Monsanto maize seeds hit roadblock in Gujarat

http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/monsanto-maize-seeds-hit-roadblock-in-guj/472683/

Monsanto maize seeds hit roadblock in Guj
BS Reporter / Mumbai/ Ahmedabad Apr 27, 2012, 00:24 IST

The Gujarat Government has decided to stop procuring double-cross hybrid maize seed made by seed major Monsanto, which were distributed among the farmers in the tribal areas of the state under the tribal a development scheme.

The seeds sold under the brand name ‘prabal’ were being distributed to farmers in the tribal regions under the Sunshine Project, which falls under the Vanbandhu Kalyan Yogna, since 2008. It is estimated that the seeds were distributed among half a million farmers by the Tribal Development Department.

“The decision was taken during the Cabinet meeting of the state government held yesterday,” Gujarat agriculture minister Dilip Sanghani told Business Standard.

“We have decided not to procure Monsanto seeds which were distributed among the farmers of tribal area. Instead, the farmers would be asked to buy government approved seeds of their own choice for which the government would provide financial support,” Sanghani said.

This has been done to break the monopoly of Monsanto company in the state, he added.

The state government’s decision follows several representation by the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and some MLAs from the tribal areas. In last session of state assembly in March, Congress MLAs including deputy leader of Congress in the house Mohansinh Rathava and senior MLA Bachubhai Kishori had demanded ban on maize seeds of Monsanto, claiming that there were ill-effects of Monsanto’s maize seeds which were being distributed by the state government in tribal areas.

Also, during the assembly session last month Minister for Tribal Development Mangu Patel had said that the government had sought opinion of Anand and Navsari agriculture universities on the issue side, effects of using Monsanto’s maize seeds, before taking further action.

BKS Gujarat president Magan Patel said that they have demanded complete ban on all seed of Monsanto in Gujarat.

“We have demanded that no seed of Monsanto be sold in Gujarat. Also, we have asked the government to stop any kind of field trial on genetically modified food crops being done in couple of agriculture universities of the Gujarat,” Patel said.

“We have received no such information from Government of Gujarat,” Monsanto spokesperson said, adding, ”Monsanto’s Prabal maize hybrid seeds have been thoroughly tested in the state at the Anand Agriculture University, Anand for more than three years and has consistently performed year on year, both in the university and on the fields of the four lakh maize farmers who continue to plant the seeds in both rainfed and irrigated conditions over the last four years.”

http://ibnlive.in.com/generalnewsfeed/news/guj-govt-changes-policy-on-seed-purchase-from-mnc/991156.html

Guj Govt changes policy on seed purchase from MNC

PTI | 11:04 PM,Apr 26,2012

Ahmedabad, Apr 26 (PTI) Gujarat government has decided not to buy seeds directly from the seed major Monsanto for distribution among farmers from the tribal region following protest by Bharitya Kisan Sangh and some NGOs. The State government would purchase hybrid maize seeds, named `prabal’ from the multinational company Monsanto and distribute it to tribal farmers at subsidised rates. “We have decided to change our scheme. Earlier, we used to purchase the seeds directly from the company and distribute it among tribal farmers. Now we have decided that we will provide subsidy to tribal farmers for maize seeds purchased by them from anywhere,” state agriculture minister Dilip Sanghani said. “The state government has also taken a policy decision that they would not purchase any seeds directly from any company and provide it to farmers. But instead give subsidies to farmers for the seeds they will purchase from the market,” Sanghani further said. After the Gujarat government started the policy of purchasing seeds from the company in 2008, few other states had also followed similar scheme. Bharitya Kisan Sangh (BKS) today welcomed the decision of the government to not to purchase seeds directly from any company, and also demanded that Monsanto should be banned from the state and all field trials of genetically modified crop of all the multinational companies should be stopped in the state. (MORE) PTI PD ABC

Genetically modified corn affects its symbiotic relationship with non-target soil organisms

Experimental evidence reveals a reduction in arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal colonization of Bt corn

 IMAGE: Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) colonizing corn (Zea mays) roots as viewed with a compound light microscope (400x). Roots were cleared with 10 percent KOH and stained with 0.05 percent trypan…

Click here for more information.

