not find jobs in these shops. They get educated kids. The poor migrants here can then resort to crime.

What about cold chains and backend infrastructure, which would come with retail FDI?
Does our country lack backend infrastructure? It is decentralised and distributed across the country. If there is a functional village haat or a local mandi that is backend infrastructure, they want to centralise these.

Walmart, for instance, entered India on cash-and-carry five years ago. What backend infrastructure have they created so far? If they couldn’t in five years, what can any of these companies do now?

But hasn’t China benefited from FDI in retail?
Yes, their domestic retail has doubled. But the truth is there was not a shop there. You are comparing a country with zero retail with India, which has a 400 million strong retail force.

The Cabinet decision is not about investment, but market grab. It is the Macaulay effect: You feel inferior and thus, succumb to anything that comes from outside, even if it is worthless.

Why do you call it market grab?
The whole unemployment crisis in the West is due to the model of centralised procurement by a few big players. If the big retailer is to import all medicines from China, our pharmacists would shut shop. Our electronics shops would shut shop. People would go to the big retailer to get cheaper stuff. In the 80s, the difference between retail and wholesale prices was six per cent, which rose to 50 per cent six years ago. With FDI in retail, 98 per cent would go to retail and just two per cent to farmers.

But no state or party has objected so far.
This is because states have not been consulted. It is so undemocratic. And, the Opposition has been tricked when it was not prepared for it. It shows the government refuses to learn a lesson from what happened to Europe and the US. It is an insult to the nation.

Have you been supporting the Anna movement?
I have known Anna since 1984, and his work in Ralegan Siddhi is great. In April, I told him the challenge is to join the energy of existing movements. It is focused on one law. It should be a set of parallel movements, with each member taking up a cause. Maybe, (Arvind) Kejriwal can take up Lok Pal and someone else can take up another issue. Public support can be channelised to many issues to create a nationwide movement for change on many fronts.

Critics have said the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been driving the movement. Do you agree?
No, that is not true. The RSS has not been able to keep up with issues and is out of touch. If it wanted to do something, it would do it on its own. It is a coming together of many people from different movements. I was called for their first meeting in January, but wasn’t able to make it. And, there were people from across the spectrum — from Ramdev to activists.

Would you join them?
No. I don’t jump into any bandwagon.