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Date: Jul 31, 2012

Farmers in Rajasthan make big bucks as shale gas rush boosts demand for little-known cluster bean

imagePhotographs: Ankur Paliwal

Houses in Goduwali dhani village of Rajasthan’s Sriganganagar district are getting a makeover. Kaccha walls and roofs are being cemented, and marbles have been brought in for flooring. There are new tractors in the fields and SUVs are increasing on the roads. Resident Ram Karan Charan is planning to buy his first car, while Om Prakash is eyeing investment in real estate in Jaipur. Some 500 km away, Kanchan Singh in Jodhpur district is breathing a sigh of relief. He has cleared all his long pending dues. Farmers across Rajasthan have similar joys to share. Ask them the reason, they say “Guar ki kamaal” (Guar’s gift). A lesser-known bean, guar (cluster bean) is fetching farmers around Rs 140 per kg—a sharp rise from Rs 15 in 2010-11. In April-May this year guar touched Rs 250 per kg.

India accounts for 90 per cent of the world’s guar produce, of which 72 per cent comes from Rajasthan. In 2011, the acreage under guar in the country was 3.2 million hectares (ha), of which Rajasthan accounted for 3 million ha.

Guar was traditionally used to feed animals and is eaten as a vegetable. But it is the export of the gum made from the seed that is making farmers rich.

About 90 per cent of guar gum processed in India is exported. This gum, which is actually in powder form, is made by grinding guar seeds and has unique thickening, emulsifying and binding properties. One tonne of guar makes 300 kg of gum. It is used in food, paper and textile industries. But most of the demand for the gum is due to the expansion of the shale gas and oil industries. Ninety per cent of the export is used to extract oil and shale gas—a natural gas trapped in shale formations.

With guar returns, farmers like Ram Karan Charan (left, with clasped hands)With guar returns, farmer Ram Karan Charan (with clasped hands) is planning to buy his first car

Seeing the profits, Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat have increased their acreage under guar. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh will soon start growing it for the first time. “Its countrywide acreage is expected to rise from three million hectares (ha) to four million ha this year,” says D S Yadav, deputy director of the Rajasthan agriculture department.

Guar is also eating into the area of crops like cotton in Punjab and Rajasthan. Before 2011, farmers were growing more cotton than guar because of high returns. But skyrocketing guar prices and low maintenance changed the scene. The price of cotton fell from Rs 70 per kg last year to Rs 38 per kg this year. The input cost of growing cotton is twice that of guar. Sunil Kumar of Sriganganagar had sown cotton in five bigah (one bigha=0.16 ha) and guar in two bigah last year. “This year I reversed the ratio,” he says.

Punjab agriculture director M S Sandhu says cotton-growing districts including, Sangrur, Barnala, Bathinda, Faridkot, Fazilka and Ferozepur, are expected to use about 15,000 ha for their first guar trial this year.

Om Prakash in Rajasthan have built concrete houses and bought carsFarmer Om Prakash has built a concrete house and bought a car with guar returns

Guar offers more benefits. A rain-fed crop, it takes 14 weeks to grow and requires reasonably warm weather and moderate rainfall. It is sown in July-August and harvested in October-November. Being a leguminous crop, guar fixes nitrogen, making the soil fertile. If a farmer grows wheat on the same land, productivity is likely to increase by 30 per cent.

Shale rush

The shale gas industry, which is expanding in the US and China, uses the gum in fracking—a process where a mixture of water (95 per cent), sand (4.5 per cent) and guar gum (0.5 per cent) is injected under high pressure into an oil-or gas-bearing rock to fracture it. The gum’s viscous property decreases fluid loss and friction, thereby reducing energy consumption and increasing gas or oil recovery. Even 0.001 to 0.05 per cent of guar gum can reduce friction by 20 to 70 per cent. As per estimates, the US alone has enough shale gas reserves to last 100 years.

guarAs per estimates, the US imported 33,800 tonnes of guar gum this March, which is an increase from an average of 22,000 tonnes a month last year. Traders say this year export demand can go up to 600,000 tonnes; it was 400,000 tonnes last season (Source: Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority)Another reason for the increasing demand is the change in drilling technology. Earlier, US companies used to drill gas vertically, in which 20,000-40,000 gallon fluid (1 gallon=3.78 litres) is needed per well. But recently, they combined vertical and horizontal drilling to ensure full extraction. In this case, fluid requirement rises to two million gallons, which means more gum.

