Searching for our daily bread

If the word crisis is vastly overused, to speak of a global food crisis is, if anything, an understatement.

The first signs of trouble appeared in 2000, when global grain stocks declined for the first time in several decades, but it was not until the spring of 2007 that the full gravity of what was occurring became clear. That year, the prices of the principal food staples — rice, corn, soybeans and wheat — effectively doubled. This was an |unprecedented rise, and it reversed more than 50 years of declining prices. The results were immediate and devastating: the number of hungry or chronically malnourished people rose by at least 100 million, to nearly one billion people. Food riots and other forms of unrest broke out.

While global grain prices have declined substantially since 2008, they are poised to rise again. When they do, the costs in terms of both human suffering and political and social upheaval are likely to make the 2007 price crisis pale by comparison.

It is easy to mock the various conferences, emergency meetings and seemingly endless policy documents that have tried to mitigate the threat but so far have achieved little. In fairness, though, responding effectively will be extraordinarily difficult. Despite what some conspiracy-minded critics have alleged, the crisis has a number of drivers, each one of which would be challenging enough on its own, but which taken together seem to call for a hard-to-imagine radical restructuring. These drivers include the diversion of grains in North America and western Europe to biofuel production; higher energy costs, which translate into more expensive chemical fertilisers; and since 2000, financial speculation over staple crops, which causes price fluctuations.

As if this were not bad enough, these changes have been taking place during a period of very rapid population growth. And in some regions with dramatic demographic increases, like sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, climate change is threatening to lower crop yields at precisely the time that more staple foods urgently need to be produced.

 

Although everyone agrees there is a food emergency, there is little agreement on what should be done. The dominant approach, championed and to a considerable extent financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — now the world’s principal private funder of agricultural research — holds that the global food crisis is fundamentally the result of both inefficient and insufficient food production. Therefore the solution is what Gordon Conway, the former president of another major philanthropic supporter of this effort, has called “the doubly green revolution.” Conway has defined this as harnessing “the power of science and technology not just for the better-off, or even the majority, but for those millions of poor and hungry who deserve and have a right to enough to eat.”

 

Arrayed against this view are the agroecologists, grouped around organisations and coalitions like the right to food movement in India and their intellectual supporters, like Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food. They argue that agroecology — the application of ecological principles to agriculture — offers the possibility of increasing crop yields without resorting to expensive, patented inputs beyond the means of poor smallholder farmers. They also argue that the global food crisis is less a technical problem than a social and political crisis, whose roots and solutions lie in creating a fairer and more accountable world system.

 

For now, the technological aproach remains in the ascendant. Whether it remains so much longer will depend to a considerable extent on whether its innovations live up to their advance billing, are financially sustainable and prove to be culturally acceptable to farmers.

 

Both sides would probably agree that neither technical innovation nor agroecology can work unless governments are fully committed to reducing the number of hungry and chronically malnourished people. When governments have been committed, progress has been very rapid, as the examples of China, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, and, most brilliantly, Brazil, have demonstrated conclusively over the last three decades. When they have not been, as is the case, disgracefully, in India — where the malnutrition rate for children under five stubbornly remains at 46 per cent, double the average in sub-Saharan Africa — conditions have deteriorated.

 

But if the global food crisis is real, it is not unsolvable. One of the greatest accomplishments of the 20th century was to make famine — for all of human history a scourge that seemed as inevitable as the other three horsemen of the apocalypse, war, plague, and death — a rarity. Today, famine is almost invariably the product of evil governments, North Korea being the obvious case, or of no government, as in Somalia. The hunger that maims and blights should be consigned to the past, just as the hunger that kills has been.

