Everyone is stealing germplasm: Dr. Hampaiah, Chairperson, AP Biodiversity Board


Author(s): Latha Jishnu

Date: Sep 15, 2012

When agronomist Ralladoddi Hampaiah was advisor to the Russian government, he discovered how easy it was to take genetic resources out of India. And also how easy it was to bring in such material—bypassing quarantining regulations and other critical formalities. He once took 100 seeds of maize for testing to Russia from Delhi, and at Moscow airport he was grilled thoroughly about the seeds, their origin and certification. On his return from Russia, he brought in an enormous quantity of seeds, all of 15 kg, but was waved through customs! No questions asked. That was in 1993 before the international convention on biodiversity came into being. But not much has changed since then, although India has passed its own laws on biodiversity conservation and has regulatory systems in place, says the man who is now chairperson of the Andhra Pradesh State Biodiversity Board. Coming to the post after a long innings with private seed companies, most of it with Pioneer Seeds, a multinational owned by DuPont, Hampaiah has a clear understanding of how the industry works. Everyone is stealing germplasm, alleges the official who has been in the news for several controversial actions, including a case against Monsanto. In a freewheeling conversation with Latha Jishnu, Hampaiah says biopiracy is a major concern, but shortage of funds and experts are hampering the work of state boards. Excerpts:

RALLADODDI HAMPAIAHWhy do you say our bio-resources are going out of India? We have laws to safeguard them.

It is not lack of laws but lack of understanding. Many of our ministries and departments don’t know the value of our germplasm. Till the mid-1990s, everything was exchanged freely. Look at the number of multinational companies (MNCs) that came to India because of our germplasm. It is all readymade for whoever wants to pick it from either the agriculture universities or research institutions in the country. Important germplasm resources we have are of sorghum, pearl millet, rice, cotton….Andhra Pradesh has a wealth of biodiversity and that may be the reason why we have hundreds of MNC operating in the state.

Is it all brazen theft?

No, the regulations also enable our germplasm to be taken out legally. Under Section 40 of the Biological Diversity Act, valuable material can be exported openly as “normally traded items”. It allows the Centre to exempt some items from the required permission from the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) for use of biological resources. All kinds of germplasm are being sent out as “normally traded items”.

Who is sending out our germplasm?

Seed companies, pharmaceutical industry, researchers, just about everyone is stealing. The small seed companies steal from the big ones and the big ones get it from research institutions under various ploys after signing MoUs with them or with universities. No one declares the origin of the material. Other countries are particular about their genetic resources. In 1993, even before the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed, I realised the difference in the way we treat our germplasm and other countries do. I took some 100 maize seeds to Russia when I was advisor to the government and they asked me for certification and other information. It was the same when I took out 15 kg of maize from Russia. The DNA of all the material is coded and registered and they follow the rules strictly. When I brought the seeds to India—and it was only to make a point—I was waved through customs. The plant quarantine officials were not present. So just to see how the system worked, I took the seeds to Faridabad where the office is located. They were taken aback and pleaded with me to take the seeds away quietly.

What is the way out?

Government should insist on a certificate of origin from NBA for all such items in addition to the phytosanitary certification. Every department should be sensitised to the value of our bio-resources, specially the customs. They have a major role to play.

Given these constraints, what have you done to protect biodiversity in Andhra Pradesh in the past six years?

We have taken a number of measures to spread awareness among the people by forming biodiversity management committees at the village-level and written to NBA about the trade in genetic material through the “normally traded” route. The regulator had no clue at the time about this. We had also filed a case for benefit-sharing against Monsanto for stealing the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) from Mahanandi village in Kurnool district. (Bt is the most widely used bacterium in genetic modification of crops). Analysis of the soil shows that the bacterium comes from this area. We were claiming one to two per cent of sales revenue earned from the sale of Bt cotton (seeds) as royalty.

Are you saying Bt cannot be found anywhere else? What happened to the claim on Monsanto?

We have proved up to 99 per cent that Monsanto took Bt from Mahanandi. It did not contest this. But the case was not legally tenable because the notice to the US MNC was sent too late, in 2007. The germplasm was taken in 1992 and our regulation (BDA) came into force in 2002. The lawyers said the claim will now have to be fought in US courts.

Are there any other cases of biopiracy that you can cite?

Hundreds. In the case of Bt cotton, the germplasm was taken from Acharya Ranga Agricultural University in Hyderabad. What was used is a top quality variety called Narasimha. Unfortunately, the variety came into the public domain in 2004 when the registration period (18 years) ended. Similarly, so much rice germplasm has been taken away from the Directorate of Rice Research in Hyderabad which is a huge repository of our indigenous varieties. Nowadays MNCs are signing MoUs with it.

In the case of the Ongole bull, reports say the government gave a conservation award to a farmer for exporting its semen to Brazil at a time when Brazil is being accused of biopiracy. Doesn’t this undermine the board’s credentials?

No, that is not correct. The farmer was awarded for selling an Ongole bull to a Gujarat buyer for a big amount, Rs 35 lakh. Promoting this breed is a good example of conserving local biodiversity and creating awareness. I agree these bulls are taken to Bhavnagar for onward export to Brazil and other countries. But the problem is that the trade in Ongole bulls is huge. In a recent fair in Panama, a bull was on offer with a base price of Rs 3 crore. I have seen fancy catalogues of cattle fairs even in Australia where the Ongole bull is a prized breed.

At a recent fair in Panama, Andhra Pradesh’s Ongole bull was offered for `3 croreAt a recent fair in Panama, Andhra Pradesh’s Ongole bull was offered for Rs 3 crore (Photo: Guna Sekhar Pera)So what is the Andhra Pradesh board doing about it? After all Ongole bulls have been traded for over a 100 years and are now an international breed.

I spoke to the CBD executive secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, a Brazilian, about this issue. He said we should have a cut-off date—1993 when CBD was established—otherwise, it would become too messy if we delved too far into the past. Now, another breed, the Punganur cow (from Punganur in Chittoor district), is becoming important and we want to create awareness about it.

What can the board do about conservation?

Spread awareness and ensure fair benefit-sharing from the use of bio-resources as we did in Amarchinta village in Mehboobnagar district. We found that a local company was sending big shipments of neem leaf to Japan but was paying the villagers just Rs 20 per kg. We helped the local biodiversity management committee to get a much better price of Rs 100 per kg for the neem. But I must admit that if the Japanese buyer had not insisted on a certificate of origin and forced the local exporter to come to us we would not have come into picture.

