Posts Tagged 'Bihar'

GM-Free Bihar Movement Cries Foul Over BRAI Bill

Bill introduced despite opposition within and outside Parliament

Patna, 24th April 2013: The GM-Free Bihar Movement today expressed deep anguish at the Central Government’s action of introducing the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill 2013 in Parliament despite serious reservations of parliamentarians, scientists, civil society groups and farmers.

“This Bill, dubbed as a ‘wrong bill by the wrong people for wrong reasons’ in its various versions has been extremely controversial due to provisions facilitating the biotechnology industry at the expense of public good,” GM-Free Bihar Movement Convener Mr. Pankaj Bhushan said in a press release here.

The Bill’s flawed approach to regulation in trying to create a single window clearing house for products of modern biotechnology, instead of an express mandate to protect and uphold bio-safety given the acknowledged risks of modern biotechnology, has been opposed time and again.

“As we have reiterated on numerous occasions, the Bill is steeped in conflict of interest as the Ministry promoting biotechnology is about to house the regulator; it undermines the federal polity of our nation by overriding the authority of state governments, even though Agriculture is a State Subject as per the Indian Constitution. It also attempts to circumvent the right to information and transparency laws and is focussed on creating a three member technocratic, undemocratic and centralised decision making body. As the Bt brinjal moratorium decision shows us, even a more broad-based regulatory body had gone wrong with its decision-making – why can’t the government learn lessons from the past and aspire for a progressive legislation in the interest of Indian citizens and environment, rather than promote corporate interests?” Bhushan said.

The problems with this technology particularly in our food and farming systems, where the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are released into the environment are widely known and documented. “The Bill introduced in Parliament on April 22, 2013 overlooks the ever-increasing evidence on the impacts of GMOs on human health, biodiversity and socioeconomic aspects and lacks any scientific independent, long term assessment to look at the safety as well as the very need of GMOs before their open release.”

Bhushan termed the bill anti-farmer and anti-consumer, saying, if passed, it will only result in people losing control over food choices and seed sovereignty. “The bill should be withdrawn,” he demanded.

BACKGROUND:

The introduction of this Bill at this juncture is all the more shocking and unacceptable, given the following recommendation from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture which studied the subject in detail and presented its report to Parliament in August 2012:

The Government has been for some years now toying with the idea of a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority. The Committee feels that regulating biotechnology is too small a focus in the vast canvas of biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health, etc. and a multitude of other such related issues. They have, therefore, already recommended in a previous Chapter setting up of an all encompassing Bio-safety Authority through an Act of Parliament, which is extensively discussed and debated amongst all stakeholders, before acquiring shape of the law. Unless and until such an authority is in place, any further movement in regard to transgenics in agriculture crops will obviously be fraught with unknown consequences. (Section 8.120)

Analysing the lacunae of the existing regulation and studying the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India, the Standing Committee said the following:

“In such a situation what the Country needs is not a biotechnology regulatory legislation but an all encompassing umbrella legislation on biosafety which is focused on ensuring the biosafety, biodiversity, human and livestock health, environmental protection and which specifically describes the extent to which biotechnology, including modern biotechnology, fits in the scheme of things without compromising with the safety of any of the elements mentioned above”.

The GM-Free Bihar Movement strongly urges that Parliamentarians cutting across the political spectrum should respond to this retrograde and anti-people bill and prevent the control over our food and seed by a few biotechnology majors.  Discussing the Bill in a limited context of a Standing Committee on Science & Technology would not suffice, given the large potential impact of the issue at hand.

We demand that the government show its sensitivity to the broad based opposition by withdrawing the bill. We urge Parliamentarians to ask for circulation to elicit  response and understand the importance and need to set up a Joint  Committee in this current instance (ideally headed by the Chairperson of the Agriculture Standing Committee, given its deep links to farmers’ livelihoods, an issue pertaining to the largest number of Indians).

Advertisements

Banana fibre in Bihar: the remarkable story of an industry and an entrepreneur!

