Category: Anti-GM


This one isn’t really an interview as such, more a QandA session where a big group of people chatted and we wrote down what they said. Again this was a farming community in Orissa, west of Bhubaneswar.

Due to the nature of the discussion, this article may seem disjointed – this is because the meeting was disjointed…

“GM seeds create negative impacts. More than this, they cross-pollinate with traditional varieties and so destroy them.”

“Once you start hybrid farming, it isn’t easy to go back. It is much easier to shift to hybrid than away from it. Farmers for commerical purposes (big farmers) are interested in traditional seeds, but marginal farmers are. It is these farmers who are the direct victims of climate change.”

How they organise

The group explained how they organise demos and rallies at Block level (a Block is local self-governance in tribal belt areas of small marginalised farmers. Leaders are both male and female and there are approx. 170,000 people in each Block. Communities in the area are approx. 80% Adivasi). Through this they have been successful enough to get a national consultation on Bt brinjal (aubergine). Due to the pressure, the Environment Minister of India has written a letter stating that he will not introduce Bt.

Bt seeds vs. traditional varieties

Officially, all farmers in Orissa do not grow Bt Cotton. Before Bt was unofficially banned through the letter, packets had to be labelled. Now there is no such label. It is unknown whether this is because it is no longer used (which is unlikely) or because it doesn’t need to be labelled because it isn’t supposed to be there.

Traditional varieties of seed are promoted by the group. They have seed exchanges in villages at district and Block level. At the last one, there were 123 varieties of paddy (rice), veg and pulses exchanged. Since 2006, there has been an emphasis in the group on organic farming and traditional seeds. At the last seed fair, the seeds were 70% organic, 30% mixed and none exclusively intensive.

Because of popular mobilisation and knowledge transfer, farmers have agreed that Bt seeds should not be sold in the local market.

Perceived dangers of hybrid seeds

Through eating hybrid crops, people have perceived health hazards and diseases. They believe that hybrid crops increase likelihood of cancer, TB, malaria, skin diseases, stomach problems, diabetes and blood pressure. Traditionally these types of diseases occurred in cities and not villages, this is now changing. Immune systems are also being affected. Antibiotics are not as effective as crops are now full of them.

Hybrid crops also kill useful insects such as earthworms which are beneficial to farming. This reduces soil fertility.

How to fight

The struggle over seeds and farming is different from other struggles such as land grabs and water privitisation. When a mining corporation rips up your land, you know who the enemy is. But with seeds you cannot see the enemy.

While there is support coming from the rest of the world, ultimately change must come from the farmers. They must realise that intensive farming isn’t good for them or the environment.

Reasons gathered from the group as to why they farm in an organic way

1. Their ancestors did it.

2. They couldn’t meet the costs of hybrid farming.

3. They learnt about the negative impacts of chemical fertilisers and intensive farming methods from meetings and so started organic farming.

Further privatisation

The government is interested in registering traditional organic seeds through scientists linked to MNCs. There is a plan to document all seeds which is very dangerous as it allows others to take control of the seeds. Farmers have the right to this information, not governments and MNCs. Let them document their own seeds!

Comments from individual farmers

The individuals we interviewed have been farmers for 10-50 years. Their ages ranged from the 30s to the 60s. They grew a variety of things from paddy to millet and pulses. Some had previously used hybrid methods, others had used traditional methods their whole lives. They all agreed that there are not many difficulties with traditional farming, especially when compared with intensive methods. They were also all of the belief that while intensive methods generally produce high yields in the first couple of years, the returns reduced as the years went by – as soil fertility decreases, useful insects are killed and bad pests become resistant to the pesticides.

“The first year was good, the second year was okay, and the third year was bad. The soil required more fertiliser, and the beds became dry and rocky – the plough could not work as well. This is why I went back to traditional methods.” – RK

Is this a battle you are winning?

“I hope so. I hope by arguments can win. Lots of people are joining. I strongly believe we can win this battle.” – GD

What are the best tactics?

