Conference organised by the Ministry of Agriculture on “Doubling Food Production in Five Years” – Ignoring Parliament – In brazen support of corporate interests at the expense of farmers

Coalition for a GM-Free India

New Delhi

29-01-2013

To

Shri Sharad Pawar,

Ministry for Agriculture,

Goverrnment of India.

Re: Conference organised by the Ministry of Agriculture on “Doubling Food Production in Five Years” – Ignoring Parliament – In brazen support of corporate interests at the expense of farmers’ – reg.

It has come to our attention that the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) is organising a Conference on “Doubling Food Production in Five years” from February 1-3, 2013 at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. On the face of it, it appears to be a regular program of the Ministry. However, two things draw our attention to this particular Conference : first, the predominance of vested interests acting behind it i.e, the ones promoting the Conference with full page advertisements in national newspapers – the Pesticide Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India(PMFAI), the National Seed Association of India(NSAI) and the biotech lobby group-ABLE and second, some of the “eminent” speakers selected to address the Conference – some of them controversial figures well known for their support of GM crops without supporting scientific facts or evidence.

Sir, you know very well that the Standing Committee on Agriculture of the Indian Parliament has in its path-breaking report of August 2012, come down heavily on this dangerous path that your Ministry is leading the country into. It said “In their tearing hurry to open the economy to private prospectors, the Government should not make the same fate befall on the agriculture sector as has happened to the communications, pharma, mineral wealth and several other sectors in which the Government’s facilitative benevelonce preceded setting up of sufficient checks and balances and regulatory mechanisms, thereby, leading to colossal, unfettered loot and plunder of national wealth in some form or the other, incalculable damage to environment, biodiversity, flora and fauna and unimaginable suffering to the common man.” [Para 3.48].

Many of the members of the Committee were UPA Parliamentarians, as you are aware.

It is grossly irresponsible, unscientific, misleading and completely unethical for the Ministry to blatantly promote technologies such as GM crops, when as a country, India is trying to come out of the pesticide tread-mill and make its production, agriculture and its farmers livelihood sustainable, safe and remunerative. It is also reprehensible that the Ministry of Agriculture, which is answerable to the larger public and the farmers is acting at the behest of the industries who stand to profit from these unneeded, hazardous technologies. We would also like to point out that the Ministry’s own inquiry through the Sopory Committee has brought to the fore egregious failings with regard to transgenic research and regulation in this country.

This blatant attempt by the Ministry makes it clear that MoA is not genuinely interested in addressing food security in any lasting fashion or acting in a scientific way when it comes to many problems in our farming, but is interested in blindly promoting certain technologies, for private and possibly vested and corrupt interests.

Food security of a country like India is not an issue the MoA should let vested interests sabotage; it requires serious efforts from the Ministry and its officials to listen to all stakeholders and to arrive at a well thought out and optimal solution to address it, drawing from various areas of expertise, experience and knowledge domains. We reproduce what the Parliamentary Standing Committee had said on this matter.

The present worrisome situation” as regards food security is primarily because of “faulty procurement policy, mismanagement of stocks, lack of adequate and proper storage, hoarding and lopsided distribution, massive leakages in the public distribution delivery system, etc.” It also adds categorically that “If these shortcomings and problems are attended to along with liberal financial assistance to agriculture and allied sectors, proactive measures are initiated to arrest the decreasing trend in cultivable area and farmer friendly and sustainable agricultural practices are put in use, there would not be any compelling need for adopting technologies which are yet to be proven totally safe for biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health and which will encourage monoculture, an option best avoided.”

The committee finally recommends that “the Government come up with a fresh road map for ensuring food security in coming years without jeopardizing the vast bio-diversity of the country and compromising with the safety of human health and livestock health.” [Para – 7.71].

It is unclear how your Ministry thinks that food security can be achieved with the help of the pesticide industry, the seed industry (that is increasingly playing into the hands of the biotech majors such as Monsanto) and the biotech industry with a single agenda of promoting genetically modified seed that is not only inadequately tested but also adequately patented so as to ensure a complete rout of our agricultural sovereignty!!! It is quite perplexing how the post-modern science and discourse in agriculture has evolved towards sustainability and agro-ecology all over the world, but is being denied vehemently by your Ministry in this country. The same applies to the nuanced understanding around the complexity of hunger and malnutrition, including structural poverty-related issues, whereas your Ministry wants unproven techno-fixes to be deployed as a one-size-fits-all solution.