Patna: Bihar farmers plant banana in around 28,000 hectares of land every year. The banana plant is the largest herbaceous flowering plant. The plants are normally tall and fairly sturdy and are often mistaken for trees, but their main or upright stem is actually a pseudostem that grows 6 to 7.6 metres (20 to 24.9 ft) tall, growing from a corm.

Each pseudostem can produce a single bunch of bananas. After fruiting, the pseudostem dies, but offshoots may develop from the base of the plant. Many varieties of bananas are perennial.

banana fibre arrangedThe relevant point here however is, the stem invariably goes waste. On the whole 22 districts in Bihar grow banana, some of them on a vast scale. Each acre of banana plantation may have up to 1300 tress. This may give you some idea of the banana waste output of entire Bihar. So what should be done?

According to standard data, not widely known in Bihar, a full 1 km of fibre may be extracted from 12-15 banana trees. A plantation thus with 1300 trees can give a producer 85 kms of fibre length. But what are the uses of the banana fibre? And this is where the producer may hit the jackpot.

banana fibre mats

Banana fibre is used in a variety of industries starting with high quality paper to weaving of saris in South India and Gujarat. The fibre also finds use in high quality security/currency paper, packing cloth, ship towing ropes, wet drilling cables etc.

India also occupies the largest area under Banana cultivation in the world covering approx. 11% of world area of Banana. Banana fiber can partially replace the consumption of Cotton and Jute fiber in India. It has excellent potential for export to Far-east Asian and South Asian countries like Singapore,Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

Banana farmers and entrepreneurs in Bihar are thus sitting on a gold mine that they are not aware of. There is one person however who has taken the initiative in Bihar. Virendra Dayal who has a small scale unit in Bidupur, Vaishali took the trouble to get himself trained in the technique of fibre extraction before he put up his industry. He now says he has captive clients who pick up his produce and he doesn’t have to go chasing after them – a major advantage in the case of Bihar where farmers often find tough to seek markets.

Mr Dayal lays down a simple calculation to explain the profitability of the industry – one acre of land will give you 1200 stems approximately. Roughly 12 stems give you around 1 kilo of fibre. Companies willingly pay Rs 150-200 for a kilo of fibre. He started his industry with a machine he bought for the royal sum of Rs 80,000 and a large room as a factory. He is now planning to upgrade the machine with an investment of Rs 150,000. Does that give you an idea of the scale of investment?

banana basket bihardays

You can do the rest of the calculation yourself. Mr dayal does not forget to add that the banana stem juice may be processed into high value molasses as well.  So far we have thought of banana fibre from the entrepreneur’s viewpoint. Once you include the farmer and the local labour employed, you get a complete picture of the potential of this industry.

Legal action against two firms in BT brinjal case

NEW DELHI: The BT brinjal case just got murkier.Government’s National Biodiversity Authority has decided to take legal action against Mayhco and Monsanto for using Indian varieties of the vegetable without mandatory permissions.

The authority, meant to govern use of Indian genetic resources by business and research groups, decided in its meeting in June to initiate legal action against the companies and their collaborators for violating the Biodiversity Conservation Act and using the genetic material from India without the mandatory permissions from either the state or central board authorised to permit such work.

The last meeting of NBA recorded, “A background note besides legal opinion on Bt brinjal on the alleged violation by the Mahyco/Monsanto, and their collaborators for accessing and using the local brinjal varieties for development of Bt brinjal without prior approval of the competent authorities was discussed and it was decided that the NBA may proceed legally against Mahyco/Monsanto, and all others concerned to take the issue to its logical conclusion.”

The move comes after a Bangalore-based NGO, Environment Support Group, filed a case before the state authority – Karnataka Biodiversity Board — against the companies and consortium of research organizations for using the Indian varieties without mandatory clearances.

Environment Support Group complained to the Karnataka Biodiversity Board on February 15, 2011. The state authority investigated the matter and in May 2011 reported to the national board that six local varieties had been used for development of Bt Brinjal without permissions. Mayhco and its collaborator, the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, defended themselves before the state authority for not seeking permissions stating that the project did not involve profit making or transfer of genetic resources.