“The unity of farmers through mass organisation. We must motivate, have seed fairs, have hope and meetings. And we shouldn’t purchase any seeds from the market.” – GD

Why do people turn away from traditional farming?

“Farms want to use modern agricultural practices because it yields more, but they are not analysing the cost/effectiveness of the crop properly. They analyse for one year, but if they compare for 2 or 5 years, they will see the negative impacts of modern farming”. – RK

Does the government support your struggle?

“There is no government support promoting traditional organic agricultural methods” – KD

Resistance is Fertile – Vol. 2

We agreed with all the people that we interviewed that we would send them drafts of what they said before official publication (STOP GM). So, what is here will be a paraphrasing of the main points, plus we won’t use their full names.

Interview with N.S.

N.S. has a farm 40km east of Bhubaneswar. He grows predominantly rice, also pulses, veg and fruit. He grows all of these organically. He has also collected 350 varieties of indigenous paddy (rice) and promotes the use of these.

Orissa, he says, is the birthplace of rice. Before the first Green Revolution there were 35,000 different varieties in Orissa. In India, there were 1.5lakhs (150,000). During the Green Revolution, farmers were persuaded to use hybrid seeds, reducing the amount of variety. In 5-10 years, all indigenous rice was basically wiped out.

Propaganda

GM is a threat to the survival of farming and of the farmer. It is claimed that with an ever-increasing population GM is needed to feed the people, but it is a myth that indigenous seeds do not yield more [NOTE: it is useful to remember that between 1958 and 2008, the number of people on the planet rose from 2.5billion to 6.7billion. In the same period food production grew from 631million tonnes, to 6834million tonnes -3 times faster. The problem is not production!].

Seed companies propagate the myth that their seeds are good for you. They reduce eye problems, infant mortality, malnutrition. The reality is that it takes 1kg of hybrid “Golden rice” to provide the same amount of vitamin A (good for eyes) as can be found in 100g of sago or amaranth.

The pit-falls of intensive farming techniques

Chemical farming needs lots of external imput. It needs chemical fertiliser, pesticides, and large quantities of water. Farming becomes costly and small marginal (poor) farmers cannot afford this.

Hybrid rice seeds tend to take 10-20 days longer than traditional seeds to mature. Rice usually take 70-140 days. But hybrid take 140-160 days. This affects the duration of your second crop, so with hybrid varieties, you can only sow your second harvest 10-20 days later than with traditional seeds. Thus, you are unable to sow a 3rd harvest and gain more crop which is often possible with traditional varieties.

Hybrid techniques also make the land hard, reducing water retention capacity. The soil cannot hold the water, and the water runs away.

The farmer invests in GM but problems occur such as cyclones, pests, rains, droughts. Farmers will have had to take out loans to supplement their costs [NOTE: on average, micro-loan companies charge 30-70% interest, but this can be as high as 130%] and when their crops fail, they cannot pay back. These farmers often commit suicide.

Bt cotton is the main culprit in relation to farmer suicides. The State and central government are not interested in compensating the families. They always blame something else – they all place an emphasis on family disputes and disruptions. Even if this was the case, why are these families disrupted? It is because their crops are failing. Their crops are failing because of the weaknesses of GM and hybrid seeds.

Displacement

For those farmers who do not take such drastic measures as suicide, many  sell their land and move to cities, where they inevitably end up in slums [NOTE: 60% of Mumbai’s population are slum-dwellers. It is the largest slum in the world]. In their place, multi-national corporations (MNCs) buy their land. MNCs want to throw away labour – small famers, marginal farmers. They say, “Give up farming, you are not profitable”, but where are these people supposed to go? In America, a farmer owns between 1-5000hectares of land. This is not a farmer, this is a agro-business man. And this is what MNCs want.

Future of GM

For MNCs the future looks very encouraging. For us it is very dangerous. In the US, they are growing GM corn. The Rockies in Western America used to have vast corn fields, now these lands are barren. Not even grass grows there.

Re1sistance

Traditional organic farming allows the farmers to keep the seeds and so not have to buy from the market. They can reuse seeds, plough their fields with bullocks and use the dung for fertililser. Plus traditional varieties of paddy need 20-30% less water than hybrid.

