Governments in industrial countries regularly put pressure on developing countries to introduce stringent plant variety protection (PVP) regimes and to adhere to the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention, without duly considering its consequences on the enjoyment of human rights of vulnerable groups such as small-scale farmers and in particular women. New research shows, the expansion of intellectual property rights on seeds might well restrict small-scale farmers’ practices of seed saving and use, exchange and selling in the informal seed supply system, limiting access to seeds and putting their right to food at risk.
The international coalition of “No Patents on Seeds” published a report on patents on seeds on the 23d of october. The report was prompted by the fact that the European Patent Office (EPO) has already granted several thousand patents on plants and seeds, with a steadily increasing number of patents on plants and seeds derived from conventional breeding. Around 2400 patents on plants and 1400 patents on animals have been granted in Europe since the 1980s. More than 7500 patent applications for plants and around 5000 patents for animals are pending. Amongst others, the EPO has already granted more than 120 patents on conventional breeding and about 1000 such patent applications are pending. The scope of many of the patents is extremely broad and very often covers the whole food chain from production to consumption.
Soaring seed prices in India have resulted in many farmers being mired in debt and turning to suicide [Reuters]
|Monsanto and its PR men are trying desperately to delink the epidemic of farmers suicides in India from its growing control over the cotton seed supply. For us it is the control over seed, the first link in the food chain, the source of life which is our biggest concern. When a corporation controls seed, it controls life. Including the life of our farmers.
The trends of Monsanto’s concentrated control on the seed sector in India or across the world is the central issue. This is what connects the farmer suicides in India, to Monsanto v Percy Schmeiser in Canada, orMonsanto v Bowman in the US, to farmers in Brazil suing Monsanto for $2.2 billion for unfair collection of royalty. Through patents on seeds, Monsanto has become the “Life Lord” on the planet, collecting rents from life’s renewal and from farmers, the original breeders. Patents on seed are illegitimate because putting a toxic gene into a plant cell is not the “creation” or invention of the plant. They are seeds of deception – the deception of Monsanto being the creator of seeds and life, the deception that while it sues farmers and traps them in debt, it is working for farmers’ welfare and “improving farmers lives” – the deception that GMOs feed the world. GMOs are failing to control pests and weeds, and have instead led to the emergence of super pests and super weeds [PDF].
In 1995 , Monsanto introduced its Bt technology in India through a joint venture with the Indian company Mahyco.
In 1997-98, Monsanto started open field trials of its propriety GMO Bt cotton illegally, and had announced it would be selling the seeds commercially the following year.
India has had rules for regulating GMOs since 1989 under the Environment Protection Act. Under these rules, it is mandatory to get approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee under the Ministry of Environment for GMO trials.
When we found out that Monsanto had not applied for approval, the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology sued Monsanto in the Supreme Court of India. As a result, Monsanto could not start commercial sales of its Bt cotton seeds until 2002. But it had started to change Indian agriculture before that.
‘Seeds of suicide’
The entry of Monsanto in the Indian seed sector was made possible with a 1988 Seed Policy imposed by the World Bank, requiring the government of India to deregulate the seed sector.
Five things changed with Monsanto’s entry. First, Indian companies were locked into joint ventures and licensing arrangements, and concentration over the seed sector increased. In the case of cotton, Monsanto now controls 95 percent of the cotton seed market through its GMOs. Second, seed which had been the farmers’ common resource became the “intellectual property” of Monsanto, for which it started collecting royalties thus raising the costs of seed. Third, open-pollinated cotton seeds were displaced by hybrids, including GMO hybrids. A renewable resource became a non-renewable patented commodity. Fourth, cotton which had earlier been grown as a mixture with food crops now had to be grown as a monoculture, with higher vulnerability to pests, disease, drought and crop failure. Finally, Monsanto started to subvert India’s regulatory processes, and in fact started to use public resources to push its non-renewable hybrids and GMOs through so-called public private partnerships (PPP).
The creation of seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides, and agrarian distress.