An increasing number of crops commercially grown today are genetically modified (GM) to resist insect pests and/or tolerate herbicides. Although Btcorn is one of the most commonly grown GM crops in the United States, little is known about its effects on the long-term health of soils. Although there are many benefits to using biotechnology in agriculture, such as potentially reducing insecticide use, there may be unintended side effects as well—does GM corn impact non-target soil organisms, such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, or affect plants subsequently grown in the same field?

Bt corn is genetically engineered to express insecticidal toxins derived from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, to protect it against common agricultural pests such as the corn root worm and European corn borer. Tanya Cheeke and her colleagues (at Portland State University, Oregon) were interested in determining whether the cultivation of Bt corn has a negative effect on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal colonization of Bt corn or of crops subsequently planted in the same soil. They published their findings in a recent issue of theAmerican Journal of Botany (http://www.amjbot.org/content/99/4/700.full).

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are ubiquitous microscopic soil fungi that form symbiotic relationships with the roots of most plants. Plants supply the fungi with carbon, and the fungi increase the host plant’s ability to uptake nutrients and water from the surrounding soil.

“Because these fungi rely on a plant host for nutrition and reproduction, they may be sensitive to genetic changes within a plant, such as insect-resistant Btcorn,” stated Cheeke.

By experimentally planting seeds from several different lines of both Bt corn and non-Bt corn, and using local agricultural soil containing native mycorrhizal fungi, the authors were able to simulate what might happen naturally in an agricultural system.

“What makes our study unique is that we evaluated AMF colonization in 14 different lines of Bt and non-Bt corn under consistent experimental conditions in a greenhouse using locally collected agricultural field soil as the AMF inoculum,” said Cheeke.

“The use of whole soil in this study allowed each Bt and non-Bt corn line to interact with a community of soil organisms, making this study more ecologically relevant than other greenhouse studies that use a single species of AMF,” she adds.

Interestingly, the authors found that colonization of plant roots by symbiotic soil fungi was lower in the genetically modified Bt corn than in the control lines. However, there was no difference in root biomass or shoot biomass between the two types of corn at the time of harvest.

Cheeke and co-authors also determined that the Bt-protein itself is not directly toxic to the fungi since AMF colonization of vegetable soybeans did not differ for those grown in soil previously containing Bt vs. non-Bt corn.

Together these findings contribute to the growing body of knowledge examining the unanticipated effects of Bt crop cultivation on non-target soil organisms. Examining non-target effects of genetically engineered crops on symbiotic soil organisms becomes even more important as acreage devoted to the cultivation of Bt crops continues to increase globally.

“In 2011, 88% of the corn cultivated in the United States was genetically modified to express insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, or some combination of stacked traits,” Cheeke commented. “Globally, genetically modified corn is cultivated in at least 16 different countries.”

Cheeke notes that the next step is to understand the ecological significance of this study. “In greenhouse studies Btcorn had lower levels AMF colonization, so now it is important to see if this pattern is also observed under field conditions.” She plans to use field experiments to test if planting a Bt crop for multiple years has an effect on the abundance or diversity of AMF in the soil ecosystem.

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Tanya E. Cheeke, Todd N. Rosenstiel, and Mitchell B. Cruzan. 2012. Evidence of reduced arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal colonization in multiple lines of Bt maize. American Journal of Botany 99(4): 700-707. DOI: 10.3732/ajb.1100529

The full article in the link mentioned is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary athttp://www.amjbot.org/content/99/4/700.full. After this date, reporters may contact Richard Hund at ajb@botany.org for a copy of the article.

The Botanical Society of America (www.botany.org) is a non-profit membership society with a mission to promote botany, the field of basic science dealing with the study and inquiry into the form, function, development, diversity, reproduction, evolution, and uses of plants and their interactions within the biosphere. It has published the American Journal of Botany (www.amjbot.org) for nearly 100 years. In 2009, the Special Libraries Association named theAmerican Journal of Botany one of the Top 10 Most Influential Journals of the Century in the field of Biology and Medicine.

For further information, please contact the AJB staff at ajb@botany.org.

States are sowing seeds of discontent with hybrid maize


The push to popularise the crop benefits only seed companies and not our hungry citizens

Kavitha Kuruganti
Green Activist

Food for thought A fact-finding mission found that villagers don’t like the taste of hybrid maize

Photo: Reuters
DIFFERENT STATE governments are falling over each other in their haste to get into large-scale public private partnerships (PPPs, with some minor variations emerging in states like Odisha, as public pressure builds up) to promote hybrid maize in the name of food security. Hundreds of crores of public money go into these PPPs whereby seed companies might as well shut down their marketing departments after securing these huge tie-ups; the government and NGOs will do the ‘marketing’ thereafter, even as the public sector agri agencies are writing their own epitaph.