Every farmer more than 60 years of age, is as good as an agri-scientist who grows veg/fruit in their labs, with their note- and textbooks. Our knowledge is scientific because it is based on experience. It gets results.

Good tactics to tackle GM and hybrid seeds are to show results in the field. This provides a challenge and alternative. Traditional farming methods have survived for the last 10,000 years. We also have protests, seminars and workshops.

The importance of seed

Seed is the most important input into agriculture, it is the wealth of the farmer. A farmer in control of seeds controls agriculture. If the seeds belong to MNCs, then agriculture belongs to MNCs. Today they offer free seeds, free fertiliser and more and more, until one day you will have no choice. MNCs will own the farms. This is the ultimate aim of GM.

subramanian.m@fullertonindia.com

Fact sheet on Monsanto

Monsanto is by no means the only criminal mulitnational corporation in relation to agriculture around the world, but it is certainly the biggest. Here’s a bit of an introduction to the history of Monsanto and its impact on Indian agriculture, courtesy of Living Farms. The following is from Kavitha Kuruganthi and Aishwarya Madineni, Monsanto-ising Indian Agriculture (2010).

“No food shall be grown that we don’t own” – reported objective of Monsanto

Monsanto is an American agri-business corporation which is today the world’s largest seed company. It is also one of the world’s largest agri-chemical corporations. Their seed sales were nearly US$5bn in 2007, constituting 23% of the global proprietary seeds market (the non-proprietary seed market around the world is now only 18% of the world seed market). Monsanto is also the world’s fifth largest agri-chemical company with sales worth nearly US$3.6bn in 2007, which constitutes 9% of the world agri-chemical market share. In 2009, Monsanto’s global net sales were US$11.72 billion.

Monsanto has grown into the largest seed company in the world by aggressive market maneuvers including 60 acquisitions, taking stakes in 14 companies and divesting from 17, between 1985 and 2009.

Monsanto’s history of human rights violations, lies and omissions

For decades, Monsanto dumped highly toxic PCBs in Anniston, Alabama, and then spent years covering up the dumping. On February 22nd, 2002, Monsanto was found guilty of poisoning the town. They were convicted of suppression of the truth, nuisance, trespass and outrage. The residents of Anniston, whose blood levels contained toxic PCBs 100s or 1000s of times the average were given US$700million in compensation from Monsanto.

Monsanto is also known to have covered up toxic contamination of several of its products. In Indonesia, Monsanto gave bribes and questionable payments to at least 140 officials, attempting to get their GM cotton accepted. In 1998, 6 Canadian government scientists testified that documents were stolen from a locked file cabinet in a government office, and that Monsanto offered them a bribe of US$1-2million to pass the drug without further tests.

Monsanto is also known to “routinely falsify data”, especially in relation to glyphosate (Monsanto’s brand of this herbicide is called Roundup). Monsanto’s first mass marketed bio-engineered food product – recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) – was “linked to cancer in humans and serious health problems in cows, including udder infections and reproductive problems”. In the case of GM crops, it was found that Monsanto chose to keep biosafety data away from public scrutiny and has committed scientific fraud by wrongly interpreting its data and classifying a GM product as safe.

Monsanto also has a habit of suing and jailing farmers for… saving their own seeds and resowing! Since 1996, Monsanto has filed 1000s of lawsuits against hundreds of farmers across the world. In the USA, the Centre for Food Safety investigated Monsanto’s anti-farmer behaviour and concluded that “… Monsanto, the world’s leading agricultural biotechnology company, has used heavy-handed investigations and ruthless prosecutions that have fundamentally changed the ways American farmers farm. The result has been nothing less than an assault on the foundations of farming practices and traditions that have endured for centuries in this country, and millennia around the world, including one of the oldest rights to save and replant crop seeds… Monsanto has an annual budget of US$10million and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers”. Monsanto is currently being investigated by the Justice Department in the USA for its anti-trust behaviour, based on the unprecedented rise in seed prices that began a decade ago. The seed market in which prices have soared higher in an unprecedented way is dominated by Monsanto. In 2009 the agricultural department (the UCDA) figures show that corn seed prices have risen 135% since 2001, and soy bean prices 108%, whereas the Consumer Price Index rose only 20% in the same period.