It is surprising that solutions offered by globally recognised initiatives such as the IAASTD do not seem to have attracted your attention at all. And again here the Standing Committee on Agriculture has some excellent suggestions. It says “the Committee would like to remind the Government of India that they are a signatory to this path breaking effort (IAASTD Report) and in the opinion of the Committee, the Government would do well if they adopt this Report as the way forward for development of agriculture and allied sectors in India, in a sustainable and environmental friendly manner, and with no unwanted risks to biodiversity, human and livestock health, flora and fauna. The Committee also desire to be apprised of the concrete action taken by the Government on each of the findings contained in IAASTD Report during the four years after the release of the Report.” [Para 5.52]

All said and done, the Ministry of Agriculture seems to be least interested in anything that is even remotely connected to sustainability (farm as well as farm livelihood) and is only interested in helping corporate and MNC powers to dominate and profit, even at the cost of the lives of farmers and the hapless Indian consumer. There is also deep disrespect being shown towards the Indian Parliament, whose report your Ministry is ignoring and acting in contravention to its recommendations.

Hence, we are writing this letter to express our deep anguish and anger at the really worrying direction that your Ministry and hence the Government of India is leading Indian agriculture into. The fact that you are hosting people like Dennis Avery, Peter Raven, Patrick Moore and Mark Lynas to name a few demonstrates the desperation that your Ministry shares with the GM and pesticides industries to shove such dangerous technologies down the throats of the Indian public. As recently as last week the ruling party in its conclave promised that it will listen more to the people of the country, and this is definitely not the peoples wish!

Therefore, we are sending this letter to express our condemnation of such blatant vested interests being involved in policy-making and within the government. Moreover, there are accountability questions with public funds utilised for such promotional activities of profiteering industries and unscientific worldviews. The government should appreciate that this will only instigate a greater public outcry from citizens for their science, knowledge, experience and worldviews to be heard and taken on board, while shaping future directions.

We urge you not to go ahead with such a wrongly-founded Conference and also urge you to not host these controversial speakers and provide a platform to hazardous industries and waste precious public funds on events such as these.

With due respects and concerns

ridhar Radhakrishnan

Convener,

Coalition for a GM-Free India.

Copy to :

  1. Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

  2. Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson, United Progressive Alliance

  3. Sri.Jaipal Reddy, Minister for Science and Technology

  4. Smt.Jayanti Natarajan, Minister of State for Environment and Forests

Coalition for a GM-Free India is a broad national network of organizations, scientists, farmer unions, consumer groups and individuals committed to keep the food and farms in India free of Genetically Modified Organisms and to protecting India’s food security and sovereignty.

 Coalition for a GM-free India

c/o INSAF, A-124/6, First Floor, Katwaria Sarai, New Delhi 110 016, Phone/Fax: 011-26517814

Website: www.indiagminfo.org, email: indiagmfree@gmail.com, Facebook – GM Watch India

ANNEXURE:

The announcement of the Conference lists atleast two Chief Ministers, many ministers and officials from the Ministry of Agriculture. In addition there are representatives from FAO and ILRI. The CEO of one of the largest  agro-business corporations in Latin America and the President of EMBRAPA ( Brazil) find a place in the speakers list.  It also has four known  GM crop promoters. Some information on them is provided below:

A short note on the affiliations of some of the ‘eminent speakers’

  • Dennis Avery – Director of Hudson Institute1 , considered a conservative think tank, which is supported by large corporations including agri-business corporations2. He is an anti-organicfarming advocate and a strong supporter of biotechnology in agriculture, pesticides and a climate change skeptic.3 4
  • Mark Lynas  The biotech industrys newly minted star, according to his own profile is a speaker on climate change5, nowhere he is featured as an anti-GM activist. He began promotingGM crops since the last three years.6 He has claimed to have ‘helped start’ the anti-GM movement and also said to have ‘coordinated with Indian groups both untrue! The Coalition has already put out a detailed statement which can be accessed here.7
  • Patrick Moore Runs his own consulting firm which reportedly does “public relations efforts, lectures, lobbying.8According to Greenpeace (Moore uses his past link to GP even now)Patrick Moore is , “a paid spokesman for the nuclear industry, the logging industry, and genetic engineering industry, frequently cites a long-ago affiliation with Greenpeace to gain legitimacy inthe media.9 Greenpeace says “Patrick Moore frequently portrays himself as a founder or co-founder of Greenpeace, and many news outlets have repeated this characterization. AlthoughMr. Moore played a significant role in Greenpeace Canada for several years, he did not found Greenpeace.10 It is interesting to note that even in this profile for the Conference of Ministry ofAgriculture, he gives his long ago Greenpeace affiliation( which ended more than 25 years back) rather than his lobbying work of the past 20 years .
  • Peter Raven President Emeritus of Missouri Gardens which has a long standing and close relationship with Monsanto and is an advocate of GM crops.11 Missouri Gardens has beenworking with and receiving funds from Monsanto since 1999. Even as recently as May 2012 Monsanto gifted three million dollars to the Missouri botanical gardens.12 In addition many of thefacilities in Missuori Gardens are funded by Monsanto like the Monsanto Hall, Monsanto Center etc.13 Along with Monsanto the Missouri Botanical Gradens was one of the key groupsinvolved in forming the Danforth Plant Science Centre, which promotes GM crop research.14

