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