Under the Biodiversity Act, violations of this nature can attract up to three years of imprisonment and Rs 5 lakh penalty.

ASHA Training on Ecological Agriculture

ASHA Training on Ecological Agriculture

Workshop-2 with Eastern India Focus

Bolpur Training Centre, West Bengal

Organized by DRCSC (Service Centre), Kolkata

Sept. 5th-8th, 2011

Dear friends,

Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) invites you to our 2nd workshop on Ecological Agriculture, focusing this time on Eastern India. The workshop is being organized by DRCSC, popularly known as Service Centre in West Bengal, one of the foremost resource centres for sustainable agriculture and natural resource management. This is a brief first announcement for your information so that you can start registering and making travel plans. More detailed plan and agenda for the workshop will be circulated in a few days. Early registration and confirmation will help both the organizers and participants plan better.

Who are expected to participate:

The workshop is meant for key organizers in NGOs and community organizations which are taking up the promotion of ecologically sustainable agriculture, and for any committed farmers who are interested in practicing and propagating ecological agriculture. We are particularly inviting participants from the Eastern region, i.e., West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Eastern UP. If you are not working in these states but still want to attend the workshop for specific reasons, do write to us and we will try to accommodate. Note that two more ASHA workshops are being organized in Central India and Northern India.

Dates, Venue and Logistics:

The training will be conducted at the Bolpur Training Centre which is 130 km from Kolkata. You are advised to reach Kolkata by 12pm on Sept. 4th, and the whole group will travel by 4.15pm train to Bolpur, reaching there around 8pm. The training will end around 12.30pm on Sept. 8th and the group plans to take the 2.30pm train back to Kolkata to reach around 6pm. You are advised to plan your departure time for return journey after 8pm on Sept. 8th.

Travel expenses and arrangements should be taken care of by the participants from their respective locations to Kolkata (Howrah or Sealdah). The organizers will take care of travel to venue and back, and food and accommodation (shared rooms).

Program Outline:

There will be sessions on Natural Resource management through Sustainable Agriculture, based on Permaculture principles, bio-integrated farms, integrating other subsystems with the crop component, and so on. Sept. 7th will be spent in a field trip covering food, forest, common property resources, integrated farms, fish farms with garden, biogas, etc.

Please register:

There are 30 spots planned for participants. You are requested to register and confirm at the earliest, by sending the following details with Subject “ASHA Training at DRCSC” to DRCSC drcsc.ind@gmail.com, Pankaj Bhushan mail.tarafoundation@gmail.com, Kiran Vissa kiranvissa@gmail.com, Kavitha Kurugantikavitha.kuruganti@gmail.com.

Name:
Age:
Gender:
Email Address:
Mobile Number:
Food Preferences:
Your Expectations from the training (in brief): 

 Looking forward to a fruitful workshop.

Anshuman Das (drcsc.ind@gmail.com), Kavitha Kuruganti (kavitha.kuruganti@gmail.com), Pankaj Bhushan (mail.tarafoundation@gmail.com), Kiran Vissa (kiranvissa@gmail.com)

For Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)

ASHA is an alliance of about 400 diverse organizations across India that came together through the Kisan Swaraj Yatra (Oct-Dec 2010), a nation-wide mobilization around Food-Farmers-Freedom. Through grassroots work, trainings, campaigns and policy advocacy, ASHA seeks to promote practices and policies that make Indian agriculture ecologically sustainable, ensure dignified livelihoods to its farmers including the small and marginal, preserve their control over agricultural resources like seed, land and water, and ensure adequate, safe food to all citizens.

www.kisanswaraj.in

IS HYBRID RICE A SOLUTION FOR EASTERN INDIA ?