The focus seems to be just plants. What about other species?

What can we do without funds? So far, we were getting just a sustenance allowance and had no place even to sit. There is little we can do on awareness and capacity building at the grassroots. Only now, on account of the Conference of Parties to CBD in Hyderabad in October we are getting Rs 8 crore.

That’s a huge sum. What do you plan to do with it?

We have been granted six hectares so we will start building an office and museum.

Neglected crops: why it is critical we increase food diversity


14 September 2012   |   Permalink

“With climate change putting increasing strain on our food systems, diversity of our food crops will be critical for resilience” – Stefano Padulosi at the IUCN Conservation Congress this week.

In the 1970’s a fungal blight outbreak ravaged cornfields across the United States, destroying 50 percent of the country’s maize crops and shaking the stock market as the most economically devastating field crop disease of the 20th century. On Friday, the US government slashed its forecast for corn production by 17 percent due to the worst drought the country has experienced in 56 years, raising fears of a new global food crisis and sending many commodity prices to record levels.

While the two events may be 40 years apart and have different natural causes, the outcomes are much the same, argued scientists from Bioversity International at the IUCN World Conservation Congress held in Jeju, South Korea this week.

“The world’s food security relies on thousands of crop species. Unfortunately commercialization of mainstream agriculture has concentrated on very few crops, which raises serious concerns about the sustainability of feeding the world today and in the future,” said Stefano Padulosi, Senior Scientist, Bioversity International.

The world’s food basket is shrinking at an alarming rate. Data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) tells us that of the 100-120 species used today for large-scale food production at national level, 95 percent of the dietary energy provided to humans comes from only about 20-30 crops, with sixty percent of our plant-based calorie intake provided by rice, wheat and maize.

Traditional crops such as Andean grains or leafy African vegetables are  increasingly ignored – farmers no longer see them as profitable, consumers are excluding them from their increasingly simplified diets, agricultural research is omitting them from their agendas and local communities are losing the food culture which is part of their identities.

“But with climate change putting increasing strain on our food systems, diversity of our food crops will be critical for resilience,” Padulosi said.

“In the case of the blight outbreak, resistance was found in a crop wild relative“, explained Carlo Fadda, Senior Scientist, Bioversity International speaking at a workshop organized by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Bioversity International. “They are an increasingly important resource for improving agricultural productivity as many genes that confer resistance to new diseases are found in crop wild relatives. Pimentel and colleagues estimate that crop wild relatives contribute around US$ 115 billion  annually in increased productivity and with climate change, crop wild relatives are likely to prove a critical resource in ensuring food security for the new millennium.”

Genetic material from crop wild relatives have been used for thousands of years to improve the quality and yield of crops. For example, wild maize is routinely grown alongside cultivated maize to improve yields. But while crop wild relatives have contributed many useful genes to crop plants, little has been done to document and monitor the biodiversity of cultivated crop species.

Stefano Padulosi at his poster display on Red Lists for Cultivated Species with MS Swaminathan at the IUCN CongressStefano Padulosi presents a poster on Red Lists for Cultivated Species at the IUCN Congress. Pictured with Prof. MS Swaminathan.

“While we deploy consistent efforts to monitor the status of wild biodiversity (such as the IUCN Red list of Threatened Wild Species), there is very little research to monitor the diversity of cultivated plants and domesticated animals used by farmers in helping them to cope with climate change,” said Padulosi. “There is a need to develop ways to monitor the food crop diversity that sustains humankind.”

With this in mind, researchers supported by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Programme (CCAFS) are working with  local communities in Nepal, India and Bolivia to develop and test out novel approaches for Red Listing cultivated species and implement a long-term locally-controlled monitoring programme. They asked communities to identify different crop and tree species, assess how these species are being used in their cultural context and group them according to two variables –  the area of land under their cultivation and the number of households cultivating them.

During these community-based participatory assessments, an initial list of lost varieties was developed and subsequently validated at a regional and national level through diversity and seed fairs, visits to other communities, surveys and other means.

“This approach allows us to ‘raise the red flag’ whenever a decline in use of a variety goes below a certain level and its benefits (nutritional, income generation, etc.) are no longer reaching the community members at large, who are therefore more vulnerable,” continued Padulosi. “We found that the key to  resilient food systems is not just genetic diversity but also indigenous knowledge, but there has been a tremendous erosion of this as well. We need to develop approaches, methods and tools to value and safeguard this knowledge. Women particularly will need support in view of their strategic role as the nexus between the cultivation and the use of agricultural biodiversity at the household level”.

Neglected people: why a salad costs more than a burger

“One of the key challenges that small-scale farmers face is the amount of agricultural subsidies that given to large-scale and industrial agricultural farmers,” said Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Founder and Director of the indigenous rights NGOTebtebba speaking at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. “Almost one billion dollars a day goes to the rich farmers of the world to continue promoting the type of agriculture that has brought us to this crisis that we face now.”

Farm subsidies are intended to alleviate farmer poverty, but the majority of subsidies go to commercial farms with average incomes of $200,000 and net worth of nearly $2 million. More than 90 percent of all subsidies in the USA go to just five crops –  wheat, cotton, corn, soybeans, and rice – while the vast majority of crops are ineligible for subsidies.

“These subsidies have pushed governments to be engaged more in this kind of agriculture instead of supporting small-scale sustainable agriculture that is more ecologically sustainable and promotes more social equity,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

The link between biodiversity, food production and the long-term perspectives of indigenous communities that identify with the land needs to be more closely considered by policymakers, said Pablo Eyzaguirre, a senior scientist in anthropology and socioeconomics at Bioversity International – “No one wants to go back to the debate of conservation versus agriculture … a nice world or a well-fed world. I think we’re headed off a cliff if both sides don’t start seeing things differently.”

Report written by Michelle Kovacevic, CIFOR

Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing inches on

New Delhi, 3 July (TWN*) — Preparatory work for the entry into force of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation resumed on Monday, 2 July.

The Second Meeting of the Open-ended Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Committee for the Nagoya Protocol (ICNP-2) that is being held in New Delhi on 2-6 July is attended by Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the “parent” treaty of the Protocol.

The first day addressed the elaboration of guidance for the financial mechanism (that will service the Protocol implementation), elaboration of guidance for resource mobilisation, as well as the need for, and modalities of a global multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism.