 

IIM students to study ‘crop holiday’ villages

The Hans India, 
 
Bhimavaram: The much discussed ‘crop holiday,’ declared by the farmers in East and West Godavari districts has drawn the attention of IIM Ahmadabad agri-business management students.
As part of their rural immersion programme, the IIM has decided to depute two teams of students to study the issue in its totality. Each team consists of seven students. IIM-Ahmadabad has taken this decision at the behest of the Kisan Service Organisation, an NGO based at Hyderabad.
Akkineni Bhavani Prasad, it’s general secretary disclosed this to media here. Kisan Service Organisation, with its active support of Rythu Karyacharana Samithi is making arrangements to facilitate the study.
Korukollu under Palakoderu mandal in West Godavari district and Kodurupadu village under Allavaram mandal in East Godavari district where crop-holiday is being observed have been selected for pilot study, according to Mr Prasad. Student teams will be arriving at Korukollu and Kodurupadu in December and stay there for full 15 days.
They will conduct household survey with a special emphasis on agriculture. The study includes village profile, occupational patterns, levels of participation in village panchayat functioning, income flow of BPL families etc. This is first phase of programme and the same teams will visit the same villages in the second phase, possibly in April, 2012.
Profile of students to be deputed are IITians, doctors, engineers of different streams and students of agriculture, dairy and bio-technology. Six of them are girl students.
Taking advantage of the proposed study, the farmers’ bodies are contemplating to place the findings of the study to the Planning Commission of India.
Speaking to newsmen, Rythu Karyacharana Samithi leader M V Suryanarayana Raju said that issues relating to unrest among farmers is a national issue and need to focused nationally. He thanked the IIM Ahmadabad for undertaking this crucial study.
Former Member of Parliament Yerra Narayana Swami, who participated in the press conference termed the former Chief Secretary Mohan Kanda’s report ‘bureaucratic,’ catering to the needs of the State government.
Since, the issues relating to unrest among farmers and crisis in agriculture are of immense significance in policy planning, they needed a critical evaluation, he said.

Who will do Farming? summery of discussions on Sept 2nd. at Naren Fellowship meeting

Summary of round table discussion at G.Narendranath fellowship award meeting, held on Sep. 2 2011 at Sundarayya Vignana Kendram, Hyderabad.

The meeting started with Samyuktha welcoming the guests and giving details regarding the fellowship: the purpose of the fellowship is to give a small monetary support (of Rs. One lakh) every year to grass root activists who are not so well known and who are in need of such support; it is anchored in the Center for Equity Studies(CES); decisions regarding the fellowship will be taken by a Committee which has been formed consisting of Harsh Mander of CES, P. Chenniah, Jeevan Kumar and Samyuktha. This year’s (2011-2012) fellowship was awarded to M. Nagaraja, a journalist from Chittoor district who has been active on issues of Dalit equity, agricultural workers and farmers. The award was presented by Bojja Tharakam, a senior advocate of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, respected Dalit leader and the state president of Republican Party of India. Harsh Mander spoke about the focus areas of CES and recalled how Naren in his various satyagrahas respected the opponents, expressed his views in a gentle but firm manner. Tharakam recalled Naren’s concern for Dalits, and his simple lifestyle, etc. Nagaraja spoke about his association with Naren. T. L. Sankar also spoke about Naren’s sacrifice of a comfortable life in favor of a life of service.

Round-table discussion:

A brief on the topic: The topic of discussion is “Who will do farming? Rethinking agriculture in the context of changing agrarian relations” With the sweeping changes in the rural areas during the past decade, we evidently need to think beyond the business-as-usual frameworks to understand the present and imagine the future. The incomes from agriculture have become very meager; farmers are finding it difficult to meet their basic needs and are getting indebted. Many of the rural youth are moving away from farming, both from the farmer families and agricultural worker families. The reduced availability of labour has become visible in rural areas, and at the same time, the labour wages have also increased significantly. Many farmers are perceiving that it is better to work for wages than invest in their own land because of poor returns. In this scenario, there is a clear threat of corporates taking over agriculture, and can farmers and agricultural workers find common cause in protecting agriculture-based livelihoods? Also, how do we address the issues of inter-sectoral parity, where the primary production is being valued less and less compared to all other sectors (in 1972, bag of paddy cost the same as 5 grams of gold. Now, bag of paddy is 1/15th the price of 5 grams of gold). These are some of the questions prompting the session of rethinking, with diverse people – those who have worked directly on agriculture issues as well as others who recognize these questions as having a cross-cutting relevance to how we understand development and how we imagine the future India.