I have always been critical of reductionism. I look at systems, and at contextual causation. It is this system that Monsanto has created of seed monopoly, crop monocultures and a context of debt, dependency and distress – which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in India. This systemic control has been intensified with Bt cotton. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt. The highest acreage of Bt cotton is Maharashtra, and this is also where the highest farm suicides are. According to P Sainath, who has covered farmer suicides extensively: “The total number of farmers who have taken their own lives in Maharashtra since 1995 is closing in on 54,000. Of these, 33,752 have occurred in nine years since 2003, at an annual average of 3,750. The figure for 1995-2002 was 20,066 at an average of 2,508.” Suicides have increased after Bt cotton was introduced. The price of seed jumped 8,000 percent; Monsanto’s royalty extraction and the high costs of purchased seed and chemicals have created a debt trap.
According to data from the Indian government, nearly 75 percent rural debt is due to purchased inputs. Farmers’ debt grows as Monsanto profits grow. It is in this systemic sense that Monsanto’s seeds are those of suicide. An internal advisory by the agricultural ministry of India in January 2012 had this to say to the cotton growing states in India: “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”
Moreover, after the damning report of the parliamentary committee on Bt crops, the panel of technical experts appointed by the supreme court has recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all GM food and termination of all ongoing trials of transgenic crops.
And the ultimate seeds of suicide are Monsanto’s patented Terminator Tecnology that create sterile seed. The Convention on Biological Diversity has banned its use, otherwise Monsanto would be collecting even higher profits from it.
“Monsanto is an agricultural company. We apply innovation and technology to help farmers around the world produce more while conserving more.”
“Produce more. Conserve more. Improving farmers’ lives.”
This is the announcement on Monsanto India’s website. All the pictures are of smiling prosperous farmers from the state of Maharashtra. However, we see that the reality on the ground is completely different. Farmers are in debt and in deep distress, and have become dependent on Monsanto’s seed monopoly. Most of the farmers who have committed suicide in India did so due to being trapped in debt and are in the cotton belt – which has become a suicide belt now: The highest suicides are in Maharashtra. Monsanto’s talk of “technology” tries to hide its real objectives of ownership, where genetic engineering is just a means to control seeds and the food system through patents and intellectual property rights.
A Monsanto representative admitted that they were “the patient, diagnostician, and physician all in one” in writing the patents on life sections in the TRIPS agreement of WTO. Stopping farmers from saving seeds and exercising their seed sovereignty was the objective. Monsanto has gone very far down the road of destroying biodiversity and seed sovereignty. It is now extending its patents to conventionally-bred seed – as in the case of broccoli and capsicum, or the low-gluten wheat it had pirated from India, which wechallenged as a biopiracy case in the European Patent Office.
That is why we have started Fibres of Freedom in the heart of Monsanto’s Bt cotton/suicide belt in Vidharba. We have created community seed banks with indigenous seeds and helped farmers go organic. No GMO seeds, no debt, no suicides. We save and share seeds of life and freedom – diverse, open-pollinated, GMO-free, patent-free seeds.
Dr Vandana Shiva is a physicist, eco-feminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights – winning the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) in 1993.
The draft paper for discussion on 27-28th August, on Open Source Seeds Network for your comments
PUNE: India’s Rs 8,000-crore seed sector is bracing for a hit because farmers shun cotton this summer after expanding the acreage for two consecutive years. Cotton prices have hovered around the minimum support price for most of the current season, putting farmers in distress.
BT cotton’s loss in the battle for acres has enormous corporate interest because it rakes in a third of the seed industry’s revenues. The seed industry has seen maximum private equity interest in the last three years compared to the rest of the farm input value chain. Initial trends show a decline in cotton acreage. According to the Haryana agriculture department, sowing in the state has been completed on 3.45 lakh ha area till May 25 this year as compared to 4.50 lakh ha sown by the same date last year, which is a decline of more than 23%.