B D Agarwal, director of Sriganganagar-based Vikas WSP, a leading guar gum exporter, says, “About 80 per cent of the gum made from 1.2 million tonnes of guar harvested last season was exported for fracking.” Earlier, the gum export ratio for oil and gas, and food industries was 60:40, now it has become 90:10 because the food industry was not able to pay the high price (see: ‘Guar gum export’). In 2010, the gum was exported at Rs 1,600 per tonne; it now fetches Rs 15,000 per tonne. Traders estimate 2011-12 export was 0.6 million tonnes; last year it was 0.4 million tonnes.

The other side

The general perception that expansion of the shale gas industry has resulted in a rise of guar gum price is half the story.

Purushottam Hisaria, president of Guar Gum Association in Jodhpur, explains the other half. “While traders were getting ready to buy guar in the marketing season beginning last October, the shale gas demand rose by 84 per cent,” he says. Knowing the produce is 20 per cent lesser than in 2010 due to aberrations in monsoons, heavy shortfall was speculated. Importing companies panicked and started placing orders for storage.

Traders started hoarding the seeds to sell them at high prices. This increased the price of the seed for planting and processing from Rs 40 per kg in 2010-11 to Rs 400 in 2011-12.

The price hike due to speculation and forward trading was so high that Forward Market Commission (FMC), a body under the Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs, had to ban trading of guar gum in future market in March. In May, FMC submitted a report on the irregularities in guar trade to the ministry. Sources in the ministry say the food minister has not yet seen the report. However, they claim that future trading may be allowed by July-end or August after reviewing progress of sowing.

The report, according to sources, states that of over 13,000 export houses that were monitored, around 5,000 made profits, while about 9,000 incurred losses. It indicts big firms like Ruchi Soya and Betul Oils for making profits. “Huge stocks were booked under various fake names,” say the sources.

The report states that large existing traders should be asked to reveal the stock in their godowns. Banks and non-banking finance firms should be restricted from funding small and marginal traders because the lending helped them take positions in the future exchange, apart from adequate stock holding in the spot market, the sources add.

Only 10 per cent of the farmers across the country who knew of the speculation sold their stored produce at premium rates of over Rs 200 per kg. The rest were happy in Rs 60-Rs 80 per kg offered by traders. Farmers say traders and processors made the most money by buying guar at lower prices and selling gum at high prices. “Everybody in the chain made good money,” says Bheru Jain, CEO of Rajasthan Gum Pvt Ltd in Jodhpur. The firm earned 10 times more than it did in 2011. More than 100 companies in Jodhpur contribute 40 per cent of the gum supply, adds Jain.

Now that most of the farmers are aware of the speculation, they have changed their strategy. Kumar of Sriganganagar says he will not bring his entire produce to the market in one go. “This time we will bring it to the market in instalments and sell it only when we get Rs 200 per kg,” he adds. Gum processors and traders are also making efforts to ensure profits. For instance, Vikas WSP is distributing free guar seeds to farmers. This season it gave 3,100 tonnes of guar seed. The firm is also offering seeds for contract farming in Punjab and Haryana. Under the contract, the firm gives free seeds to farmers with a buyback guarantee of Rs 40,000 per acre irrespective of production. It is an assured income, says farmer Raghuveer Singh from Abohar in Punjab, who has contracted his 2.8 ha farm. Radhakrishan Kalwa from Fazilka says, “If you get 400 kg per acre, it means Rs 100 per kg. You don’t get such a price for any other crop.”

And if it falls …

Farmers have made big investment plans hoping guar would fetch good money in future as well. Some who had taken loans to buy seeds plan to repay through the upcoming produce. But amid these hopes lurks a silent fear. What if guar prices fall?

“There are fair chances the prices will dip to Rs 50 per kg because of increased supply this season,” says Hisaria of Guar Gum Association. “This is still a good price,” he adds. However, Sanjay Pareek, vice-president, quality control of Vikas WSP, rules out the fall. “While demand from the US is increasing, China will start fracking from December,” he says. China claims it has 25 per cent more shale gas potential than the US.