The round-table discussion was moderated by Chenniah. He said that this is a question of great relevance in the current context. It is a matter of great concern and anxiety that corporate sector is making huge inroads into farming, displacing farmers and wondered what will be the future of farmers in this country.

K. R. Chowdry:

40% of farmers immediately want to leave agriculture. Even those left in farming prefer NREGS and daily wage work, because they are better paying than farming. 48% don’t have land, because land reforms were never carried out adequately. On an average, farmers are spending Rs.12,000 and getting Rs.9000 incurring a loss of Rs.3000 on every crop. It is no wonder capital formation is not happening in agriculture. The problems of Green revolution, followed by post-1991 economic policies of liberalization and structural reforms have caused the present crisis situation in agriculture.

Kodandaram: People usually work on either land reforms or farmers’ issues. Naren saw the two as integral parts of agricultural sector and worked on both in a comprehensive manner. Land ownership is not just a legal right, a question of who owns it legally; rather it is also a question of who controls the production. Land reforms should be accompanied by agricultural reforms so that the beneficiaries can profit from the land given to them. In modern agriculture, various forces are actually dictating to the farmer – borewells, fertilizers, new ‘technologies’ – and production is no longer actually under the farmer’s control. Modern agriculture has collapsed the traditional farmer in drastic ways; the farmers feel profoundly alienated from the production process. All the political parties are on the same page with regard to the above; Chandra Babu Naidu talked about corporate farming; YS Rajasekar Reddy talked about cooperative farming; but both meant the same.

There is a lot of discussion about crop holiday in Godavari districts. This is an area where the government has invested a lot to provide irrigation and enable 2 or 3 crops. But what about farmers in Anantapur district, Chittoor district, Mahbubnagar district. There farmers have kept their lands fallow many seasons, unable to cultivate. In Mahbubnagar, there is a lot of distress among farmers, and we have seen a lot of migration. The issue we should look at is: how will small farmers do agriculture where there have been no major government investments? This is the question government policies should grapple with.

Malla Reddy: There is a Telugu proverb: “there are six reasons for Karna’s death” in Mahabharata, meaning we cannot pin point one particular reason; similarly there are many reasons for farmers’ distress but at the end they are being killed, though agriculture itself is flourishing. I don’t agree that agriculture is in crisis. It is the farming community that is in crisis. 95 lakhs of farmers have holdings below five acres; the farm inputs are controlled by corporates, and their agents like microfinance and self-help groups; the govt. has decreased subsidy on fertilizer from Rs.70,000 crores to Rs.50,000 crores; there is no separate agriculture minister for the state of AP ; the Deputy CM is made in charge of agriculture; he does not have any knowledge of agriculture. All these go to show how agriculture is being neglected in the state.

P.S.Ajay Kumar: It was said by some speakers that the post-1991 policies are the cause for agricultural crisis. There is an implication that the earlier period of 1960s to 80s was a positive period in Indian agriculture. But to me, that is the period when the government failed to implement land reforms. That was the period when the landless classes were promised their stake in agriculture by creating ownership of land and resources – but the promise was not delivered. Now, when you ask who should do farming, our question is how long should we remain in farming as landless labourers only?

Only when that question is addressed, we can get agricultural labourers involved in the question of how agriculture can be sustained. You talk about sustainable agriculture but you need to answer the question of what is the role of agricultural labourers in our vision of sustainable agriculture. It is only through land reforms that they can become farmers and can work on sustainable agriculture together with the existing small farmers.