Last year, cotton acreage in Haryana was at 6.03 lakh ha. This year, the state government expects the crop to be sown on 5.50 lakh ha, a fall of close to 9%. “As against our requirement of about 32 lakh packets, the availability of Bt cotton seeds is at 44 lakh packets,” said BS Duggal, joint secretary, Punjab agriculture department.
In Maharashtra, the second-largest cotton producer, acreage is expected to fall by 1.15 lakh ha from 41.25 lakh ha last year to 40 lakh ha this year. “As against our requirement of 1.60 crore packets, the availability of seeds is at 2.10 crore packets,” said SS Adsool, director-agriculture (inputs and quality control), Maharashtra government.
Top seed companies have confirmed the possibility of a fall in cotton acreage and its pressure on their margins. Companies selling non-branded seeds have to bear losses. “There are early indications of a reduction in cotton acreage. But by the end of the season, the acreage may even remain at the last year’s level,” said Ram Kaundinya, managing director, Advanta India.
The availability of seeds at four crore packets is more than the demand of about 3.7 crore packets. “As against the sale of about 70-75 lakh packets of Bt cotton seeds last year in north India, we expect a sale of only about 60 lakh packets this year,” said MG Shembekar of Nagpur-based Ankur Seeds.
“Barring a top few brands, which are selling Bt seeds for a premium, there is a price war amongst seed companies. As a result, quality material is available to farmers at competitive rates,” said Shembekar. Sushil Karwa, managing director of Pune-based Krishidhan Seeds, confirmed a cut in prices.
“It is mandatory for seed companies to sell seeds at the MRP fixed by the government. This means quality seeds as well as the poor ones have to be sold at the same price. The government should allow companies to price their seeds as per their market value,” he added.
Necessity drives the search for alternatives
Faced with a unique economic crisis, Cuba’s national agriculture system was near
collapse, threatening the country’s food security. But working together with
groups of farmers, a team of young plant breeders is turning things around. And
by working together both the farmers and the breeders are learning valuable
lessons that could prove to be valuable to the agriculture systems of other
countries in the region.
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 email@example.com
When meta-physician, Deepak Chopra and food champion and ecologist, Vandana Shiva met before a live audience at his Love in Action series atDeepakHomeBase,
they had a good laugh over the Bullshit Award. Yes, that’s right. Monsanto gave a Bullshit Award to Shiva. To Shiva, whom Forbes Magazine called one of the seven most powerful women on earth, that was an unintended compliment. To get the joke, it helps to recognize the value of cow dung (the Indian down-on-the-farm name for bullshit.)
Cow dung is the original recyclable material. It helps fertilize the fields that grow the grass, which the cows, that produce the dung, feed upon. Their grazing helps our dehydrating planet retain moisture in the earth, contributing to global water supplies. Cow dung use cuts down on the excess nitrogen produced by chemical fertilizers, which contribute to climate change. In a pinch cow dung can be burned for fuel (lowering fossil fuel use) or to help build or insulate a home (lowering fuel use and providing low cost shelter.) As an added gift, those grazing cows produce the butter, milk, yogurt, and cheese that people eat as well.
By surveying the versatile ecology of cow dung, even urban dwellers, like me, can see the earthy pragmatism embedded in the Indian worship of cows (and indeed all life) as sacred. That’s why Chopra and Shiva laughed at the would-be insult.
But before anyone rushes in to take for themselves alone the newly perceived value of cow dung, let’s recognize it as just one part of a teaming, living ecology that supports human life by helping to:
- Feed more people
- Promote self-sufficiency
- Create more jobs
- Harvest more energy
- Maintain the earth’s climate and ecological balance
Time has tested and proven the value of cow dung, and the natural cycle to which it belongs. Acting in ways that attune with nature’s processes and cycles is not about having the right to label a product “natural.” It is about following nature as the supreme guide to creating and maintaining life. Otherwise, we risk undermining and destroying the baseline conditions for life, the two Indian scientists maintain. (Shiva originally trained as a physicist.) In different ways, they express the utter urgency to make the right choices now.