Search for alternatives

While the increase in a price of guar gum has brought cheer to farmers and traders, it has burned holes in the wallets of US companies. The industry paid the highest ever premium for guar gum in 2011-12: US $28,000 per tonne—a fourteenfold increase from last year.

Halliburton, a leading provider of fracking services, is expecting a 5.5 per cent dip in its profit this year. According to reports, the cost of the gum accounts for 30 per cent of the cost of fracking.

Halliburton is planning to increase the use of guar gum alternatives, which it did not disclose. Onset Worldwide Ltd, a provider of cost saving strategies, claims the oil drilling industry is already using guar gum replacements like Stabilizer EC (a proprietary blend of natural gums), but its details have not been disclosed. “Companies have experimented with the combination of xanthum gum (chemically produced) and guar gum but it has not given good results,” says Agarwal. Besides, the price of xanthum gum has increased threefold in the past year, he adds. Replacements would make sense only if the price of guar gum continues to rise. “We expect the prices to stabilise with the next produce,” says Agarwal. At present there is no competent replacement of guar in fracking, he adds.

Guar replacements, both natural and synthetic, are already in use in food industry where it is used to make ice creams and bakery products. Glanbia Nutritionals, US-based ingredient maker, recently launched a flax seed-based gum to replace guar. The firm claims its usage will bring down the overall cost by 40 per cent without compromising quality. While farmers and industries are waiting to cash in on the next crop, the price is hinging on the monsoon. Both less and too much rain is bad for guar. Everybody is keeping fingers crossed.

Afterall, Rajasthan recalls the NOC for GM crop trials

Delay in NOC for GM Crops Trial
Delay in NOC for GM Crops Trial Minister of State (I/C) for Environment and Forests Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan today revealed in Rajya Sabha that the State Governments of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Karnataka have informed that they have taken a decision to prohibit environmental release of all Genetically Modified (GM) seeds. She said currently field trials have been allowed only in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Recently Government of Rajasthan has conveyed its decision to withdraw the No Objection Certificate (NOC) which was issued to Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, University of Delhi for conduct of second season Biosafety Research Level (BRL-I) trial with GM Mustard in their state.

The Minister further stated that the GEAC has been approached by the Seed Industries, Ministry of Agriculture and Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) to reconsider its decision on the need of NOC from the State Government prior to the conduct of GM crop field trial. The matter was discussed in the GEAC meeting held on 14.12.2011 wherein it was recognized that issue of non-issuance of NOC by the State Govt. is mainly due to lack of clarity on the role State Govt. officials and lack of awareness on highly technical issues associated with biotechnology and biosafety measures. It was also reiterated that the role of the State Government is very critical for compliance monitoring and therefore it is important to have a dialogue with the State Government to provide necessary clarification. Accordingly, it was agreed that the GEAC may give a detailed presentations with a view to address the concerns of the State Government and provide more clarity on the role of the State Government.

Rajasthan Puts GM Crop Trials on Hold: Orders burning of the field trials

Rajasthan Puts GM Crop Trials on Hold

The Rajasthan government has put on hold all trials of genetically modified (GM) crops in the state.

In an order dated 13 March, the Principal Secretary, Agriculture, government of Rajasthan stated “ trials of GM crops should be conducted in the State until final decision in this matter is taken.”

“The issue (of permitting trials of transgenic crops) indeed being fraught with concerns as no unanimity has arrived at, either in their favour or against them. The government, after considering different aspects of it, has taken a view to wait until a national consensus is evolved. It has also been decided that discussions should be held with all stakeholders and to form a view in this regard keeping in mind the guidelines issued by GEAC and GoI,” the order said.

Significantly, the order comes close on heels of the government’s withdrawal of the controversial no-objection certificate (NoC) recently issued by it to the Delhi University for conduct of GM mustard trials in three locations in Rajasthan. The trials had started in Bharatpur, Alwar and Sriganganagar and were nearing harvest. Responding to media reports and questions raised in the assembly, the government had ordered that the NoC be withdrawn. “On March 9th, the NoC was withdrawn and the crop ordered to be destroyed,” confirmed Anil Gupta, deputy secretary, department of agriculture.