So in the changed context, we need to think about new land reform agenda in which small, medium farmers and agricultural labourers can work together.

1. Redefine land ceiling and implement redistribution of land;

2. People whose primary income is from outside agriculture should give up their control of land. This land should be given to actual cultivators.

3. Then farmers and labourers together as allies should resist the large scale changes in land utilization, the taking away of agricultural land.

4. Revenue reforms should be pushed for by the two sections together.

5. Corporate takeover of agriculture should also be resisted together as allies.

Instead of addressing these root causes, it doesn’t work if you just show NREGS as a big evil influence on agriculture.

Ramanjaneyulu: Now agriculture is being seen in sectional way; rainfed vs. irrigated; laborers vs. farmers; small vs, large farmers, etc. Instead we should ask who should do farming, how to do and how to protect natural resources. He agreed with Ajay that sustainable agriculture should address concerns like how to get agricultural workers interested. He asked: why should there be a land ceiling only for agriculture, why not for industry as well?

While crop holiday is being talked about in coastal districts, there has been undeclared crop holiday in many other places. The cultivated fallows in Andhra Pradesh as per official figures is more than 10%. Unless the government brings policies that ensure income security for the farming community, and to encourage low-input sustainable agriculture, the agricultural crisis is not going to be addressed.

K.S. Gopal: We have to face the fact that going by economic trends, most of the farmers will also disappear like weavers, iron smiths and small factories. The thought I have is that we should not view their role only in economic terms; we have to look beyond economic considerations and emphasize the ecological functions of agriculture, its role in ensuring food sovereignty, etc. Then the valuation will be different. I have some ideas for how to go about it, but can discuss those details separately. We have to also understand the aspirations of rural youth; in our society manual labor has no dignity; it should be emphasized.

Rajiv: In the present day globalized world, is there some way of improving our efficiency in agricultural production so that we can be as good as other countries from whom we are importing?

Samineni Rama Rao: The issue of concern is that village-level contradictions are being enhanced. Tenant farmers being pitched against agricultural labourers, and so on. All this plays in favour of big landlords again. We need to think about the interests of the working class as a whole. Let’s think about addressing the agricultural crisis taking small and marginal farmers and landless labourers together.

Prasada Rao: Many of the problems are a result of the economic policies followed by various governments, especially since 1991. The AIKS has prepared a detailed document on how to address the farmers’ distress and rejuvenate the agriculture sector. But the challenge is to mobilize the farmers around these agendas and demands, and build a movement. Otherwise these will only remain ideas and discussions.

Saraswati: Land has some limited production capacity; socio-cultural factors like higher standard of living, marriages are also causing agricultural crisis; but before we ask the farmers to resort to simple lifestyles, can we, from other sectors who are well off, also practice such life styles? Why should farmers not aspire for a higher standard of living?

Harindranath: Living agriculture means living with nature; if we leave agriculture we will be distanced from nature; therefore in fact farming should be actually done by majority; everyone should have land and should do cooperative farming and aim at village self-sufficiency; so that there is no need to look for labor; so that production by masses rather than mass production will happen.

Uma Shankari: In the pricing of primary sector products and services, not only in agriculture , but also forests and minerals, food, water and air, etc., there is an inherent contradiction: they have to be priced low so that they are accessible, available and affordable to all, including the poor; they have also to be priced low so that in the process of value addition to them, the end –price does not become too high; but this results in under-valuing and under-pricing them. Especially in a growing economy this results in tremendous inequality; while other sectors are growing in leaps and bounds, agriculture sector is losing its share of the national economy all the time; this inequality has a suctioning effect ; it is like a vacuum pump pulling all the resources, material, financial and human resources, and putting them in other sectors. This inequality must be reduced and corrections have to come from sectors other than primary sector. Why should a company like Reliance be allowed to grow and amass wealth as it has been doing? They can “buy” up huge tracts of agricultural lands; they have the money power supported by political power and muscle power.