As opposed to the life proliferating activities of cow dung, GMO seeds are “terminator seeds designed to be sterile, in a deliberate creation of food scarcity for profits,” says Shiva, who has worked with and defended the rights of farmers to store seeds for three decades.
Whether or not GMOs hold up to the Monsanto claim of feeding more people, (a claim that Shiva disputes, countering that 80 percent of food is grown on small farms, rather than mass industrial ones) Monsanto defines success very differently than Shiva does.
Rather than seek to promoting life through promoting food cultivation, Monsanto acts to:
- Obtain the exclusive intellectual property rights to the earth’s seeds
- Modify seeds genetically with pesticides and herbicides
- Build planned obsolescence into traditional crops
- Sue farmers who maintain the centuries old ecological cycle by collecting seeds from each new crop
In the U.S., where long time industry executives hold powerful positions in key governmental regulatory agencies, the USDA and FDA are pursuing pro-GMO policies. But how well have those worked in India? There, Vandana Shiva reports that they have resulted in the suicide of a quarter of a million Indian farmers. When in the aftermath of being forced into industrial agriculture, Indian farmers lost their independence, livelihoods, food, and farms, they committed suicide, she says, by drinking what remained: the chemical pesticides produced by industrial giants.
The technological science so highly prized in our civilization has another side.
“Yes, it has given us important tools,” Chopra acknowledges, before he goes on to enumerate the ugly side of “fragmented science,” such as global warming, ecological destruction, mechanized death, nuclear weapons, GMOs, and pesticides. “Together they are risking our extinction as a species,” he says.
Beyond the specific health impacts Chopra enumerates, including “cancer, hormonal disorders, weight gain, allergies, and propensity to infections,” lies a more pervasive problem. “What is happening in our body is also happening in the body of Mother Earth. Because many of the chemicals and processes were originally developed for military aims, their purpose is destructive.” Using them in life proliferating activities, like food farming, amounts to “declaring war on the land,” Chopra points out.
Vandana Shiva tallies the impacts of technological science on the living systems on which humans depend.
“Pollinators are disappearing. We have a migration of birds, a loss of planetary water, changing weather patterns. We have created a war on life.”
Sanjeeb Mukherjee / New Delhi October 19, 2011, 7:17 IST
To ensure easy availability of high-quality certified seeds at reasonable price to farmers, the agriculture ministry’s long-pending proposal for a national mission on seeds is expected to be implemented in the 12th Five Year Plan that starts from April 2012.
The Planning Commission has given “in principle” approval for the mission, which will cost around Rs 3,773.40 crore — and will run for a period of five years.
A final decision will have to be taken by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, a senior agricultural ministry official said on Tuesday.
Officials said work on a national mission on seeds had started a few years ago. “It is likely to be operationalised soon. It will strive to improve private sector participation in the development and distribution of seeds in the country,” a source told Business Standard.
At present, private sector contributes 40 per cent of the total seed supply in the country estimated to be around 350 lakh quintals every year.
Lack of high-quality certified seeds both for cereals and also for fruits and vegetables along with their poor replacement ratio have been one of the main drawbacks of Indian agriculture.
Demands have kept rising, though there has been progress to continued efforts to improve research and development of newer and better varieties of seeds. As per government estimates in the 2010-11 crop marketing year, the country’s seed availability exceeded demand by around 23.21 lakh quintals, while in the current crop marketing year supplies were more than the demand by an equal amount.
The National Seed Plan framed in 2005 had assessed that India would need an overall 258 lakh quintals of seeds annually in the next five years.
However, that assessment was surpassed in 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-2012 itself because of higher area coverage under cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables.
At present, the government is also working on a new seeds bill that it had introduced in Parliament in this July, but is reworking after several MPs proposed amendments. “The revised seed bill will be sent to the Cabinet for approval,” an official said.
The linkage between agriculture and environment is well understood. But not everything that is sold as good for agriculture is good for the environment! As more new untested agricultural technologies hit the market, risks for the environment rise too.
