India: Monsanto lowers Bollgard II seed price, but has Govt carte blanc to monopolize agriculture Print E-mail
Thursday February 7, 2007

Are we betraying Indian farmers?

By K P Prabhakaran Nair
Manoeuvring of the committee will snap the very soul of Indian agriculture.
Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India Ltd (MMBL) the Indian arm of the US agri-business giant Monsanto has just announced that its controversial Bt cotton seeds, Bollgard II , a sequel to the much talked about Bollgard I, is ready for the farmer at Rs 1000 per 450 gram packet.

During kharif 2006 the same was sold at Rs 1400 while three years earlier at Rs 1850. Monsanto made more than Rs 200 crore from the sale.

This has, all of a sudden, brought under sharp focus the Seeds Bill tabled in Parliament in December 2004 to repeal the earlier Seeds Act 1996.

The Seeds Bill has been examined by a Parliamentary Standing Committee, and its recommendations leave the Indian farmer in a lurch.

It gives a real push to the private seed industry, leaving one to wonder whether the mandarins in New Delhi have the interests of the down trodden Indian farmer in their hearts or have assumed the role of the ‘PROs’ for the multinational.

Let us examine some crucial issues in the recommendations.

Age old practice
The committee clearly supports the government’s view that there is a need to “provide good quality” seeds to the Indian farmer. This is where the Indian farmer is pushed out of the scene and the multinational is brought in to “ensure quality”. For generations spanning millennia, Indian farmers have been saving and sowing their own seeds and not depending on any external agency.

Go to the country side. One would witness the sheer beauty and sanctity of this practice.

The first harvested panicles of paddy are taken to the local temple for benediction and later brought to the pooja room and some tied to the entry door, which remain there until the next harvest season.

One wouldn’t miss this sight anywhere in Kerala, Karnataka , Tamil Nadu or Andhra.

Now the farmer is being nudged to abandon this age old practice and tug himself onto the apron strings of the multinational to “ensure quality”.

The “terminator” technology, where the multinational ensures that the farmer replace his seeds each season with its own, thereby tying him to itself for eternity and ensuring its own profit perpetually, so very clearly exemplifies this strategy.

The “protection” bogey

Equally disconcerting is the effort of the committee to make the Indian Plant Variety Protection (PVP) law fully operative before bringing out the Seeds Bill. We must understand that the world over, such laws are meant to protect the industry or the plant breeder, as the case may be, and not the small farmer.

A PVP law, however good it may appear on the surface, leads only to privatisation of the planting material. However best one might try, the provisions of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regime only will lend legality to the private sector and eliminate the farmers’ rights.

If New Delhi leads to a situation where more and more PVP certificates will need to be issued to “ensure” quality and provide “protection”, a situation will arise where the farmer is completely pushed out of the scene leading to his losing total control of the planting material over which he holds absolute sovereign rights.

Patrimony vis-à-vis natural genetic resources, as interpreted by India’s traditional farmers, explains their relationship with their seeds. Patrimony varieties, then, ought first to belong to them and not the state.

Indian judiciary often raises the state sovereignty issue, as laid down in the global environmental agreement ,the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), but, if one were to carefully scrutinise the provisions of the CBD, one would realise that the role of the State is as a “trustee” and not as an “owner”.

The global campaign by Via Campesina clearly spells out that seeds are to be shared by mankind with an inherent responsibility to nurture and are not tradable.

Any right thinking Indian would see that the manoeuvring of the Parliamentary Committee will only facilitate the entry of the seed multinationals and show the door to the Indian farmer, and snap in the process the very soul of Indian agriculture.