Mohan: According to RBI Governor Subbarao, service sector is not capable of absorbing 40% of people who want to move out of agriculture. He exhorted that manufacturing sector should absorb them. But experts in manufacturing sector are saying, due to advanced technologies and labor problems, we can not absorb them; so where should these people go?

All the products from cities are coming to rural areas whereas very few goods are going from rural to urban; if this continues, drain of rural economy will also continue. To address this primary sector and rural economy should be strengthened; rural enterprises should be promoted. And integrated farming with allied enterprises like poultry ,dairy, milling , etc, should be encouraged.

Economic development should be based not on growth alone but on std. of living for every citizen.

Kurmanath: As a journalist I was assigned to go to a meeting in FICCI titled food 360degrees, to promote food processing industry; out of my own interest I came here; we should reach out to the media so that public debate can happen on all these issues, and common people will start thinking about them.

Dinesh: Widespread malnutrition among farmers is a matter of concern; Farmers are not eating what they are producing; they are not producing what they are eating. Anantapur farmers economics has become so unviable, why should they do farming? Should they do farming for food or for money? If they are asked to grow only for money, then it is financially unviable in many places. Also, even in villages, the fact is that many young people are not ready to do hard work, physical work. We need to think as a society what will happen if everyone moves away from physical work.

Babji: Crop holiday in Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh is because big farmers are absentee landlords, they are in the grip of companies, they see agriculture as a commercial profit oriented enterprise, not as a source of food; however, for small farmers like tribal farmers, agriculture is a source of livelihood and food and this should be protected. It is ridiculous that in ABN Andhrajyothy debate, NREGS was shown as a major culprit leading to the crop holiday. Noone was asked to present the point of view of NREGS workers. Agricultural workers getting higher wages cannot be considered as cause for farmers’ distress, and this is a gross manipulation and unfair conclusion.

Ramachandriah: Aspirations of middle class have changed; the perception is that life is better in cities; there is more financial security and less risk; in such a scenario small towns should be developed which are closer to the villages so that agriculture and related occupations can thrive.

Lokareddappa: Land redistribution in AP was done in five installments; it was carried out often in such a way that the well off farmers got rid of degraded lands by selling them to SC Corporation which in turn was redistributed; so the beneficiaries have to work harder to profit from them.

Sivaramakrishna: 1 tula (10gm) of Gold and a bag of rice cost the same in the sixties; now gold is 15 times more than the price of rice; this is because the surplus from the rural /agriculture sector is being enjoyed by the urban classes. Instead of addressing these underlying imbalances, instead of giving land to landless poor in rural areas, we are talking food rights, NREGS, etc. We are not addressing the causes of poverty; instead we are asking them to be poor but we will help them survive by giving them “right to food”, NREGS and so on. How come we progressives who used to believe in true economic equality and so on are settling for things like so many kg of rice at Rs.2? We seem to be stuck fighting our own specific battles while the larger war is being lost. We need to see sustainable agriculture, land rights and labour issues together as interconnected issues and not see them separately.

Kishan Rao: Delta farmers’ issue is not nation’s problem; 78% of farmers in AP delta area are absentee landlords; their lands are cultivated by tenants; with rise of cost of cultivation, and tenants facing chronic losses, tenants are reluctant to pay the same tenancy charges as before; with margins decreasing the absentee landowners together with tenants have declared crop holiday; The solution is: for every piece of land, the government should guarantee provision of water for one crop season; In return, no land should be left fallow; If any owner leaves land fallow, force them to sell the land to the landless in the village.

In response to the question raised by a young participant about increasing efficiencies in production, we should keep in mind that land has limited capacity to produce; if we squeeze it to produce more, it will have adverse effects in some other aspects like soil fertility, etc.

Saraswati asked why can’t we have a situation where we can farm without subsidies; to which, an Anatapur dt. farmer recounted his experiences as to how at every step he faced obstacles, completely out of his control; he said that is why we need subsidies; without which farming can not be done.