In the opening session, Mr. M. F. Farooqui, Special Secretary at the Ministry of Environment and Forest of India, said that access and benefit sharing (ABS) was a missing pillar in the CBD implementation and negotiations of the Protocol were “sometimes characterised by extreme and divergent positions”. However, he said, the Nagoya Protocol is important as signalling the viability of multilateral environmental processes.

(The three CBD objectives are biodiversity conservation, sustainable utilisation of components of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from such utilisation.)

Mr. Braulio Dias, the new Executive Secretary of the CBD, highlighted early ratification of the Protocol in his remarks, and informed the meeting that there are currently 92 signatories and five ratifications (Gabon, Jordan, Rwanda, Seychelles and Mexico).

(Fifty CBD Parties have to ratify the Protocol for it to enter into force. Ethiopia subsequently spoke from the floor that it is submitting its ratification document.)

Mr. Dias said that entry into force is expected between the 11th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP11, to be held in Hyderabad, India in October) and COP12 (in 2014), and that the first meeting of the COP acting as the Meeting of the Parties of the Protocol will then be held concurrently with COP12. He also noted that the final document of the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20) supports ratification of the Protocol.

Co-Chairs of the ICNP Fernando Casas of Colombia and Janet Lowe of New Zealand then presided over the working session which heard opening statements from various regional groups.

Peru, speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries (GRULAC), expressed hopes, despite the tough agenda, for clear and specific recommendations on the agenda items. Given that lack of ratification is a reality, we need a clear trajectory for this group (ICNP). It also said that there is need to clarify the resources necessary for (the first) COP-MOP (the COP acting as the Meeting of the Parties of the Protocol).

Cameroon, speaking for the Africa Group, expressed high expectations, stressing that ratification and implementation of the Protocol is difficult for Africa from which there is over 30% of the signatories. It said that benefit sharing needs to be with the people who take care of genetic resources. It said that we need early entry into force, but Africa will have difficulty accessing the resources needed to implement the Protocol. Cameroon said Africa was largely left out of funding by the GEF (Global Environment Facility that is operating the CBD financial mechanism, and will be doing the same for the Protocol) and the Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund. It called for the need for direction from ICNP-2 to ensure implementation in Africa. It highlighted the importance of Article 10 on the need for, and modalities of, a global multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism.

India, speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific region, said that without ratifications there will not be a COP-MOP at Hyderabad. It called for prioritisation of the work agenda of the Committee considering the large number of agenda items consisting of six new items and four items carried over from its first meeting in Montreal, Canada (June 2011). India also said that the regional group is open to another ICNP meeting, if requested by COP11.

This call by India was echoed by the Like-Minded Mega-diverse Countries (LMMC) whose current chair, the Philippines, had suggested the prioritisation of four agenda items in the Committee’s deliberations this week, namely, the modalities of the ABS Clearing-house, the compliance mechanism of the Protocol, the global multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism, as well as the guidance to the financial mechanism.

Ukraine, on behalf of Central and Eastern Europe, hoped for quick entry into force of the Protocol, a focus on capacity building in economies in transition, and the prioritisation of decisions related to financing mechanisms.

Guidance to the financial mechanism

On the agenda item concerning guidance to the financial mechanism, countries such as Senegal, Uganda, Guatemala, Tunisia and Peru called for the streamlining of the rules for accessing the funds so they can use it for work towards the ratification of the Protocol.

The meeting under this agenda item also considered the Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund set up through the contributions of Japan, Norway, Switzerland and Spain. Some countries were of the view that this Fund is not too focused on funding projects that will help lead to the early ratification of the Protocol but instead delved more on the implementation of the Protocol with some capacity-building activities on bio-prospecting, already part of the activities that it will support.

Brazil and Colombia were among those that wanted this to be rectified, while Malaysia objected to the putting up of an eligibility criteria for countries to be able to access these funds and suggested also that part of the activities that should be funded include capacity-building on monitoring and checkpoints to prevent biopiracy. Malaysia noted the CBD Article 20 (on financial resources) and said that restricting access to funds to ratified countries is not constructive, cautioning against following the model of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Norway, however, supported the maintenance of the eligibility criteria whereby countries getting funds for its capacity-building activities should make a political commitment towards becoming a Party to the Protocol, saying that such a criteria was also made during the capacity-building for the Cartagena Protocol, the other international instrument under the CBD dealing with the transboundary movement of living modified organisms.

Thailand stressed the need for financial support of traditional knowledge and the funding related to checkpoints and development of compliance mechanisms. It said that funding should support getting ready for ratification and also highlighted capacity building on negotiating MATs (mutually agreed terms), technology transfer, and integrating business and indigenous and local communities into the process. This will result in early implementation, it said.

The European Union said we need to adopt a framework on capacity building before finalising financial recommendations, and to fine-tune recommendations to the GEF. It wants projects on helping negotiate MATs, adding that the GEF should talk to both the COP and the COP-MOP.

Resource mobilisation for Protocol implementation

In the discussion on the agenda item addressing the resource mobilisation for the implementation of the Protocol, Norway, supported by the EU and Switzerland, said that ABS agreements that are entered into by provider countries with users can mobilise funds for this purpose. The EU also wants Parties to consider resource mobilisation in national plans. On the other hand, developing countries including Brazil, Senegal (for the Africa Group), Malaysia, China, India and South Africa emphasised the need for Article 20 of the Convention to be mentioned in the recommendations on the agenda item on resource mobilisation.

(Art. 20 of the CBD establishes the basic principles for the financial resources that will be needed for the operation of the Convention and obliges developed country Parties to provide new and additional financial resources to enable developing country Parties to meet the full incremental costs to them of implementing their obligations under the Convention.)

Brazil said that any new mechanisms would be new and supplemental, but not replacement of the mechanism under Article 20 of the CBD, stressing that “we need to be clear on this”.

Senegal, on behalf of the Africa Group, supported Brazil. It also said the (ICNP) recommendations were to be addressed to the COP-MOP, but since we don’t know when that will be, we want the resource mobilisation recommendations to go to COP11.

Global multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism

The last agenda item taken up for the day was on Article 10 of the Protocol whereby Parties will consider the need for and the modalities of the establishment of a global multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism, referred by the delegations as the GMBSM. Co-Chair Lowe said that the call for submissions solicited four from governments and one from the International Chamber of Commerce.

(Article 10 reads: “Parties shall consider the need for and modalities of a global multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism to address the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the utilisation of genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources that occur in transboundary situations or for which it is not possible to grant or obtain prior informed consent. The benefits shared by users of genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources through this mechanism shall be used to support the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components globally.”)