So far, international seed majors Monsanto, Dow Agro Sciences and Pioneer have applied for and got permission from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the centre to conduct trials of Ht/Bt Corn in Rajasthan this year, but this was subject to a mandatory no-objection certificate from the state government. With the state’s recent decision not to permit GM trials for now, the trials planned by these companies in the coming season hangs fire.

The order, for the first time, sends a strong signal that Rajasthan is not up to indiscriminately permitting trials of transgenic crops having questionable environmental consequences, without an informed debate. So far, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Kerala, Odisha and Karnataka have said an outright ‘ no’ to GM crop trials in their respective states, while Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra have not yet issued NoCs.

Earlier, GM crop experiments were approved directly by the GEAC under the central govenrment. However, state NoCs became mandatory since July 2011 after Nitish Kumar objected to GM trials taking in Bihar without the state government’s consent, as agriculture is a state subject.



Press Release

Rajasthan hybrid maize Report-Download

Another controversial seed-based project favoring big corporations is emerging in Rajasthan, after the recent controversy around MoUs with seven seed companies by the state government which led to a scrapping of the agreements due to civil society pressure. Releasing a Fact Finding Report on Project Golden Rays of the Rajasthan Government here today, civil society activists and farmers’ leaders demanded to know how this project came about and who is really benefiting from the project. They pointed out that there is no scientific basis on which the large project has been undertaken with poor tribal farmers of the state, that accountability systems were completely missing, that food and nutrition security questions are coming to the fore with projects such as this and asked for an immediate scrapping of the project.

“The Rajasthan government has utilized around eighty crores of rupees from the public-funded central scheme called Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana to expand the proprietary seed markets of anti-farmer corporations like Monsanto. It is apparent that there is no basis on which particular companies and particular brands of seeds have been chosen for this project called Project Golden Rays, in five tribal districts of the state. There is no process visible by which this project has been designed and implemented – why and how are such decisions related to Public Private Partnerships and other projects being taken? Why is it that public sector varieties tested for the growing conditions of farmers in these regions are not being promoted? Why is it that farmers’ preferred varieties are not being improved with these kinds of investments? Where is the ex-ante impact assessment of this project, which has assessed short, medium and long term impacts of such a project? Given that many of these villages are Schedule V areas, why is it that the local governance structures were not consulted and involved in the project formulation stage? Even the weak seed laws in the country do not seem to apply to these projects, increasing the vulnerability of farmers in case of failures as happened this year. There are several issues of concerns with this project as a fact finding visit show and the project should be scrapped immediately. Further, farmers who incurred losses should be compensated”, said Dr Alok Vyas of CECOEDECON, Jaipur.

Rajasthan government has been implementing Project Golden Rays from 2009, utilizing funds from RKVY, in Banswara, Dungarpur, Pratapgarh, Sirohi and Udaipur. The project is huge in its magnitude and in 2011-12, the project is supposed to have covered seven lakh farmers. The Fact Finding visit was undertaken in December 2011 by civil society activists from different parts of the country, for a rapid assessment of its implications on food and livelihood security in addition to environmental sustainability.

The Fact Finding team had the following to say: “It is obvious from our interactions with farmers from three districts (Udaipur, Dungarpur and Banswara) that the yields with proprietary hybrid maize from Project Golden Rays are not as high as claimed or projected; in fact, they are on par with desi varieties of the farmers. Further, there are emerging questions on food security with this project as farmers do not prefer consuming hybrid maize and the fact that shelf life of hybrid maize grain is significantly lower. Further, monocropping is increasing, which in turn affects resilience of a farm as well as food/nutrition security of a poor family, especially in the era of climate change. It is also clear from our interactions that the adverse weather conditions in which a majority of farmers cultivate their crops are not suitable for the hybrid maize seeds being promoted. The cost of cultivation is shooting up with hybrid maize and it is foreseeable that the poor farmers in the region cannot sustain the kind of investments that this technology requires. Our fact finding visit clearly shows that there is misplaced and inappropriate emphasis on hybrid maize and that too, proprietary hybrid maize in this project and we want to know who is ultimately benefiting from this project”.