Ravindra: For so many decades, it seems that the land-owning class is not ready to loosen their control of agriculture. Even now, absentee landlords are not ready to let go. If it is finally happening that because of increasing labour costs and so on, farming is viable only for those who actually work on the land, and not for those who depend on getting others to do the work, then we can welcome it. But I don’t know whether they will move away so easily. So far, all the government subsidies and programs are also geared towards keeping the land under their control, not passing it on to the real cultivators. When we talk about retaining farmers in agriculture, we need to think about who should be retained.

Kiran: It is difficult to summarize such a discussion. While the topic of discussion itself was framed as a question, the discussion raised even more questions which are very pertinent. It was not expected that the discussion will result in very concrete answers, but the very process of brainstorming itself has been very useful. Some challenging questions were put forth, for example, Ajay Kumar asked how can we create a stake for agricultural workers in the future of agriculture. I hope we will continue the discussion on the issues raised.

A couple of comments: In some of the discussions on the crop holiday, NREGS is being pointed as a major cause for the farmers’ distress; this needs to be definitely opposed, as has been pointed out by many speakers. What has clearly emerged from this discussion is that we have to move towards a joint struggle by farmers and agricultural workers. Since many agri. workers and Dalits also have acquired some land and are facing the problems as small and marginal farmers too, our focus should be small/medium farmers, tenant farmers and agricultural workers – basically those who are actually living in the villages and directly involved in cultivation. We also need to think about better organizing among agricultural workers and farmers whether jointly or separately so that the agricultural operations can be done more efficiently in a planned manner. Otherwise the “corporate efficiency” will start taking over.

Chenniah (closing remarks): The discussion has been very good and many people expressed their thoughts. These issues are very crucial, and it is clear that we all need to engage with the problems of agriculture – especially the small, marginal and medium farmers, and agricultural workers. It is also important to prevent the corporate takeover of agriculture. I hope we continue these discussions and take up necessary action.

Jeevan Kumar (HRF) gave the vote of thanks and appreciated the active participation of everyone in the discussion on the very pertinent topic.

NBA to take action against Bt Brinjal biopiracy

The development of Bt Brinjal was a case of biopiracy, according to the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA). According to sources, the NBA has finally concluded its year-long investigation and recommended action against the U.S. agribusiness giant, Monsanto, and its Indian collaborators, who developed and promoted the controversial, genetically modified vegetable.

A decision to “take the case to its logical conclusion” was taken in an NBA meeting on June 20, according to official sources, who say, this means Monsanto and co could face criminal proceedings. When the NBA met on Tuesday, it discussed the “comprehensive evidence” and “supporting proof” gathered against Bt Brinjal’s promoters, say sources. “The NBA is now continuously moving forward in that direction,” said a senior official who refused to speculate on how long the process will take.

The charge against the Bt Brinjal’s developers — which include Monsanto’s Indian partner Mahyco, as well as Indian universities and research organisations — is they allegedly accessed nine Indian varieties of brinjal to develop their genetically modified vegetable without prior permission from the NBA or the relevant State and local boards.

This is a violation of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, according to the Environmental Support Group (ESG) which lodged the formal complaint with the Karnataka Biodiversity Board on February 15, 2010, soon after the government put a moratorium on Bt Brinjal on health and safety grounds.

ESG points out that by using the local brinjal varieties without permission, Monsanto and co compromised “India’s sovereign control over its biological resources” and also “denied economic and social benefits to local communities under the Access and Benefit Sharing Regime.” It adds biopiracy is a cognisable, non-bailable crime with severe financial penalties as well.

Monsanto has denied violating biodiversity protection laws, while the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwar, claims that the law does not apply to them as they are a publically funded company. The NBA has been responsible for the investigation since June 2010.

Onion varieties

Meanwhile, Monsanto applied to the NBA on June 27 to access two varieties of Indian onions for potential hybridisation. While the NBA originally forwarded the application to relevant authorities, it is not clear if that process will be affected by the biopiracy case now reaching a conclusion.