Namibia, on behalf of the Africa Group, said that in general Africa thinks a more multilateral approach to some outstanding ABS issues will help resolve those issues. It reminded the meeting that Article 10 was inserted by the COP10 Presidency (Japan) and that the actual African proposals are still out there somewhere, in a report. It said that Africa’s flexibility on this was a key enabler for the adoption of the Protocol (at COP10 in Nagoya in 2010), stressing that this kind of flexibility is important for implementation. On the issue of process, Namibia said this is not a sequential process; to make the Protocol implementable, we have to develop a global mechanism for benefit sharing in parallel.

Reiterating that sustainable use is the only way to achieve conservation in the long run, Namibia argued that the need for the global mechanism derives from the CBD itself. In Africa, we’ve had resources and knowledge arbitrarily divided by colonial powers, in a conference room in Berlin. Look at our own (Namibia) border, which cuts right through the San (indigenous peoples) territory. Practically speaking, we need a multilateral approach because maybe you could negotiate every agreement but the transaction costs of that are huge. The CBD was not intended to primarily benefit the legal profession.

It then related the experience in Namibia where it said we have commercialised a resource with a European country, on the basis of traditional knowledge, and is re-exported to South Africa by the European company where it is used as a cosmetic ingredient. But South Africa wants cosmetic companies that use the resource to comply with South African access law. Now, we can work this out bilaterally but this resource is found in 17 countries. We could work this out with a 17-party agreement, but wouldn’t it be a waste of time and effort? Wouldn’t it be better to have a global mechanism, a global approach? The brackets that disappeared overnight in Nagoya (referring to the contested parts of the Protocol up until the final days of the COP10) were key to (the Protocol’s) adoption; we are willing to talk about our position, but it’s absolutely unacceptable to the Africa Group that there’s no need for a global mechanism.

Colombia said that prior informed consent (PIC) is indispensable and that national sovereignty should be supreme in access. A global mechanism should be limited to cases where PIC cannot be established. Mexico said there are cases, mentioned in its submission to the (CBD) Secretariat, in which you have shared resources, transboundary resources, etc. It is fundamental that before determining modalities we need to discuss concrete cases. It generally supports the Secretariat recommendation for an expert group. We need to define the specific circumstances under which a global mechanism would operate.

Peru said that this theme comes from a non-negotiated compromise, so it produces uncomfortable issues that need to be resolved. It agreed with Mexico that we need to define the circumstances under which a mechanism would work. We understand that resources are not developed internationally, but that there are cases where resources cross borders, or indigenous people in different countries have knowledge. Sovereignty, however, cannot be renounced and is key in access, it stressed. So, a multilateral mechanism is for special circumstances. But we need understanding of what the mechanism is, how it will work, how it will distribute benefits, and who will decide. So, we support an expert meeting, but not just to answer questions but which should investigate other successful international benefit-sharing mechanisms that should be done before the expert group meets, to focus its efforts.

The Republic of Korea said that the scope of this mechanism is not clear and will have an impact on Article 4 of the Protocol dealing with the relationship of the Protocol with other international instruments dealing with genetic resources with particular characteristics.

Switzerland said that every effort at this time should be made to implement the bilateral requirement in the Protocol but each country should first do a gap analysis of the ABS regulatory requirements within its territory and once this gap analysis is done, the expert meeting suggested by the Secretariat would be useful.

The EU said the discussion is good to help us reflect, and prefers to go step by step as outlined it its submission to the Secretariat. It is open to identifying possible situations where the multilateral mechanism will apply; thereafter, the second step should assess if a global mechanism would add value in those cases. It said that this would provide good technical and factual basis for discussion among Parties of the Protocol (indicating that this will be dealt with at a later stage) and emphasised that no decision can be taken except by the Parties. The EU said that we can talk about it for now, consult with the public, ILCs (indigenous and local communities), etc, and the Secretariat can do a dialogue, and submit the results to COP-MOP.

(Observers note that the EU is focusing on the “need for” a global mechanism and its approach would defer this matter. The EU is also not supportive of opening the temporal as well as the geographic scope of the Protocol.)

Brazil said that it had read the Secretariat paper and description of situations where the mechanism might be used. Brazil said we need time to reflect on this, this being the first time this is discussed by the Committee, as it will have an effect on the nature, scope and objective of the Protocol, and this will be decided by the Parties to the Protocol, but the Protocol has not yet entered into force, thus Brazil supports the further solicitation of views on this issue, and an expert meeting based on items submitted by governments.

Guatemala supported Peru and Brazil as regards the impact of this mechanism on the scope as well as sovereignty of countries over their resources but highlighted the importance of identifying the full background of this proposal. It cautioned against creating any perverse incentives, saying that somebody who does not have PIC might opt for a multilateral system.

Thailand sees this mechanism as essential and integral in addressing situations that are not dealt with by the Protocol, especially those not only addressed in its region, South East Asia, but also in others.

Japan said that the establishment of this mechanism must consider the need as well as the modalities that is acceptable to users of genetic resources, in a manner that is cost-effective with benefits directed to conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources; at least what can be done now is to collect information on situations where it is not possible to secure prior informed consent with inputs from experts on the UN High Level Panel on Marine Genetic Resources Outside National Jurisdiction, the Antarctic Treaty, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and traditional knowledge in various situations.

Sudan and Burkina Faso supported Namibia and provided examples justifying the need for this mechanism, with Burkina Faso citing the case of genetic resources acquired before the entry into force of the Protocol and before the independence of some countries, where most of their resources were acquired by those who held control over their territories.

Canada recognized that Article 10 is critical, but the ICNP is to initiate discussion. It tried to understand Article 10 but cannot adjust to it, and there is a huge need for more information. It added that more discussion is needed at the ICNP, specifically on the need for a global mechanism and that an expert group would be meaningless if we don’t know what we’re talking about. It said that we have to figure out what kinds of cases would fall under such a mechanism. We have spent 8-9 years on a sovereignty-based system. What would an alternative mechanism give to us that the rest of the Protocol doesn’t? If we have agreement on everything, then maybe we can move forward with this, but we won’t even support an expert meeting until we have more information.

Ecuador shared the concerns of Mexico, Colombia and Peru on a multilateral mechanism, saying that this would be for cases where traditional knowledge about genetic resources spills over borders. We’re unsure how to do PIC in trans-border cases. And what if there are Parties and non-Parties mixed up in the mechanism? On the other hand, it supported the expert group, adding that a multilateral system cannot interfere with national prerogative.