Monsanto’s sordid history (from the Centre for Food Safety)

From PCBs to Agent Orange to Roundup, we have many reasons to question the motives of this company that claims to be working to reduce environmental destruction and feed the world with its genetically engineered food crop.

Founded in 1901 in Missouri, Monsanto became the leading manufacturer of sulphuric acid and other industrial chemicals in the 1920s. In the 1930s Monsanto began producing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are potent carcinogens and have been implicated in reproductive, developmental and immune system disorders.

The world’s centre of PCB manufacturing was Monsanto’s plant on the outskirts of East St.Louis, Illinois, which has the highest rate of foetal death and immature births in the state. By 1982, nearby Times Beach was found to be so contaminated with dioxin (a product of PCB manufacture) that the government ordered it evacuated. Dioxins are endocrine and immune system disrupters causing congenital birth defects, reproductive and development problems, and an increase of incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes in laboratory animals.

By the 1940s, Monsanto began focusing on plastic and synthetic fabrics like polystyrene which is ranked fifth in the EPA’s 1980s list of chemicals whose production generates the most total hazardous waste. During WWII, similar to Dow Chemical (which you now know all about) Monsanto played a significant role in the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. After the war, Monsanto championed the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture and began manufacturing the herbicide 2,4,5-T, which contains dioxin.

The herbicide Agent Orange, used by the US military to maim and murder hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese during the Vietnam war, was a mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, and very high concentrations of dioxin. Since the end of the Vietnam war, an estimated 500,000 Vietnamese children have been born with deformities.

In the 1970s, Monsanto began manufacturing the herbicide Roundup, which has been marketed as a “safe general purpose herbicide for widespread commercial and consumer use”, even though its key ingredient is glyphosate (a highly toxic poison). In 1997, Monsanto was forced by the New York State Attorney General to stop claiming that Roundup is biodegradable and environmentally friendly!

In August 2003 Monsanto agreed to pay $600million to settle claims brought by more than 20,000 residents of Anniston, over the sever contamination of ground and water by tones of PCBs dumped in the area from the 1930s to the 1970s. Court documents revealed that Monsanto was aware of the contamination decades earlier.

Monsanto in India

Recent news stories report that Monsanto’s plans to do business in GM material has been okayed by the agriculture ministry which had told the Foreign Investment Promotion Board that Monsanto India should be given the green signal. One financial media report explained that “the FIPB approval is expected to pave way for the Gm giant to bring in its menu of genetically modified food products including GM corn, maize and soya”. Around 95% of the GM crops currently planted worldwide are supposed to have Monsanto’s proprietary traits which also include an in-built market for its herbicide.

In 2006 Monsanto slipped out of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission inquiry into Bt cotton seed pricing – the costs levied for farmers were exorbitant, particularly comparing them to the price in China and the USA. It is estimated that thousands of crores [WHAT IS A CRORE?] of rupees were paid by Indian farmers as royalty/technology fees. Monsanto claimed another company is the technology provider in India, thus avoiding involvement, but financial statements for Monsanto India show 490 lakhs (49,000,000) of rupees as balance due from that other company.

Monsanto is reported to have tried to use its American influence to ensure that its proprietary technologies are not breached. In an infamous incident in 2005 the US Ambassador to India wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of Gujarat, asking him to curb the illegal trade of Bt seeds in the state. Failure to do so, he warned, would “dampen the transfer of technologies and investments from abroad, including from the United States”.

The government of India allowed Monsanto to direct the future course of agriculture as it is a board member of the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture. The KIA was the deal signed in 2005 by the US and India to usher in the next “Green Revolution” in India.