In many states of eastern India, including in eastern Uttar Pradesh, hybrid rice is being promoted as a way to increase productivity by various governments. The Government of India wants these states to emulate the ‘Chinese Model’ of adopting hybrid rice on a large scale to spur productivity in the name of ‘bridging yield gaps’. Rs. 400 crores have been allocated in the Union Budget of 2010 for extending the Green Revolution in eastern Indian states and in 2011, another 400 crores have been announced. 63% of the funding is for intensive technology promotion in rice and wheat, on nearly 4 lac hectares. Hybrid Rice is being made into a major strategy for promotion of productivity of rice in the region. This brings to the fore many questions including what constitutes productivity, at what expense can productivity increases be attempted in an unqualified fashion, whether the eastern region can afford a repetition of the Green Revolution model of the past with its excessive thrust on Rice and Wheat, seed diversity and sovereignty issues with this promotion of hybrid seeds, medium and long term sustainability etc. This brief note attempts to situate the concerns around hybrid rice in the context of these larger questions.

 ABOUT HYBRID RICE & ITS ADOPTION IN INDIA:

 India was one of the first countries to have initiated hybrid rice research at the Central Rice Research Institute, in the 1950s. R & D efforts have resulted in 43 hybrids being released in India between 1994 and 2009, both by public institutions and private sector players. 28 of these have been developed by the public sector[1]. It is estimated that 90% of the hybrid rice planted belongs to private companies. Most of the hybrids have been created to respond to chemical fertilizer use. Thousands of hybrid rice varieties have been tested in coordinated trials across the country for decades now, with the results being unsatisfactory and the number of hybrids released after so much R&D effort is an illustration of various problems with hybrid rice.

Hybrid rice adoption has been very slow amongst farmers and this speaks about the various problems related to the hybrids in India – this includes grain quality, pest and disease resistance, cost of seed, farm economics etc. Many published reports indicate that the earlier hybrid rice varieties were not suited to the irrigated rice lands of southern and northern India. The search for markets for Hybrid Rice has now moved to eastern India, considered as favorable rainfed areas. In front of the base yield of existing rice varieties in these areas, yield gains with hybrid rice appear to be around 30-35% as per some reports. In general, hybrid rice is reported to provide 15-20% yield gains.

To promote hybrid rice, governments started providing a slew of incentives and subsidies. It is reported that 3.2% of India’s rice land is planted to hybrid rice in 2008 (on 1400,000 hectares, out of around 44 million hectares of rice cultivation, up from 50,000 hectares in 1996 where in the first decade it did not cross the one million mark). Hybrid rice is reported to contribute 5.6% of India’s total rice production, nearly 15 years after its introduction and promotion. Chattisgarh, Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh have the largest concentration of hybrid rice cultivation in the country, where it has failed to meet farmers’ expectations in remaining parts of the country. In eastern India, hybrid rice covers 7% of the total rice land, accounting for nearly 13% of the output of the region. Adoption is reported to be concentrated with farmers who have financial capacity to invest, in fields with favorable water supply and with farmers who are market-oriented. This may not be the category into which most of our small and marginal farmers of the eastern region might fit into.

THREAT TO NATIVE DIVERSITY

The Eastern Region in India is the last bastion of rice diversity in the country, so to speak. To this day, it is estimated that more than 3500 varieties are cultivated in this region, where there used to be an estimated 110,000 land races of rice cultivated in India at one point of time[2]. Chattisgarh alone was supposed to have housed over 22000 rice landraces with West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha having nearly 15500 landraces until 1975. The extant varieties include flood-tolerant, drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant, aromatic, medicinal, biotic-stress-resistant, high-yield varieties!

The aggressive promotion of hybrid rice poses a threat to this invaluable diversity. While hybrid rice is being promoted mainly in the name of higher yields, it is important to note that numerous traditional rice varieties like Ashphal, Bansh Pata, Bokva, Patnai, Ganga Sal, Bahurupi and Nagra have an impressive number of nodal number of productive tillers per hill and panicle density (grains per panicle), often significantly higher than released varieties, with their yield matching such other varieties (7+ tonnes per hectares)! This is true for grain weight too[3].