The Madhya Pradesh government is the latest entrant into the scene — it inked a PPP deal with three companies for seven tribal districts. Uttar Pradesh is spending 33 crore under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) to take hybrid maize to two lakh hectares. Odisha is promoting hybrid maize in 21 districts this season, up from seven last year. Gujarat, the state from where this PPP idea emanated from — under fancy names like Project Rainbow and Project Sunshine — is expected to expand the project to 2.7 lakh farmers, from 1.4 lakh farmers last year.

In 2010, the Gujarat government had spent more than Rs 40 crore on this project. Himachal Pradesh is not too far behind — 18,000 quintals of hybrid maize seed were distributed with RKVY funds last year. Rajasthan is implementing this kind of project in its tribal districts too. In 2010- 11 RKVY outlays, Rs 730 crore was allocated for seed-related projects — a perusal of state-wise projects shows that nearly Rs 215 crore have gone into hybrid maize promotion; this means around 30 percent of funds. The ‘model’ usually includes a package of chemical fertilisers and pesticides too in addition to free or heavily subsidised seed — a lure that farmers cannot resist. Worse, many of the seed brands being distributed in these PPPs have not been tested and cleared for those growing conditions.

Everyone seems to love hybrid maize because it promises the highest spike in productivity

Hybrid maize is a crop everyone seems to love since it promises the highest productivity increases among various crops,but where is this produce going? Only 25 percent of maize is consumed as food; the rest goes into poultry feed, animal feed, industrial use, etc. However, maize continues to be classified as a food crop in official statistics — it helps the non-performing agriculture ministry to claim some growth.

For seed and agri-chemical companies too, hybrid maize is a major market driver. When the shift to hybrid seed happens in this crop, the demand for pesticides and fertilisers goes up. What’s more, companies like Monsanto are waiting in the wings to bring in herbicide-tolerant genetically modified maize, which would ensure two markets for them — that of herbicides and also of this seed.

The potential market for hybrid maize seed is at least Rs 1,000 crore at current negotiated rates of Rs 100 a kg. Just one company, Monsanto, is supposed to have a 38 percent hold over the market. It is clear what interests might be pushing this hybrid maize promotion. Let us view this from the other side.

Is hybrid maize really about food security? Not for the poorest producers and consumers of this country. As mentioned above, maize is getting consumed in lesser and lesser proportion as human food.

Companies like Monsanto are waiting to bring in herbicide-tolerant GM maize

In fact, civil society fact-finding visits to the tribal belts of Gujarat, Odisha and Rajasthan revealed that at least three factors come in the way of hybrid maize actually enhancing food security of poor tribal farmers. 1. They don’t like consuming hybrid maize and are gradually moving away from maize consumption once hybrids enter the picture — they report that the taste is not good and that they can’t digest it easily (even their animals don’t like hybrid maize fodder, they report); 2. Hybrid maize is grown as a mono-crop that eliminates many other nutritious crops that used to go with their own maize varieties and 3. In some places, since hybrid maize duration is longer, a second crop is no longer possible, which usually was a vegetable crop. It is apparent that hybrid maize is not about food security in any direct way.

Let us assume that the promoters mean food security in another way — that incomes will go up and with that, farmers will buy more food. For this, farm economics have to work out with hybrid maize, in the short as well as medium term, with adequate consideration given to increased risks and vulnerabilities too, given that we are speaking of the poorest farmers of the country in eco-sensitive areas. Official monitoring data from Gujarat has different data on yields from two different sources — while the agriculture university says that yield increases are around 80 percent with hybrid maize, a research institute’s data shows that (a) yield increases are not as high as claimed; (b) that they varied over the years (depending on rainfall mostly) with an average increase of 237 kg/acre translating into a monetary benefit of Rs 2,311 per acre to farmers.

Without the project support and subsidy, the net return is estimated to be only Rs 1,222 per acre. Findings from monitoring studies also show that borrowings from external sources for investments in farming after the project intervention had gone up among the sample farmers — hasn’t the nation yet learnt the recipe for farm suicides?