Constructing Agrarian Altenratives_Quartz download

Many of India’s small and marginal farmers are under distress and have to deal with
scarcity of various kinds – they are in a highly vulnerable condition. This dissertation
studies the historical development of a project geared towards improving the vulnerable
conditions of marignal farming communities in Andhra Pradesh (India). After a series
of massive pest infestations and a wave of farmers’ suicides, several scientists felt that
conventional pest management methods were unable to address both the ecological
sustainability of the soil and the economic ability of marginal farmers to cope with the
overall risks of agrarian production. The Non-pesticidal Management project (NPM)
slowly emerged as set of non-chemical pest management practices that were largely
based on locally available inputs and hence cheap.
NPM runs in a long tradition of social concern and commitment that uses the
method of creative dissent, which combines critiques of a particular (societal) condition,
technology or mainstream policy with elements of creative and innovative work. In
India, creative disent projects tend to address the condition of marginalized or
vulnerable groups, and one important area of engagement for creative dissenters is the
space between science, technology and development. Those who use this method are
usually concerned with the civilian social realm and are familiar with the thought of
Mahatma Gandhi, to whom the practice of creative dissent is irrevocably connected.
This dissertation traces the history of the NPM project. As such, this study adds an
empirical exemplar to the existing research on creative dissent and contributes to the
theoretical understanding of creative dissent as a method for the construction of
(agrarian) alternatives for vulnerable marginal communities. The central concern that
guides the argument is how the creative dissenters in the NPM project constructed an
agrarian alternative for marginal farmers in order to reduce their vulnerable livelihood
conditions.

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

Dear Colleagues,

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

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

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

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

Agricultural Scientists should support every agro-technology or agri-practice that empowers small holder farmers/producers (about 80% of farmers in India own 10 acres or less), meets their nutrition, health, food and cash needs, improves their purchasing power, increases their net income. The desired/targeted agro-technologies should also be eco-friendly, sustainable and should address issues related to climate change. With the available data and information to us, GM technology, as of now, does not fit these criteria.
On the other hand, several low-cost and eco-friendly agri-practices without synthetic pesticides are scientifically sound and are being used by a large number of farmers in India. Some of the practitioner farmers are award winners from different states for their innovations and/or for high yield. It is unfortunate that hardly any research institution is promoting these practices as pro-actively as they are for GM technology. An assemblage of such practices without synthetic pesticides was called Non Pesticidal Management (NPM) by Dr. M.S. Chari (former Director, Central Tobacco Research Institute, an ICAR institute), a renowned entomologist while working with the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, an NGO based in Secundrabad. The NPM further graduated to Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) in partnership with the Federation of Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) in Andhra Pradesh in 2005 onward. It has been proved to alleviate poverty in Andhra Pradesh (see http://www.serp.ap.gov.in/CMSA/). After evaluation/verification, the CMSA is being scaled-up by SERP (Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, a program of the Government Andhra Pradesh) from 2007-08 season. In the 2009-10 season it was practiced on 23 lakh acres spread in 8033 villages. In the coming season (2011-12), the Andhra government plans to extend the practice to 35 lakh acres and cover 8500 villages under this program (personal communication, Dr. D.V. Raidu of SERP, phone: 09000400509). A video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=npdd6DV0t7s ) and report (www.serp-ncsa.com) is available for those interested to have more data/information.
I would like to end this response note by the following views of COLIN TUDGE, a biologist and writer (see full article on http://www.newstatesman.com/200404260019):
“Can we still rely on what scientists tell us? Alas, no. Their conferences and papers are sponsored by industry, their bad results are concealed, their jobs are threatened if they step out of line….. .

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

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

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

Readers are urged to share this document widely.

Om Rupela
former Principal Scientist, ICRISAT

Response to TAAS report by Dr Rupela

Stakeholders interface GM food crops