When it comes to grain yields, it is important to remember that when objectively measured in terms of output per unit of chemical fertilizers, hybrids and HYVs are significantly outperformed by traditional varieties. Chemical fertilization is a process which is already posing serious questions about its impacts on soil health, impacts on GHG emissions, public financing burden, farm economics burden etc. Hybrid technology and yield improvements therefore cannot be assessed in isolation from these other emerging issues.

Further, the issue of yield is not just grain yield but total bio-mass from unit land. When it comes to food security, it is important to note that we cannot ignore that food security is also about nutritional value of such grains. It is widely acknowledged that the high nutritional value of traditional landraces and varieties has supported indigenous communities in terms of basic nutrition[4] and the same cannot be said of hybrid rice. It is important therefore to re-look at hybrid rice in this rice diversity-rich region of eastern India.

SEED PRICES/CHOICES/SOVEREIGNTY:

It has to be remembered that hybrid rice price is significantly higher than inbred rice, nearly 6-fold higher. The cost of seed is around Rs. 150-200/- per kilo in the private seed market, with the recommended seed rate being around 15 kilos per hectare. The seed component alone will then cost upto Rs. 2250/- to Rs. 3000/- per hectare. A more important aspect to remember is that private proprietary seed prices have been on the rise almost exponentially elsewhere too and there are no laws at present to regulate seed prices in the country. While subsidized projects might lure farmers towards hybrid seed adoption, the real costs will hit the farmer in the medium term and there would be no seed left with the communities to fall back on, at that point of time.

Hybrid rice means that farmers have to buy seed every season and have to have the financial capacity to do so in the first instance. Timely availability of seed could be a major issue once the dependency on such hybrid seed is established. Seed choices for farmers would certainly be eroded and markets will dictate what will be available and sown, at what time and price. Given that a major food crop in the country is being directed towards proprietary hybrid seed markets, this whole push towards hybrid rice poses serious seed and food sovereignty questions.

HIGHER COST OF CULTIVATION & CHEMICALISATION OF AGRICULTURE

While some reports indicate that the additional net profit for a farmer by cultivation of hybrid rice over other varieties in experimental trials ranges from RS. 2781 to Rs. 6291/- per hectare, the real picture from the ground is different. It is seen that yield gains show a variable performance with an average increase of 15-20% more (4-13% as per some studies). However, input costs also increase, in addition to poor grain quality fetching lower prices for farmers with hybrid rice[5].  Cost difference ranged from 16% to 25% with hybrid rice cultivation requiring more investment from the farmer.

Another recent study with sample farmers from Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana showed that cost of cultivation in hybrid rice is higher than in inbred rice cultivation[6]. In Chattisgarh, for instance, total input costs were higher by 29% for hybrid than inbred rice cultivation. Differences in net returns were variable and ranged from 1.9% in Haryana to 33.3% in UP, in favor of hybrid rice. Earlier studies showed that net returns are lower in hybrid rice, ranging from -5% to -14.8%, even though there were some yield gains. This was mainly due to lower market price fetched by hybrid rice and higher input costs – these ranged from 3% to 29% in the IRRI-supported study.

Nitrogenous fertilizers are recommended upto at least 150 kilos per hectare for hybrid rice cultivation.  This, at a time when the ill-effects of such fertilizers are clearer than ever before.

With the kind of intensive, external-input driven cultivation that drives yield increases in hybrid rice, productive resources are going to be adversely affected sooner or later. Apart from variable and even negative farm economics, hybrid rice cultivation poses a question on sustainability of incomes of farmers.

YIELD GAINS – WHAT IS THE TRUE STORY?

Reports indicate that the yield gains are just 4-13% in India. Importantly enough, states like Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka which have the highest productivity in the country, did not attain that productivity gain through hybrids. Yield gains come at the expense of more chemicalisation of our agriculture. This will obviously not sustain itself in the future.