In Odisha, civil society fact-finding visits have shown that negative net returns are also the reality for project ‘beneficiaries’. Add to this the fact that cost of seed will certainly be increased by the seed companies once the project withdraws. And the fact that chemical fertilisers and pesticides being given as part of the free package now will only degrade the productive resources sooner or later. Government of India data shows the market price for hybrid maize to be lower than desi varieties.

When these concerns were raised, one of the responses was that “NGOs oppose everything, including hybrid seeds; do they have any solutions?” Yes, NGOs do highlight sustainability issues, including sustainable livelihoods and anyone who thinks that this is not a valid concern should get their head checked. These sustainability questions stare us in the face, when it comes to this kind of largescale promotion of hybrid maize. So, what are the answers here? If one must absolutely promote maize, for water crisis reasons in rice-wheat pockets etc., then there is no reason why open pollinated varieties and seeds that farmers could save and use cannot be encouraged.

THE DIRECTORATE of Maize Research has developed and released as many as 234 cultivars since its inception, with more than a hundred of these being OP varieties. If the same kind of investment as the one going into the current projects (with extension, training, inputs etc., thrown in) is put into community-level seed production work, productivity is bound to increase; however, productivity cannot be the sole concern. The actual ground-level work should take care of low-external-input polycropped farming, should not increase costs and risks for farmers, especially in the era of climate change, and ensure that productive resources do not get degraded. Further, there is a real need to relook at maize as a crop for ensuring food security of the country.

Finally, it is also important to carry a different sensitivity, perspective and dispensation when it comes to ‘tribal development’. It is high time that all these projects are scrapped and concepts of seed sovereignty and sustainable livelihoods re-visited.

Kavitha Kuruganti is convener, ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture, an informal national network of more than 400 organisations)
kavitha_kuruganti@yahoo.com

Seed of Contention

Posted: Fri Jul 01 2011, 01:40 hrs

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has termed the proposed seed bill as a “black” bill, saying it does not safeguard the farmers’ interests and will increase the domination of multi-national seed companies in the country.

In a letter to Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, Nitish cited his state’s “bitter experience of private hybrids” in maize in December 2009-10 on account of “non-formation of grains”. The private companies had disowned their responsibility, he said, and the state had to step in to provide assistance, taking on an extra burden of Rs 61 crore. “The problem of the non-setting of grains was not observed in public sector hybrids,” he stated further.

While Nitish has outrightly rejected the bill in its present form, farmers of the agro-based state aren’t so vehemently opposed to it. Reason: The hybrid seed varieties assure them of a good yield even as they cost them a pretty penny. In the event of crop failure, however, they all look at the government for compensation.

At the Lagma panchayat of Kosi region’s Saharsa — which is one of the biggest maize growing districts along with Khagaria, Madhepura and Supaul — the farmers use hybrid varieties called 900 M Gold, 9081 and Pinnacle.

A farmer at Sirrahi village in the panchayat, Mohammed Usman, who has cultivated maize using 900 M Gold, a hybrid variety seed by US Monsanto company, said: “Though the per bigha cost has gone up from Rs 2,500 to around Rs 8,000 with the new seed and technique, the per bigha yield, too, has gone up — from 1,000 kg to 2,400 kg”.

Nonetheless, Usman wondered as to why farmers have to buy fresh packs of costly seeds every year. “Once we grow a new variety, we should be able to use it as seeds next year, but that is not possible with the hybrid varieties,” said Usman.

He is, however, happy that he fetches Rs 950-Rs1,050 for every quintal of maize.

Mohammed Qayamuddin, another small farmer, said the issue was not the yield but “the increasing price of seed packets every year”. The companies, he said, call it the packaging cost. Other farmers in the district echoed a similar demand for seed price control.

According to the Directorate of Maize Research, Saharsa, which sowed maize on 31,669 hectares in year 2007-08, produced 1,32,385 tonnes with 4,180 kg per hectare (kg/ha). West Champaran, in that period, led the kg/ ha table at 4,252 kg/ha, followed by Kosi region’s Khagaria (4,007 kg/ha) and Madhepura (3,968 kg/ha).

In 2009-10, according to the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) figures, Bihar produced 14.8 lakh tonnes of maize. The country’s maize production during that period was 167.19 lakh tonnes. The per kg productivity in Bihar was 2,341 kg/ha as compared to the national average of 2,041 kg/ha.

Bihar’s maize production in 2008-09 was 17.1 lakh tonnes (kg per hectare being 2,676), compared to national production of 197.30 lakh tonne (kg per hectare being 2,414).