Norway emphasised that this mechanism should not undermine the sovereign rights of states in the bilateral mechanism of access and benefit-sharing under the CBD, and that the possible areas where it is not possible to secure prior informed consent involve collection in areas beyond national jurisdiction including those that are discussed in the UN Informal Group in Areas beyond National Jurisdiction. However, Norway added, we also have to deal with cases where the provider countries do not require prior informed consent, or orphan genetic resources where the origin is not known and whether users can share benefits for conservation and sustainable use globally; is this a voluntary effort or is it part of a certain modality? Finally, Norway said it can support an Expert Meeting but such meeting needs to be guided by concrete questions.

Cuba said there have been a lot of examples over the years of transboundary cases and cases where there’s no owner. We do need a specific answer to this, and the Protocol as such does not have one yet. This answer should be an integral part of the Protocol. It said that this is the first time we are discussing this, we won’t solve it now, but that’s not a reason not to discuss because these resources are being used. Let’s seize the moment. We want a mechanism and have it inside the Protocol.

Malaysia said that Article 10 was sprung on us at the last minute. It was not negotiated. What does it mean? We supported Africa on this, on principle, as a matter of solidarity because of access of resources in certain situations. But this provision is bristling with complex issues. We need to understand those issues and need to be on the same page to move forward. Does it cover historical collections, ongoing or new use of them, or resources after the coming into force of the Protocol? Malaysia did not get a clear sense if we’re on the same page on this, where some seem to be saying yes, and others seem to be saying no. It said that we have fought hard on sovereignty and PIC. Now, we have a situation of a global mechanism that is not clearly in the framework of the Protocol. Let’s be clear that we do not marginalise or allow to slip away sovereignty. On transboundary issues, there are so many examples. If it’s shared, and most are, are we going to apply this provision over others? We need to figure that out. And on PIC, where it can’t be obtained, what’s the situation in which it should? Does it mean we will bypass PIC from ILCs? Malaysia stressed that we need to be really careful here not to create a parallel system to undermine national legislation.

It further said that we need to move forward and discuss these issues in a mature and careful manner, and support an expert meeting with clear terms of reference. But, Malaysia also said, sometimes we do these expert meetings but then bypass them later. If we’re going to have an expert meeting, then let’s be sure there’s follow-up on the expert result. Art. 10 does refer to Parties, so that seems to say after the entry into force of the Protocol. This is a very difficult situation to grapple with, it concluded.

Egypt supported the Africa Group position, which is consistent with the Arab country position saying also that it is important to look into modalities that can guarantee its implementation, thus supporting the establishment of an Experts’ Meeting on this issue.

The Co-Chair closed the discussion by saying that the atmosphere had been constructive, and that Article 10 was not negotiated as such, but now it is part of the Protocol and Parties will have an obligation here. The Co-Chair will return to the issue with a suggested way forward.

(* With contributions from Edward Hammond.) +

Biodiversity and culture: exploring community protocols, rights and consent (PLA 65)

Guest edited by Krystyna Swiderska, Kanchi Kohli, Harry Jonas, Holly Shrumm, Wim Hiemstra, Maria Julia Oliva

This special issue aims to provide guidance for those implementing the Nagoya Protocol and other natural resource and development practitioners, and to raise awareness of the importance of community designed and controlled participatory processes.

Many rural communities in the global South – including some 370 million indigenous peoples – are directly dependent on biodiversity and related traditional knowledge for their livelihoods, food security, healthcare and well-being. But with the loss of biodiversity, valuable resources such as climate-resilient crops, medicinal plants and wild foods are being lost. Cultural diversity is being eroded at an unprecedented rate and with it, ancestral knowledge of how to use and conserve biodiversity.
This special issue of Participatory Learning and Action explores two important participatory tools that indigenous peoples and local communities can use to help defend their customary rights to biocultural heritage: i) Community protocols – or charters of rules and responsibilities – in which communities set out their customary rights to natural resources and land, as recognised in customary, national and international laws; and ii) Free, prior informed consent (FPIC) processes, in which communities decide whether or not to allow projects affecting their land or resources to go ahead, and on what terms. The issue reviews the experiences of communities in Asia, Latin America and Africa.   It also looks at government experiences of establishing institutional processes for FPIC and benefit-sharing. It identifies practical lessons and guidance based on these experiences and aims to strengthen the capacity of a range of actors to support these rights-based tools effectively in practice.

Download the pdf (free)


Eating our way to rice-diversity


By Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty, ENS – THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

04th July 2012 11:11 AM

  • Studies have established that the causative link to diabetes is with “polished white rice” not any rice. EPS
    Studies have established that the causative link to diabetes is with “polished white rice” not any rice. EPS

Recently, studies have established that the causative link to diabetes is with “polished white rice” not any rice. It is increasingly being established that unpolished red and brown rice do not cause diabetes.

Rice is my soul food, what I long for when I am hungry and what I miss when I don’t get it. Belonging to the post-green revolution generation, white rice came into our family pretty early despite living in the land of red rice, Kerala.

When we were young, my great grandmother who cultivated our ancestral paddy lands used to send us unpolished parboiled red rice. When she became bedridden the lands were left fallow, eventually sold, and the money used to buy a then much-coveted refrigerator, prompting my mother to say, “we sold our rice-growing lands to buy an ice-box to store stale-cooked rice!”

I lived in different cities in India and abroad and bought polished white rice. I was concerned about the quality and price, beyond that I didn’t think it mattered. Moving to Mumbai, I found that the south Indian stores provided red rice; sadly, this was red only in name and appearance. The colour washed off like from a bad fabric!

Paddy Problems

It was at this juncture, as part of my work with agriculture and food issues, I got involved with the ‘Save Our Rice’ campaign. It was at this time that the spread of diabetes in India, particularly in the south, began to be associated with the consumption of rice.

Recently, studies have established that the causative link to diabetes is with “polished white rice” not any rice. It is increasingly being established that unpolished red and brown rice do not cause diabetes. In fact, red rice is known to have many beneficial health effects and is also nutritionally superior.

Watching and sharing the dilemma of the farmers, I realised that we as consumers have a role in reviving rice.

To save agro-biodiversity, we have to eat diverse foods, thereby promoting their cultivation and propagation -that is exactly how rice consumers will become rice savers!

Whither Rice-diversity

We, in India, are rich in rice heritage and had till about 40 years back over 1,10,000 varieties of rice; now we are down to about 6,000 varieties, according to Dr Debal Deb, one of the foremost rice savers in India.