Studies show that such yield gains are a direct factor of management intensity (management responsiveness in hybrid rice is reported to be around 30-35% compared to conventional varieties; in fact, at ‘average management levels’, yields are lower than HYVs), chemical fertilizer response and irrigation provision to hybrid rice. Similar investments, through agro-ecological approaches like SRI would yield higher productivity of course, even as non-chemical SRI with varieties would conserve our resources.

An earlier point that we made, of productivity having to be re-understood especially in the context of food security and livelihood for the poorest, becomes relevant. Productivity increases cannot also be at the expense of agro-diversity and seed sovereignty since such gains will only jeopardize the food security and livelihoods of our people.

LACK OF CONSUMER PREFERENCE:

Poor grain quality, no taste, poor cooking and keeping quality, no flavor, stickiness etc. are all reported to be problems with the grain quality of hybrid rice. While issues like breakage of grain and poor milling returns are being addressed by improving technologies at the processing end, it might be important to ask ourselves why we are propping up a not-so-successful technology in the first instance, in the name of productivity.

REAL SOLUTIONS:

    • Since Food Security and Productivity cannot be defined as just grain yields of only rice and wheat, various other foods, especially of the poor have to be promoted and encouraged since productivity gains are after all sought for enhancing food security.
    • Within rice, it has to be understood that the vast diversity of paddy in the country, especially in the eastern states, is what will hold future solutions for our poor farmers, especially in the era of climate change. This rice diversity reflects variation in yields but also reflects stress tolerance (both biotic and abiotic), higher nutritional qualities and medicinal properties. Therefore, programmes should be taken up to conserve the diversity in farmers’ fields, by working on productivity improvements through agro-ecological approaches.
    • Seed sovereignty issues can be addressed by working along with farmers to evolve seed banks and community level seed production and distribution systems.
    • Public sector can be strengthened with the resources being invested on hybrid rice, to evolve systems that will strengthen farmer-level seed self reliance even as productivity is also improved.
    • Intensification of ecological farming with local, diverse landraces will increase productivity, which needs to be supported by adequate marketing and income support.

 [1] ‘Guidelines for Seed Production of Hybrid Rice’, National Food Security Mission, Department of Agriculture & Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, Govt of India, 2010

[2] Heirloom AgroBiodiversity Vs. Green Revolution, Debal Deb, Centre for Inter-disciplinary Studies, Presentation in the National Workshop organized by ASHA on “Green Revolution: Eastern India now on disastrous path of Punjab?”, July 8th and 9th, 2011, Patna

[3] The Diversity of Traditional Rice Varieties in India, PANAP Rice Sheets, 2009

[4] Nutritional and medicinal values of some indigenous rice varieties, Shakeelur Rahman, MP Sharma and Suman Sahai, Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge, Vol 5(4), pp. 454-458, October 2006

[5] Economics of hybrid rice: Issues & Opportunities, Sushil Pandey and Humnath Bhandari, IRRI, 5th International Hybrid Rice Symposium, Changsha, Sep14, 2008

[6] Hybrid Rice adoption in India: Farm level impacts and challenges, Aldas Janaiah and Fangming Xie, IRRI Technical Bulletin No. 14, 2010

GM Free Bihar asks crop developers to quit Bt brinjal expert group

“No one can be judge in his own case”

April 25th 2011, Patna: Ahead of a crucial meeting of a newly-constituted Expert Group to review Bt Brinjal, the GM-Free Bihar Movement has asked the members of the panel to recuse themselves from decision making as their presence was in conflict of interest. It also cited latest evidence on the toxicity and inadequate biosafety assessment of Bt brinjal, urging the government to reject the Bt brinjal biosafety dossier in toto.

Bihar had become the first state to say no to genetically modified brinjal, a stand that had led the Centre to declare a moratorium on its commercial release in January 2010. Recently also, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had taken strong exceptions to field trials of Bt Maize. But if the expert group meeting goes ahead, it will be for the first time that an official review of the controversial crop would happen on April 27.