Maize is grown during February-June with farmers unable to sow paddy due to the infamous floods submerging the Kosi region almost every year. The state cultivates maize at 6,53,000 hectare and grows it all three seasons of autumn, rabi and summer using both traditional and hybrid seeds.

Ask the farmers about the reasons behind last two years’ poor yield that forced the government to distribute compensation to them, they trot out different reasons. Some attribute it to weather and rat infestation while others to non-compliance of the prescribed methods of cultivation. They also said that traditional seeds, too, could result in a poor yield.

“We have had better yields last three years in comparison to the preceding three years. If the price of new seeds are monitored, farmers are going to be happy,” said Laddu Yadav, another farmer at Sirrahi village .

Experts of hybrid seed companies, meanwhile, have been impressing upon farmers to maintain a distance between two crops to increase productivity and minimise rat infestation. Farmers have been also willing to try out inter-cropping to optimize soil capacity.

Besides, Monsanto (US), which is in the state for almost 15 years, Pioneer is another US company that sells hybrid seeds in Bihar. Some Indian companies, like Kaveri, are also in the market. The companies have been citing production figures to push their case.

Shilpa Diverkar Nirula, Director, Maize Business, Monsanto India, told The Indian Express: “Soil fertility, growing conditions and the farmers in Bihar have made it possible for the state to be at a higher level of maize productivity as compared to the average maize yields in India. Our experience suggests that farmers in Bihar are extremely progressive and it is our constant endeavour to focus on the evolving needs of the farmers, develop the right products, technologies and share knowledge on agriculture practices, in alignment with the state government.”

Asked about the Nitish government’s stand on MNCs giving monetary assurance in case of crop failure, the Monsanto director avoided a direct reply. Nirula, instead, said: “As a responsible company focused 100% on agriculture, our single-minded focus continues to be on delivering higher yields on Indian farms through superior seeds and extensive farmer education.”

However, the companies won’t have it easy any longer with Nitish stating that MNCs and private companies cannot get away with selling high-cost seeds and that they have to provide some monetary cover to farmers in the event of crop failure. “Attributing bad yield to inimical or unsuitable weather is just not convincing,” he said.

Feed-grade maize turns costlier than wheat

New Delhi/Chennai, June 15:

Chickenfeed is far from that. Today, it is probably as, if not more, expensive to feed chicken than humans!

Feed-grade maize, or corn, sells at Rs 1,230-1,240 a quintal, which is more than the Rs 1,150-1,200 for wheat in most mandis near key producing centres.A year ago, maize ruled at Rs 960-980, while wheat quoted over Rs 1,250.

. On the futures market, too, maize is ruling above wheat. The most actively traded maize contract for July delivery quotes at Rs 1,306 a quintal against Rs 979.30 during the same time last year. In the case of wheat, the actively traded contract for delivery in July is quoting at Rs 1,197.80 against Rs 1,223 a year ago.

Far-month contracts of maize for delivery in September are ruling at Rs 1,332 for maize (Rs 988). In the case of wheat, they are traded at Rs 1,244.20 (Rs 1,266.40).

The trend is similar globally too, with the July corn contract at the Chicago Board of Trade quoting, for the last one week, higher than the corresponding futures price for wheat (See chart).

This is the first time since 1996 that the wheat-corn spread has turned negative over a sustained period — contrary to the general perception that wheat, being a foodgrain, would trade at a healthy premium to corn.

Corn prices have surged on multiple floods hitting the crop in the US, the biggest producer, lower carryover stocks and demand for ethanol.

Given that an estimated 60 per cent of India’s corn production is turned into poultry and animal feed, would the relative cheapness of wheat lead to its displacing the former as the preferred food for chicken and livestock? Not yet, says Mr Balram Yadav, Managing Director of Godrej Agrovet Ltd, the country’s largest feed miller, which consumes half a million tonne of corn every year.

“Corn has a calorific value of 3,400 Kcal/kg, which is more than the 3,080 Kcal/kg for wheat. So, in terms of energy equivalent, wheat prices have to drop to below 90 per cent of corn for being viable to be incorporated into compounded feed formulations,” says Mr Yadav.

However, Mr K.S. Ponnusamy, a feed producer in Tamil Nadu’s Namakkal district, says that if the landed price of wheat is on a par with maize price then they would go for equal mix of wheat and maize.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 16, 2011)