10 ibid

Seeds of strife

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/node/1737

Author(s): Latha Jishnu

Issue: Aug 31, 2010

The Seed Bill takes away states’ power to regulate seed prices, could lead to Centre-state confrontation

Photos: Surya Sen

IT WAS yet another meeting in a series that began six years ago.

On July 28, close to 40 members of Parliament and state leaders met in Room 124 of Krishi Bhavan, the Delhi headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture, in what seemed a last-ditch attempt to thrash out the contested points in a proposed law to regulate the seeds trade. The meeting was called by Minister for Agriculture Shared Pawar, who had put together the first draft of the Seed Bill in 2004, and is set on getting it passed during the current session of Parliament.

The amended Seed Bill, 2004, is a critical piece of legislation and could underpin the success—or failure—of Indian farming. The preamble says the bill aims “to provide for regulating the quality of seeds for sale, import and export and to facilitate production and supply of seeds of quality”, but its stated objective has not found favour with farmers, several state governments and the Left parties. The reason is simple: missing in this law is any mention of price regulation. That is the core issue, although there are other concerns, ranging from the amount and method of compensating farmers who incur losses on account of poor quality seeds to the bill’s conflict with other pieces of legislation.

The July 28 meeting addressed most of the ‘other concerns’, with Pawar listing out the various amendments that the government would incorporate in the amended bill to be presented to Parliament. But on the question of price regulation, the minister was unwilling to budge. A note circulated by the agriculture ministry at the meeting is categorical that the bill does not envisage any “provision for price control” and is intended purely to regulate the quality of seeds. According to several invitees to the meeting, the agriculture minister told them that “the prime minister is against any price control”. This leaves a big question mark hanging over the Seed Bill since opposition to it shows no signs of a let-up.

Leading farmers’ organisations accuse the UPA government of Manmohan Singh of selling out the farmer to multinationals. Krishan Bir Chaudhary, president of the Bharatiya Krishak Samaj, believes the bill “is to protect the interests of multinational seed companies like Monsanto”, which, he insists, are trying to capture the seed market in India. There are other outfits like the All India Kisan Sabha which voice similar worries—and accusations.

Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh is the biggest opponent of the bill and its agriculture minister N Raghuveera Reddy has been campaigning ceaselessly for significant changes in the proposed law. Reddy, who participated in the July meeting, told Down to Earth that “states must have the power to fix the price of seed and trait value (the royalty paid on patented seeds) whenever necessary.”

As he sees it the system should involve both the Centre and the states. “We would like an independent body similar to CERC (the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission fixes tariffs and other issues related to the power sector), which oversees state regulatory commissions. Otherwise, the seed companies will squeeze the farmer.”

Raghuveera Reddy, who has the full backing of his chief minister K Rosiah, points out, “You simply cannot have a free market without a statutory regulator.”

This is the quandary that the UPA government finds itself in. Not only is the farm lobby and the Left against the bill but so is a major state ruled by the Congress. Andhra Pradesh’s role, in fact, is central to the fight for regulated seed prices in the country. Since 2006, it has been taking on the US biotech giant Monsanto on the trait fees it charges for its genetically engineered cotton seeds (sold as Bollgard and Bollgard II). The state says the trait fees charged by Monsanto’s marketing arm in India, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Limited, are predatory and monopolistic.

But it is a course that has led to a long legal challenge—and a new state law to control prices. Gujarat and Maharashtra, apart from Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, quickly followed Andhra Pradesh’s example. It was a revolt by the states but the Centre did its best to thwart it by deploying the Essential Commodities Act or ECA strategically (see box: Games the Centre plays).