Why do we need this diversity? We need it to keep the robustness of the crop and diversity aids the evolution of stronger and more adaptable varieties.

And how do we protect this diversity? Simply by growing and eating. The more varieties of rice we all eat, greater the range of varieties farmers will grow season after season.

Rice Delights

During the last few years I have eaten various kinds of red rice – raw and par boiled with full bran or partly removed, the fragrant ‘Gandhakasala’ from Wayanad, the smell of which tempted my aged and ill father to eat rice after many days, ‘Mullankazhama’ – a lovely flower-like rice which makes delicious ‘payasam’ and the small grained brown rice called ‘Komal’, cultivated by Susheel an organic farmer and a good friend.

I have also come across other rice varieties like the ‘Rajamudi’ rice used by the Wadiyars of Mysore, the fascinating variety named ‘Thavalakannan’ (literally means frog’s eyes) which is favoured by temples in Kerala for preparing beaten rice flakes and ‘Njavara’ rice that is recommended for diabetics. There are rice varieties that are good for lactating women and numerous rices with medicinal properties as well.

Why don’t we unearth some of the indigenous rices we have and their uses and find innovative ways to cook them for our families?  In Karnataka, farmers are conserving around 140 varieties of rice, in Tamil Nadu, around 40 varieties are distributed every year through a seed mela, groups in Wayanad are trying to conserve traditional varieties used by the tribals, even in Thane, Mumbai, over a hundred varieties of rice are being conserved.

‘Natabara Sarangi’, a rice saver in Orissa, conserves 310 varieties. But, we need more rice savers who relish traditional rice, to conserve the most valuable grain known to mankind.

(The author works with groups promoting safe food, urban farming and sustainable agriculture and currently lives in The Hague, Netherlands)

Genetic wealth belongs to people

The Government of India has been vocal at the CBD fora asking for a legally binding international regime on access and benefit-sharing. The doublespeak is that in its national law – the BD Act, it merely asks for consultation with ‘benefit claimers’. The BD Act does not ask for the full prior informed consent (PIC) of India’s people.

India is host to mega biological diversity. The Government of India (GoI) is to host a mega gathering of the international convention on this subject – the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in Hyderabad in October this year. It is at the CBD table that the world community attempts agreements on conservation.

While the CBD affirms that conservation of biological diversity is a ‘common concern of humankind’, it makes clear that biological resources are not global common goods! On the contrary it lays down that States have sovereign rights over their biological resources. Thereby sovereign states are meant to have original authority on biological resources in their territorial jurisdiction. Being in a state of sovereignty implies that the state administers its own governance. At the local level it translates into not being dependent upon, or subject to, either another power or external forces.

This sovereignty principle was required to check the use of local resources sans any acknowledgement of the host country’s people, or without either taking their permission or sharing benefits with the biodiversity-keepers and knowledge-holders – the indigenous and local communities. That is why the member countries of the CBD also negotiated rules under the Convention for access and benefit-sharing (ABS), which spell out the terms and conditions to legalise the ‘give-and-take’.
The Convention on Biological Diversity was meant to settle any confusion about whom this living genetic matter belongs to. To the people. Yet national laws and policies in many countries, including India, fail to address this very real question.

The sovereignty principle of CBD in no way means that governments or any state agencies can unilaterally take decisions about how local resources and related know-how of them ought to be used. Thus national gene banks, agricultural universities and any biodiversity functionaries have to hold and treat the genetic material in trust on behalf of the people. The Convention was meant to settle any confusion about whom this living genetic matter belongs to. To the people. Yet national laws and policies in many countries, including India, fail to address this very real question.

The Indian Parliament passed a law in 2002 – the Biological Diversity (BD) Act, to give effect to the CBD in domestic space. But it does not make any declaration whatsoever on the legal status of people’s resources or their everyday know-how related to the biological world. It ought to have unambiguously spelled out very clearly that the biological resources and related people’s knowledge are all a collective heritage. The CBD principle does not in any way give the Parliament or the Executive the power to define the legal status of these resources. Thus lawmakers, government bureaucrats or for that matter even formal scientists are not to define people’s relations with biological resources and knowledge, but they have to give due recognition to the pre-existing traditional relations of people’s with their local biological world.

The express silence in legal texts and policy statements is giving the public sector too much freeway to do as they please with this treasure. This is misuse of national sovereign power and abuse of representative democracy. Matters are made worse instead by clearly defined legal rules of intellectual property (IP). What IP laws, such as those for patents or plant variety protection (PVP), do is to clearly define the rights of the IP-holder. Therein again is ambiguity about legal freedoms for the original knowledge-holders. The number of PVP applications before the current PVP Authority in India shows maximum number being filed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and agricultural universities under it. (See story: “Protecting Oryza in Odisha” http://www.mylaw.net/Article/Protecting_Oryza_in_Odisha/ ) The PVP-protected varieties become public sector property for the term of the IP. This has also given ICAR the arrogance to treat national collections as their private property. (See story: “India Institute seeks expertise in global seed business” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303360504577411540343437830.html?mod=googlenews_wsj#articleTabs%3Darticle )

The NARES in India races along to fill out such IP claims. The farmers who were the first to invent local varieties, rather than the first to file before the Authority are falling behind. Based on this politics, even the time period within which local small traditional growers can file for such IP protection under the category of ‘farmers’ varieties’ has been restricted for five years (2009-2013). This puts an expiry date on farmers’ creativity! All this also comes in the way of realising people’s sovereignty over their living resources.

India is a key country in the CBD. Not only as host, but also a country that has the capacity to give global leadership on these contentious issues on the strength of the bio-cultural ethos of its people. The GoI has also been a strong voice at the CBD fora asking for a legally binding international regime on access and benefit-sharing. The doublespeak is that in its national law – the BD Act, it merely asks for consultation with ‘benefit claimers’. The BD Act does not ask for the full prior informed consent (PIC) of India’s people. The experience in the last eight years of the Act, since the Rules (2004) were notified is that the procedures for even just consultation are rarely followed. The oft mentioned case in this context of an Indian agricultural university passing on genetic material to a US MNC for the development of genetically engineered brinjal, without any due procedure or consultation, elaborates the point. In this way at home the regulatory regime is not fully complying with the CBD that the GoI so loudly defends outside.
Philippines is already a country remembered as the first amongst biodiversity-rich ‘developing’ countries to issue a bioprospecting and benefit-sharing regulation – the Executive Order 247. That order issued in May 1995 expressly mentioned that “wildlife, flora and fauna, among others, are owned by the State”.