New varieties of crops, high-yielding only if grown with agricultural chemicals and abundant water, clearly have environmental implications. Similarly, potentially hazardous genetically engineered (GE) seeds may trigger irretrievable genetic change in agro ecological systems. Yet an environmental principle could well show the way forward for agriculture – that of recycling.
Recycle means to cause to repeat a cycle. In industry it is the process by which used materials are processed into new products to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce consumption of fresh raw materials, cut down energy usage, minimise air and water pollution and lower green house gas emissions. Environmentalists have long been rallying for a more organised way to do this. Likewise, small farmers too are asking for their space to recycle. In small farm agriculture, the saving of seeds and re-using them in the next season is a time-honoured tradition. This recycling of seeds is what is under threat today.
Recycling seeds is direct competition for seed companies. ‘Reduce, resuse, recycle’ seeds clearly comes in the way of their business. Sure the seed, food and fuel industry is looking at agricultural waste and byproducts from farming. But that is purely to develop its carbon portfolios for profits.
Agro fuels so produced are yet to tip the energy balance in their favour. Meanwhile, large populations of farmers in agrarian societies like India and other parts of the world are the untapped market the seed industry is yet to totally conquer.
However, no better than in the (informal) seed sector would recycling the biological material produce a fresh supply of the same planting material. This is not guaranteed by company seeds. To assure themselves of a market, what the seed companies sell in the market are either increasingly hybrid or GE products. Hybrid seeds are the obvious choice of industry since the farmers need to buy the seeds every season. Likewise, GE seeds containing technologies that make the seed sterile, make it impossible for farmers to recycle their seeds. The practice of seed-saving is thus rendered redundant by such seed technologies.
Gap in policy
The country’s seed policies are precisely encouraging such technologies, rather than facilitating farmers to save their own seed. The ministry of agriculture (MoA) has a plan to increase the Seed Replacement Rate (SRR). As explained by MoA, seed replacement rate is the percentage of area sown out of total area of crop planted in the season by using certified/quality seeds other than the farm-saved seed. In the official view the farmers’ reliance on farm saved seeds is seen as something that needs to be corrected. There is an obvious gap in law and policy for the promotion of farmers’ seeds.
The proposed Seed Bill is about putting in place marketing rules for certified seeds of ‘quality.’ Even in the India’s National Seeds Policy 2002 the enhancement of SRR is one of the thrust areas. The intent is to replace the use of farm-saved seeds. The country’s National Seed Plan expressly aims at ensuring the SRR at 25 per cent for self-pollinated crops, 35 per cent for cross-pollinating crops and 100 per cent for hybrids. To be able to meet the demand of seed as per projections of this plan, several quintals of seeds have to be produced and the distributed to farmers across the rural landscape.
The key players envisaged in seed production are the seed industry. The government is also fostering public-private partnerships with state agricultural universities and the State Farms Corporation of India (SFCI). Seed production is the main activity at SFCI farms. Yet the reality is that the National Seed Corporation and the State Seed Corporations are not able to supply the quality and quantity of seeds that farmers need.
Interestingly, both the public and private seed sector actively prospect for farmers’ varieties as a base to build new seed products on. That explains the official emphasis on ex situ conservation and the storing away of traditional varieties in centralised collections. And there seems to a one-way traffic in terms of seed and planting materials being collected by state agencies, be it agricultural universities, research institutes, gene banks or the plant authority. The seeds that come out of these institutions are not re-usable by farmers. But the dichotomy of the situation is that farmers’ seed is considered inferior as against ‘quality’ seed mass manufactured by industry.
There is worldwide concern about the environmental impacts of achieving global food production targets. Yet growing more with less is what small farm agriculture allows. It provides a ready-made low-carbon solution for mitigating global climate change. At the centre of the many small diverse adaptive decentralised food production models are local seeds. Recycling these will also help to keep farmers as the original producers of seeds. So yes the world needs to recycle, but most of all it needs to let farmers’ recycle their own seeds.
(The writer specialises in agriculture and biodiversity issues)