While this backdrop is essential to understand the politics of the Seed Bill, there is another factor: the differences within the Congress high command on the issue of price regulation. The reser- vations of Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi are said to be instrumental in putting the proposed law in cold storage for the past four years. As chairperson of the National Advisory Committee, Gandhi had, in an October 2005 letter, warned, “There is a growing perception that the Seed Bill, 2004, is anti-farmer and that it favours the seed industry and large seed breeders, including MNCs.

Government has no mechanism to control prices… Seed suppliers are under no obligation to ensure reasonable seed supply to farmers.” That concern, however, has not been addressed in India so far, although elsewhere, notably in the US, the runaway price of seeds is inviting judicial scrutiny. Simultaneously, seeds giant Monsanto, a big player in the Indian market, is also being investigated across seven American states for unfair or deceptive practices (see: Prices under the scanner on p12). Sometime back, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food had warned that the increasing dependence on commercial seed varieties, “controlled by a handful of very powerful multinational companies”, could have a severe impact on small farmers in developing countries.

Farmers will not benefit from new technology if prices are not controlledMany of the recommendations of the Standing Committee of Parliament, which gave its report in 2006, have been incorporated in the 2010 version of the Seed Bill, but price stubbornly stays out of its ambit. The agriculture ministry’s stance is clear. “A free and competitive market environment will spur the growth of the seeds industry. Therefore, price is better left to market forces rather than to artificial controls.”

Noted agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan said: “I hope better counsel will prevail.” Now a member of the Rajya Sabha, Swaminathan, too, has been demanding price regulation in the bill. “I have said there should be price regulation where appropriate, not everywhere. The government should have the authority to use price controls in certain situations, but not to usurp the role of the market.”

The scientist, who is referred to as the Father of India’s Green Revolution, worries that lack of price control could have disastrous consequences for the Indian farmer in accessing new technology. “High seed prices and trait fees,” he warned, “will come in the way of social inclusion on technology access—and social inclusion is fundamental to growth of the sector.”

The government’s point that the earlier law—Seed Control Order, 1983, which the Seed Bill will replace—did not have any provision for price control either is specious, said G V Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad. “It is clear that the government’s objective now is to encourage private trade.”

There are concerns, too, about the opening of other doors to private companies, local and foreign. For instance, Swaminathan and CPI leader D Raja say that seed certification issued by foreign agencies should be recognised only if the seed is tested on Indian soil. However, the ministry argues that Clause 30, which allows the Centre to authorise any foreign certification agency working outside India, is intended to allow global trade in seeds, and would come within the scope of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

But Ramanjaneyulu says there is a contradiction on the role of foreign agencies. At one level the ministry has assured the Andhra MPs that their demand that “certification should be carried only by government and semigovernment agencies” would be incorporated in the amendments. Yet, in another instance, it said foreign and foreign- based agencies would be allowed to do so under foreign trade pacts.

“In place of truthful labelling of seed, the government is making certification compulsory, but this is geared to letting in private and foreign seed certification agencies into the business,” pointed out Ramanjaneyulu, former ICAR scientist. Besides, it would also permit multi-location trials to be carried out by private agencies on foreign soil. The ministry’s justification is that seed imported into India would be subjected to multi-location trials under the rules to be framed under the seed Act.

As for that most vexing issue of compensation to farmers in case of seed failure, an issue that exercises most critics of the bill, the ministry says the quantum of compensation and the mechanism to recover it will also be prescribed under the rules.

The demand for “a role for panchayats, state and district level committees can be considered at that stage,” according to the official note. Have the opponents of the bill been assuaged by such promises? Raghuveera Reddy, for one, is mobilising more support from the states. Last week, he wrote to all state agriculture ministers inviting them to Hyderabad for talks. “We should rise to the challenge since our farmers’ interests are at stake. I have also asked them to mobilise opinion among their MPs and political leaders.”

Whether this seasoned campaigner succeeds in getting like-minded states on board—like he did on the BT cotton issue in 2006—or not, Pawar and the Centre know that the battle could turn bitter. Agriculture is a state subject, and the passage of the bill, which would repeal all other seed laws, including the applicability of ECA and the special ordinances passed by state governments on price regulation, is bound to ruffle constitutional feathers.

In the latest memorandum sent to the prime minister and the agriculture minister, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister has demanded the inclusion of a separate chapter on seed pricing and royalty fees which would give equal powers to the states and the central government. He has also detailed the mechanism for this procedure.

In a telling remark, Andhra Pradesh points out that the power to fix royalty rates is available with member-states of WTO under its TRIPS Agreement on intellectual property issues. It remains to be seen if the Centre can be persuaded by such arguments.