Last year in Asia the Republic of Philippines made a first. On 25th May 2011, by a Proclamation No.78, the President of the Philippines declared the years 2011 to 2020 as the National Decade on Biodiversity in the Philippines. President Benigno S. Aquino III saw the opportunity to increase awareness of the importance of biodiversity and promote actions at the national, provincial, and local levels to conserve and sustainably manage the nation’s rich natural heritage. By the Proclamation “(a)ll branches and agencies of the Government, including, but not limited to, commissions, national government agencies, local government units, state universities and colleges, government-owned and-controlled corporations, in cooperation with the private sectors of society, community organisations, and non-government organisations, are hereby enjoined to initiate activities to promote the Biodiversity Decade”. Philippines is already a country remembered as the first amongst biodiversity-rich ‘developing’ countries to issue a bioprospecting and benefit-sharing regulation – the Executive Order 247. That order issued in May 1995 expressly mentioned that “wildlife, flora and fauna, among others, are owned by the State”.

The term ‘state’ implies the whole body of people who are united under one government, whatever be the form of their government. In other words biological diversity is a collective national heritage. It follows that neither can the government begin to stake its claims on it (just as the NARES in India is doing by seeking plant variety registration over crop varieties developed by public sector breeders), nor can laws of private property and commercial interest (such as patent legislation that permit corporations to in effect own genes and living material).

In another South Asian country – Bangladesh, the draft Biodiversity and Community Knowledge Protection Act, in Article 6 articulates the CBD principle of sovereign rights over biological resources to mean belonging in perpetuity to the people of Bangladesh and held for past, present and future members of the country. That is why perhaps the Act stays as a draft! The ASEAN Framework Agreement was designed to require not only the active involvement of local communities but also insisted respect for their customary laws, practices and protocols. In Costa Rica, while the domestic law describes the content of the PIC. It also requires full discussions with the local indigenous communities prior to any access. When in Brazil there was a proposal for a constitutional amendment to make all genetic resources part of the national and cultural heritage, peoples raised their voice to have that clearly subject to their claims. For governments often hide behind rhetoric of national heritage to do as they please in supposed ‘public interest’. For people the state of being sovereign has to be constantly negotiated, struggled for and practised everyday.

The President is the Head of State of the Republic of India. Executive power of the Union is vested in the President. It implies that the President’s office has all the powers of the Central Government. Therefore, if and when the GoI is not clearing the air on these vital matters, the Head of the State ought to step in. While one part of GoI takes centre-stage on biodiversity and organises celebrations on World Biodiversity Day (22nd May), outside the hall its other functionaries can not be allowed to hold an exhibition-cum-sale of those very resources. The curtain has to fall on this. It is therefore only fitting that a clearly worded declaration of Indian people’s sovereignty over their biological resources, come from that high office. That would be a fitting finale by Her Excellency the President of India to these debates. The nation, rather the nation’s people, needs closure to this high drama by due recognition of people’s biodiversity sovereignty.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Shalini Bhutani  |  emailsbhutani@gmail.com

Shalini is a lawyer and works on issues of trade, agriculture and biodiversity.


India Institute Seeks Expertise in Global Seed Business


NEW DELHI – Blessed with one of the world’s most diverse seed gene banks, India’s premier state-run agriculture research institute is seeking to collaborate with multinational seed corporations to develop high-yielding, durable seeds — both for profit and to improve the nation’s poor crop yields, a senior official at the institute said.

The Indian Council of Agriculture Research would offer its partners its massive seed gene bank in exchange for expertise and a share of the profits, ICAR deputy director general Swapan K. Datta said.

ICAR has already sought the government’s approval for such tie-ups, which would enable it to tap into an international seed market worth $200 billion annually, Mr. Datta said late Thursday.

Datta said such collaboration is crucial to developing higher-yielding seeds for Indian farmers.

“We know that we are rich in germplasm [seed genes]. But we also need the next generation of genetics,” he said. “We have to do it.”

ICAR hopes to collaborate on the development of a variety of high-yielding, climate-tolerant seeds that could be used in India and elsewhere.

It is likely to attract plenty of potential suitors. ICAR could offer around 400,000 varieties of native germplasm, many of which could be used to develop crops that could withstand adverse conditions such as those created by global warming, Mr. Datta said.

Despite its abundant resources, India has captured only around 2% of the global seed market due to lack of expertise and marketing. Efforts to introduce genetically modified crops have largely met with resistance from social groups.

“We have crops that are being grown and adapted very naturally to different geographies. So we have drought-tolerant rice, terminal-heat tolerant wheat and salinity-tolerant crop varieties,” he said.

Mr. Datta said collaborating with multinationals could be hugely profitable, but the bigger benefit might be offering modern technology to Indian farmers to help them meet the challenge of feeding the nation’s ever-growing population.

“We really wouldn’t mind taking a small share of the profits. What would be more important is if we could use such collaborations to bring high-yielding seeds to our farmers at 50% of the cost,” Mr. Datta said.

Boosting the farm productivity is critical because India has little scope for expanding the area under cultivation. Though the nation currently enjoys surpluses in grain staples such as rice and wheat, it must import oilseeds and pulses.

On the other hand, the scope for increasing productivity is immense. For example, Canada’s productivity of pulses exceeds India’s by more than two-and-a-half times.

Write to Biman Mukherji at biman.mukherji@dowjones.com

Infographic: In 80 Years, We Lost 93% Of Variety In Our Food Seeds




  • Seeds are tricky things. On one hand, we have the whole Omnivore’s Dilemma argument, that industrialized and genetically engineered food is probably bad. And on the other, we have strains of vegetables that can grow four times as much produce on the same plot of land as their heirloom counterparts–a successful, man-dictated genetics that we’ve actually been fueling for millennia. After all, we wouldn’t have the heirloom seeds of today if our grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather hadn’t saved the seeds from the sweetest watermelons or the most drought-resistant cantaloupes.

I don’t know that any of us can honestly assess the repercussions of our actions, but I do know one thing: This National Geographic infographic by John Tomanio is staggering. Using the metaphor of a tree, it charts the loss of U.S. seed variety from 1903 to 1983. And what you see is that we’ve lost about 93% of our unique seed strands behind some of the most popular produce. (Clever details: Where the root system should be strong, Tomanio has rendered a tree that looks like it could tip right out of the ground.)