“We would like this so-called ‘expert group’ to look at the very need for Bt brinjal given that many alternatives exist to chemical pesticides without having to resort to genetically modified crops, which is also a hazardous technology, even as it is unpredictable and irreversible,” said Pankaj Bhushan, Convener of the GM-Free Bihar Movement. “We don’t want genetically modified crops in Bihar, We don’t want Bt Brinjal or Bt Maize in Bihar. Bihar’s agriculture policy is also clear about this, After all it will affect our food and farmers,” he said.

He said Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh too had pointed this out in his moratorium decision note, saying that “clearly, Bt technology is not the only route for reducing pesticide use…..The advantage of NPM (non-pesticide management) is that it eliminates chemical pesticide use completely whereas Bt technology only reduces the pesticide spray, albeit substantially”. Civil society groups have time and again provided evidence from within the NARS (national agricultural research system) in addition to evidence from farmers’ fields that scores of safe, affordable and eco-friendly alternatives exist to both pesticides and GM crops for pest management in agriculture, Bhushan said.

He said that the constitution of the Expert Group is a matter of concern for his Coalition for a GM-Free India that is spearheading the campaign across the country in the larger interest of the people. “Despite the huge concern expressed at the prevalence of conflicting interests in our regulatory decision-making during the nation-wide debate last year, it appears that no lessons are being drawn. The new ‘expert group’ of 16 members has at least 5 members associated with GM crop development and it is not clear why they were included in this panel,” Bhushan wondered.

He said that latest scientific evidence on GM crops from world-over is pointing to environmental and health risks indeed being a reality with GMOs. A recent scientific review pointed out that favorable findings on GM crops from scientific papers were usually from studies of GM crop developers themselves while independent studies are still sorely missing. As far as the views of state governments and their opposition to Bt brinjal is concerned, nothing has changed since the time the moratorium was imposed, he added.

Agro-view The ecological disaster in GM crops

By Achyut Railkar

THE researcher, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company Mahyco and US biotech Giant Corporation Monsanto (MM) claim that genetically modified (GM) food reduces usage of pesticide during the growth of the output. MM alters DNA by introduction of an extra gene, Cry1Ac for cotton, brinjal or other crops to form GM. The insecticide is derived from a soil bacterium bacillus thuringiensis. The hybrid crop is also called as Bt cotton or Bt brinjal.

After the permission for Bt cotton in the country MM hopes to get consent from the government for Bt brinjal. World Bank and WTO probably pressurise central government to adopt GM crops. MM and other companies try to create property rights in the name of GM crops. The European and many more countries oppose GM food cultivation.

Now after eight years of Bt cotton cultivation covering almost 95 per cent cotton farms in the country, it has run into trouble. Cattle in Punjab and Haryana fell sick after consuming Bt cotton leaves. The cultivators allege that Bt cotton has created allergies and rise in asthma and rash troubles among them.

The Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) had found in 2005 that resistance of Bt cotton goes down after some period. MM’s scientists have detected survival of a type of pink coloured pest known as bollworm while monitoring the 2009 Bt cotton crop in four districts of Gujarat.

MM misinterprets that GM seeds increase the yield. The three year observation of 87 villages indicate that non-Bt cotton seeds had 30 per cent more yield and its cost of production is 40 per cent less. Because of high cost of production on Bt cotton, 32000 farmers had suicidal deaths across the country during the period 2001 to 2005. Only Bt seeds do not offer more yield, it has to spend for power, fertilizers and irrigation also.

The question on everyone’s lips is why is the government so keen to allow US corporations like MM to privatise the basis of our food production based on seed system?

Even more horrifying is that in some cotton growing areas in the country, only GM seed is available for farmers and they are at MM’s mercy. When rising costs of inputs are making agriculture unviable and causing farmer suicides, it is absurd to promote seed replacement. GM seeds are four to five times more expensive than normal certified seeds because GM seed’s price covers MM’s proprietary right charges (PR).