Even though there are public sector maize lines (composite as well as hybrid) tested and cleared for these parts of Rajasthan, Project Golden Rays chose to promote seeds of Monsanto, an American MNC ignominous the worldover for its environmental pollution and anti-farmer behaviour. It is only in 2011 Kharif that the Rajasthan government, coming under pressure from critics of the PPP project, changed its seed procurement procedures to open bidding and included other seeds too in the project. There have been no questions asked about the high seed price charged by this corporation in two years of the project before the open bidding took place, even as no compensation has been paid to loss-incurring farmers.

Reiterating the demand to the Rajasthan government to immediately scrap the project, Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture) which organized the fact finding visit, along with Astha and Vagad Mazdoor Kisan Sanghatan, questioned whether such aggressive promotion of maize is really supposed to cater to enhanced food security needs of the country. “If that is the case, why is the larger picture showing that 51% of maize is being utilized for Poultry Feed, 11% for Animal Feed (62% in all for Feed!), 11% for Starch, 1% for Seed, 1% for Breweries and only 25% as Food in India? If that is the case, why are cultivars which are not suitable for local food consumption, but for other purposes being promoted? Why are cultivars that cannot be stored by the farmer’s family for more than 2-3 months being promoted? Why are agronomic practices that increase mono-cropping being promoted? Will this benefit industry or poor tribal farmers, in the name of Food Security?”, she asked. She lamented the fact that sustainability and accountability, in addition to self-governance for development by tribal communities are all critical missing components in the project.

Nilesh Desai of Beej Swaraj Abhiyan, who was also a part of the fact finding visit pointed out that seed sovereignty is being compromised by these ill-thought-out projects by governments, where medium and long term concerns are being given the short shrift. “It is not as though alternatives to such projects, which will focus on livelihood improvement of the farmers, are not present. There are certainly several examples which show that alternate seed production and supply mechanisms can be put into place which do not compromise seed sovereignty, which rely on suitable composite lines etc.. Further, agro-ecological approaches to cultivation will ensure higher net returns rather than promoting chemical-based intensive farming. We would like governments to scale up such efforts”.

The fact-finding team demanded for the immediate scrapping of the project in Rajasthan, and instead asked for appropriate financial investments on projects that promote food security and seed self-reliance at the grassroots level.


Rajasthan scraps seed pacts Comments

Author(s): Latha Jishnu
Issue: Nov 30, 2011

ICAR tells Rajasthan to wait for guidelines on benefit sharing, biosafety

imagePhoto: Amit ShankarON NOVEMBER 4, the Rajasthan government called seven seed companies to its offices in Jaipur to give them the bad news: the memorandums of agreement (MoUs) signed last year to collaborate on agriculture research had been scrapped after being in limbo for 15 months. The public-private partnership (PPP) envisaged in the agreements was comprehensive and of far-reaching significance, at least in the case of one, that with Monsanto Company of the US, the world’s largest purveyor of seeds and biotechnology.

The MoUs had been inked over six weeks, starting July 2010, with two of the world’s leading agri-biotech companies, Monsanto as represented by its wholly owned subsidiary Monsanto India Ltd and the majority-owned Monsanto Holdings Pvt Ltd, and PHI Seeds Ltd, the Indian arm of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a DuPont business. The others were with top Indian biotech seed companies, Advanta India, JK Agri Genetics, DCM Shriram Consolidated, Krishidhan Seeds and a local outfit, Kanchan Jyoti Agro Industries. An eighth agreement with Bayer BioScience Pvt Ltd, Indian subsidiary of the German giant Bayer CropScience, although finalised, was not signed in the wake of the controversy over the earlier seven.

imageThe agreements had resulted in a furore when these were brought to light by Down To Earth (‘Rajasthan opens farm gates’, November 1-15, 2010) because they allowed the private sector free access to the state’s research facilities along with a guaranteed market for their hybrid seeds and other technologies. It was the first such initiative by a state government and involved wide-ranging partnerships with the four state agriculture universities and with the agriculture and horticulture departments. Involving a total recast of agriculture, it raised questions about the impact of such tie-ups on the farming community.