In 1903, we had almost 500 varieties of lettuce. By 1983, we had just 36. Radishes, peas, and beets have fared no better. In fact, the most steadfast of the crops has been the tomato, which, probably due to the popularity of strange and tasty heirloom varieties, only lost about 80% of its seed diversity. It’s a shame to lose so many intricacies of nature’s tastiest gifts. But more worryingly, monocultures strip the land of nutrients: Where you once had self-sustaining harvest cycles, you get farm land denuded of nutrients that then needs copious chemical fertilizers to grow more food. And the crops themselves become vulnerable to plant diseases.

Still, a lot has changed in the public consciousness since 1983. Farmers markets aren’t just for hippies anymore–they’re lifestyle statements for everyone from young foodies to soccer moms. And as long as this trend stays alive, so too will many of the heirloom seed strands we have remaining.

[Image: NixPhotography/Shutterstock]



Paddy Museum: Preserving his inheritance

Ghani Khan
Organic farmer Ghani Khan’s project, a paddy museum, will soon be ready

Fired by zeal for conservation of genetic diversity in crops, an organic farmer from the Mysore region has embarked on a project to establish what is reckoned to be India’s first paddy museum.

Ghani Khan of Kirugavulu in Malavalli taluk of Mandya district cultivates and conserves more than 300 varieties of paddy and rice, most of which do not make it to the market and may be lost to posterity.

However, Mr. Khan, who has inherited his forefathers’ farmland donated by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan more than 200 years ago, has converted his 20-acre-plot to a genetic hotspot with a variety of crops, dominated by paddy and mango. His paddy project has led him to convert a portion of his house into a museum, which will be ready in a few months’ time.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Khan said paddy varieties conserved by him include Jeerge Sanna, Gandasale, Bilinellu, Raskadam, Rajmudi and Pakistan Basmati, to name a few, and he has dedicated nearly 3 acres of land for their cultivation and demonstration.


“The first floor of my house will be converted to a paddy museum, where samples of nearly 300 varieties of paddy acquired from different places, cultivated and preserved by me, will be on display,” said Mr. Khan, who continues to acquire rare varieties of paddy and augment his collection.

He said he had invested half his income in developing the paddy museum, and a senior farmer would be invited to inaugurate it, he added. While the paddy museum was expected to draw like-minded conservationists to his farm, Mr. Khan also gets regular visitors for the rare mangoes he cultivates. At the last count, there were 120 varieties of mango in his farm including Mangmari, Jeerge Maavu, Shakkargubbi and Mosambi ka aam, none of which are commonly available.


“I have preserved these varieties of mango as an inheritance from my forefathers and maintain the orchards with utmost care, though I do not get any support from the Government for this,” he said.

Notwithstanding his efforts and drive to protect crop diversity, the going is tough for Mr. Khan owing to loss of income, as 3 acres of land is earmarked for paddy demonstration. “It is easy to introduce Alphonso and Badami in my orchard, which will increase my earnings. But if I cease to cultivate or fail to conserve these varieties, they will be lost to posterity,” Mr. Khan remarked.


Apart from a token award and a title of Krishi Pandit, which is routinely conferred on farmers every year, there is little by way of Government assistance for Mr. Khan, who was promised that his orchard and farmland would be declared a biodiversity hotspot.

Though he is under tremendous pressure from his well-wishers and a few of his family members to switch to conventional agriculture, the conservationist in him refuses to compromise.

However, Mr. Khan has support from the Bangalore-based Sahaja Samruddha, an organic farmers’ association that provides him market linkage.

Not content with cultivating and conserving, Mr. Khan has tied up with the local government school, whose students visit the farm to learn about organic and natural farming “This is important, as the new generation of children even in villages are fast losing touch with the natural world and believe in chemical farming,” said Mr. Khan.

Biodiversity under threat: From 1,10,000 varieties of rice to only 6,000 now


Debal Deb, a rice conservationist, is working to prepare a seed bank of 700 varieties of traditional rice

He has a collection of traditional varieties of rice, including the rare three-seed rice that has become extinct. Fired by a passion to conserve the diversity of rice in India, he is on a mission to interact with farmers and share his know-how with them in a bid to popularise the traditional rice variety in the country.

Meet Debal Deb, an ecologist by training but who is a full-time rice conservationist working on a demonstration farmland near Rayagada in Odisha in a bid to prepare a seed bank of the 700 varieties of traditional rice.

Dr. Deb was in Mandya to participate and interact with farmers on issues related to conservation. He made a brief visit to Mysore on Thursday.

“India had nearly 1,10,000 varieties of rice till 1970 and this diversity has been lost to posterity as a result of the green revolution with its emphasis on mono culture and hybrid crops. Now, only 6,000 species or varieties of rice survive. The destruction of the rice diversity of the country is a contribution of the green revolution,” Dr. Deb said.

Interacting with mediapersons, Dr. Deb pointed out that rice emerged in India 14,000 years ago and with a single variety, farmers experimented and amplified the genetic diversity and in the course of the last 10,000 years, there emerged 1,10,000 varieties of rice of which only 6,000 survive.

“It is shocking that agricultural scientists, universities and research institutes do not accord importance to rice diversity or its conservation, and after having spent billions of rupees on research, scientists have failed to develop the aromatic rice variety which the ancient but unknown farmers developed,” said Dr. Deb, who believes in the ingenuity of farmers to enrich the diversity.

Among the other rare collection of rice varieties, Dr. Deb’s demonstration farm has the double grain rice called Jugal, which was developed in West Bengal five centuries ago. Sateer is a three-grain rice which has become extinct. Incidentally, Dr. Deb is the only person in the country to have a repository of this rare variety of rice.

“After the green revolution, a generation of farmers in India were injected with the belief that traditional farming methods were unscientific or anti-progress and they came to believe in the efficacy of high-cost and high-end scientific research. But the traditional varieties of rice were rich in iron and protein content, vitamin B, and had medicinal value,” Dr. Deb said.

However, his interaction with farmers in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, parts of Maharashtra has convinced him that the new generation was not only receptive to ideas of conserving the traditional rice varieties but were concerned about the impact of chemical farming on environment.

“While I have no hope in the government, humble farmers can be trusted to conserve the traditional rice varieties for posterity,” said Dr. Deb who recently shifted his demonstration plot and rice seed bank from West Bengal to Odisha.

Drawing a co-relation between declining agricultural income and mono culture, Dr. Deb advocated crop diversity and said it is the best insurance against uncertainty in the market due to glut in production of any one variety of crop, as farmers can fall back on other crops for income.