After a period of 3-5 years, all brinjal growing areas will be contaminated and the gene will have crossed over into tomato, potato and other crops and PR would apply. After Bt cotton and Bt brinjal MM would plan to tamper with bhindi, rice and many other crops with the same methods. Once its cultivation becomes widespread, there is no looking back because genes released into the environment cannot be recalled even by God.

But the introduction of GM brinjal has convulsed the government into action. Is brinjal production one of the government’s priorities? There is no crisis in brinjal production; we have more than enough of brinjal. Its agenda probably has been decided by MM. Brinjal has been cultivated in India for the past 4000 years and the area under cultivation is around 500,000 hectares. India produces 9 million tonnes of brinjal every year and the farmers and consumers both are happy as it has innumerable varieties and tastes.

Indian agricultural experts negate Bt cotton’s success story and say gene merely helps to keep pests at bay. GM crops essentially need chemical fertilizers (CF) in abundance and the CF kills the productivity of the land gradually. The unfortunate fact is that farmers ought to buy GM seeds and CF from MM’s representatives, which obviously benefits MM or any other seed supplier by high profits through PR.

Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), India’s biotech regulator, cleared Bt Brinjal on October 14, 2009. However there is a lot of opposition after this:

  1. Many activists sent more than 40000 e-mails to Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment and Forest (MoEF) accusing him of having sold out to biotech companies. The expert Biologist and Supreme Court appointed observer PM Bhargava commented that GEAC’s decision was pre-decided and farcical.
  2. The Chief Ministers of the 13 states, which have almost over 75 per cent share of brinjal production in the country, officially conveyed to the Centre that they do not want their farmers to grow the Bt brinjal. The opponents also argued that the tests required to dispel fears about adverse consequences on human health had not been done satisfactorily.
  3. During April 2010, NGO Greenpeace held the survey of around 5600 individuals on various socio-economic levels from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Guwahati and Indore. It found that an overwhelming 89 per cent of people believe they have the right to protest against the GM food. The introduction of GM foods has tremendous health effects. It can lead to cancer, allergies, birth defects and disability. Some studies on Bt food have shown lung, kidney and liver damage in lab rats.

The opponents give us a clear indication that we need an impartial and independent agency, which is democratic and transparent, and has a mandate to put people’s health, biosafety, food security and environment before corporate interests.

On February 9, 2010, MoEF imposed a moratorium on the cultivation of BT brinjal after experiencing huge opposition. However the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill (BRAI) takes away the right to say no to GM food. The government should therefore withdraw BRAI Bill as it is termed as blatant subversion of the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression.

On the contrary, it shows that the developing countries have benefited in the crops of Organic type of Food (OF). South Brazil has doubled the yields for maize and wheat crop. Mexico has increased production by over 60 per cent. Today New Zealand, Australia, Cuba, European countries, Latin America are leading countries, for growing OF. India is in 4th position which has 3 million hectares of cropland for OF.

OF has self-developing capacity of regenerating seeds, power and manures. It reduces emission of green house gas and can control climatic changes. It preserves all the varieties of the different crops unlike GM food. OF is a win-win proposal. It builds the soil instead of depleting it. It takes the assistance of soil fauna and microbes. It rejects synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and grows safe and nutritious food.

Briton’s Lancaster University and Stock-bridge Technology Centre research shows, if the seeds are kept in jasmonic acid for some period, they develop the power of repelling insects and there is no need of GM foods.

GM crops spell a bleak and grim future for OF. The certifying agencies will refuse to certify OF grown adjacent to GM foods. By killing OF in this manner, we would kill ecologically developed agriculture.

The government’s decision of stopping Bt brinjal cultivation appears temporary and the issue may trigger any time because BRAI Bill is not yet withdrawn by the government. The people therefore have to be alert on the issue of GM food to save the agriculture in the country. We should encourage OF that would preserve ecological balance. Indian scientists should carry out independent biotechnological research and tests to wipe out the danger of GM foods.

 


Agri Activities on Twitter

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9 other followers

Archives

Agri Stats

  • 15,043 hits