Apprehensive farmers had demonstrated before the Vidhan Sabha in March, demanding that the MoUs be scrapped, and so had some NGOs who, however, diffused the issue by turning it into an anti-Monsanto protest.

A senior Rajasthan government official told Down To Earth: “We are scrapping the MoUs on the advice of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which has said it is best we wait for the guidelines it is preparing for PPPs before implementing these agreements.” The official said he had sought the opinion of several agriculture experts, among them M S Swaminathan who is popularly referred to as the father of India’s Green Revolution, but had received no clear response on what it should do with the contested MoUs. With opposing pressures building up—from influential politicians, Sajha Manch, a collective of farmers’ organisations, on the one hand, and the biotech industry on the other—the state government approached ICAR in May for a way out.

The reply sent by ICAR to the Rajasthan director of agriculture after a critical review of the MoUs makes it clear that PPPs with foreign companies are out. State governments cannot sign any agreement relating to research and development with foreign companies without the approval of the Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE), it says. DARE is a department of the Union Ministry of Agriculture.

ICAR also cautions Rajasthan on tie-ups with private companies in agriculture research because there is as yet no established mechanism for such PPPs. The worry is that “they raise several issues, such as those of intellectual property rights, costs, sharing of benefits, biosafety, etc.” DARE/ICAR is in the process of establishing a proper mechanism.

For Rajasthan, the ICAR advisory has come as a relief. A top-level official admits tacitly that the MoUs have been a mistake. “The companies were only interested in selling their seed and not in research. Nothing much was offered from their side to implement the MoUs. So we didn’t see any point in pursuing these agreements.”

Rajasthan seed initiative wilts: MoUs with biotech seed companies in limbo as protests force a rethink

Author(s): Latha Jishnu
Issue: Jun 30, 2011

Krishi Vigyan Kendras of agriculture universities are conducting little research (Photo: Jyotika Sood)
Ten months after Rajasthan signed its extraordinary memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with seven biotech seed companies, the state government finds itself caught in a cleft stick. Owing to a series of protests by farmers’ organisations, the government has thought it prudent not to execute the MoUs. At the same time, with pressure mounting from some of the seed companies to formalise the agreements, it has been unable to put together a policy framework for the public-private partnerships (PPPs) it wants to implement.

When Rajasthan signed MoUs with seven seed companies, it was seen as a pathbreaking initiative on PPPs in agriculture. Never before had any state government signed such wide-ranging PPPs that brought together the departments of agriculture and horticulture along with four state agriculture universities (SAUs) and the Rajasthan State Seed Corporation. Nor had any state initialled such a comprehensive agreement as with Monsanto that would involve the total recast of its agriculture. The MoUs, although non-binding in nature, signalled a dramatic policy shift, with private companies getting access to the entire range of the state’s research facilities to test and market their hybrid seeds (see ‘Rajasthan Opens Farm Gates’, Down To Earth, November 1-15, 2010).

The MoUs were signed with Monsanto Company of the US, represented by its wholly owned subsidiary Monsanto India Ltd and the majority-owned Monsanto Holdings Pvt Ltd (MHPL); PHI Seeds Ltd, the Indian arm of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a DuPont business; leading Indian biotech seed companies Advanta India, JK Agri Genetics, DCM Shriram Consolidated and Krishidhan Seeds, and local company Kanchan Jyoti Agro Industries on different dates in July-August 2010. The state government claims these were the first to respond after it wrote to two dozen companies asking them to enter into PPPs.

Predictably, there were protests over the nature of the PPPs by farmers’ organisations and NGOs. The biggest rally was held on March 14 outside the Vidhan Sabha when legislators were meeting for the 2011 budget session. According to reports from Jaipur, around 1,000 farmers had gathered outside Legislative Assembly demanding that the MoUs be scrapped. Alok Vyas of the Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society (CECOEDECON) explains that the campaign was initiated by Sajha Manch, a collective of 150 community organisations, and Kisan Sewa Samiti Mahasangh, because the PPPs had not taken into account the concerns of farmers. The Mahasangh is a federation of farmers’ organisations that works on agriculture-related issues and has been opposing genetically modified or GM crops for a long time.

And what are the farmers’ concerns? Vyas says that apart from the haste and secrecy with which the agreements were concluded, farmers were suspicious why public institutions like the agriculture universities and their facilities such as Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) that provide the research link to farmers had been made available to companies such as Monsanto without any conditions. This was a clear violation of democratic norms since these institutions were being handed over to private companies without discussion. Besides, “Monsanto will charge for the seeds and technologies developed by using public infrastructure,” says Vyas.

With protests turning into an anti-Monsanto campaign, the company had at one time criticised the “incorrect and unbalanced news reports” put out by the media, which misrepresented the facts and did not share the real perspective on the PPPs’ benefits, besides “wrongly and unnecessarily” implying that Monsanto was the only private company to partner with the state government. Now, however, Monsanto is not speaking. It has refused to respond to queries from Down To Earth (DTE).

According to sources, representatives of the biotech industry have been meeting officials in Jaipur, urging that the MoUs be executed through specific agreements. These representatives are known to speak for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a powerful lobby group for international GM crop developers. ISAAA is funded, among others, by Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, JK Agri Genetics and Mahyco, a Jalna-based seed company in which MHPL has a 26 per cent stake. Two of these companies have signed MoUs with Rajasthan.

The Ashok Gehlot government’s efforts to find a way out of the impasse have not been very successful. In January, it set up a five-member committee of experts to suggest the next course of action before making the MoUs operational.

Meeting on February 14 for the first time under the chairmanship of Amar Singh Faroda, former vice-chancellor of Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, the committee proposed measures that have done little to resolve the state government’s dilemma. If anything, these have added to the uncertainties surrounding the MoUs.

The recommendations are broadly this: SAUs should do basic and applied research on their own; public sector hybrids/varieties can be included in PPPs with non-exclusive rights according to university guidelines. Private companies should produce and market these under their original names and without losing the standard genetic purity. Another measure suggested by the committee to meld the strengths of the public and private sectors is that the latter should harness the scientific manpower available with state and provide funds to conduct research that would specifically “be in the interest of the company, state and the farmer”.

It is a carefully put together committee that includes Sain Das, formerly director of maize research at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Shivraj Singh, former adviser to the World Bank on plant breeding, and Surjeet Singh, agricultural economist with the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur. However, its suggestions (see ‘What the experts committee recommended’) have not met with approval from the state government.

Agriculture minister Harji Ram Budrak is reported to have rejected its recommendations but in a conversation with DTE, he said: “Another meeting will be called to discuss these suggestions but we have not fixed a date yet.”

So where does Rajasthan go from here? While multinationals in the group are getting increasingly restive over the government’s dilatoriness, farmers’ organisations say they will continue to oppose the MoUs. The Sajha Manch points out that in the name of R&D (research and development) Monsanto experts will define the need and direction of future research. “This in itself is dangerous because it allows a purely-for-profit entity to take such important decisions but worse, the document (MoU) clearly avoids fixing accountability in case of any crop failure or loss to the farmers.”

A senior government official dismissed such fears, saying that the MoUs were not contracts. Speaking to DTE on the condition of anonymity, he said: “The specific agreements we sign with the companies will incorporate all safeguards. We have taken the MoU route only to promote Rajasthan’s agriculture which is under severe stress.”

His argument is that KVKs, which provide farmers with the critical vital link to technologies developed by the research laboratories, are in the doldrums. “For the past two decades there has been no recruitment. Many of the KVKs hardly function and the average age of technician/scientist is 50 years. PPPs were planned to infuse fresh blood and research from the private sector into the system,” pointed out the official who was involved in putting together the MoUs. “Believe me, it was a well-thought-out move.”

Not so, says a former chief justice of the Rajasthan High Court Pana Chand Jain. He has questioned the legality of the agreements on several grounds: Were all those who signed the MoUs authorised to do so? Being institutions providing education, can universities enter into PPPs with private companies? The rules say that all government property or anything related to government needs to be auctioned. So how could the PPPs give away their land to private companies without going through due process? Justice Jain also says the Rajasthan has violated Article 299 of the Constitution, which deals with government contracts, by entering into PPPs.

For Rajasthan that’s a lot of legal mess to sort out before it can commence its agriculture revamp.