 

After finishing our 4 day holiday, we thought we would throw ourselves right back into the mix, i.e. incredibly stressful, sleep deprived, exposures to the true horrors of India, etc…

Things started as they would go on – frustratingly and difficult. Due to our limited mathematical skills, we had wrongly worked out when we would arrive in Bhubaneswar (BBS) – which would form our jumping base for the next week. As a result, we turned up there 2 days early cutting short our holiday completely unnecessarily. We had been in touch with our contact in BBS and told him that we had made a mistake and would it be ok to come a few days early. He reassured us it would be fine, but when we arrived it turned out that he wasn’t going to be there for two more days. Oops. Minus one Basic Communication Point…

No matter. He told us that we could go to the office and do some research. After the hassle of trying to get to Puri, we also thought we would book our train tickets earlier this time. We found a train for the 5th (the only train that wasn’t Wait –Listed [1]). This was a few days before we had wanted to leave, so we phoned our contact to check if he thought we would be able to get everything done in this shorter time. “No problem,” he told us. “Go ahead and book it.” 2 days later, he asked us if we were going to still be in BBS on the 5th as there was a very big meeting taking place which we should attend..! Minus 3 Basic Communication Points.

After booking the train, we headed for the office to do some much needed research. Unsurprisingly, when we arrived no-one knew what information we were after, and we didn’t have specific requests as we’d been assured there was loads of stuff we would be given. But with some help we found more than we could digest and got stuck in. The scale of the agricultural crisis in India is phenomenal, but this will be discussed in further blogs…

After meeting our contact on the 30th, we had our itinerary for the next week. Stop 1: an interview with a toothless man who has been involved with fight against ‘modern’ (non-sustainable market driven – chemical pesticide and fertiliser heavy) farming techniques and the struggle for the promotion of traditional (sustainable, organic, farmer led) methods. He also is in charge of a seed sharing project – they have collected 350 varieties of indigenous rice (a tiny proportion of the original amount). Apart from the fact that he did not directly answer any of our actual questions, he was amazing. He talked virtually non-stop for an hour, covering a variety of topics from the birth place of rice, climate change, dams, multi-national corporations and alternative agriculture.

Stop 2: North Orissa and a farming community promoting sustainable farming. We had to wake up at 5.45am to get here so we hoped it would be worth it. We were told there would be someone to meet us at the train station; they would know who we were because we would be the only white people. A ricksaw didn’t seem possible, so all 3 of us climbed onto our guide’s motor-bike (a common sight in India) and made our way to the meeting hall. “Don’t worry,” our contact had said when we asked how exactly we are supposed to interview 45 people all at once, “we wouldn’t put you in a difficult situation.” Luckily, as it turns out, it not that difficult to interview 45 people all at once (minus one Basic Communication Point)…

We got ushered into a meeting, being greeted with lovely flowers, and were told to sit at the head of a growing group of people. We sat and we sat and we sat and nothing was said – people seemed content just to stare at us – and then we were beckoned to leave and were given a bunch of food, then invited back to the meeting. We spent the next 2 hours doing a QandA with the group. We were then treated to local organic lunch on plates made of leaves. Embarrassingly, I was unable to finish mine. It seems that desperate “no” signals when offered a second enormous portion of rice, only drives them to give you more!

After lunch, we interviewed 3 farmers back-to-back. Concepts of a break don’t seem to exist. On top of this the interviews took 3 times as long as most interviews I’ve conducted as we did not share a common language. The farmers discussed how they had either always used traditional methods because it was what their forefathers had done, or how they had tried to use intensive methods but had found they didn’t work – they did not have the funds for the fertilisers, the pesticides, the seeds themselves and the irrigation, plus they didn’t really like the taste of hybrid crops.When we had bought the train tickets to this destination, our contact had told us to book returns (in India you can’t get returns so you get two singles) so we did. We were therefore confused when we headed to a town an hour and a half away to sleep… We ended up getting ‘top-up’ train tickets. Minus 2 Basic Communication Points.

The following day was always going to be grim, but it started much earlier than we had expected. “Josh, I think that’s the fire alarm!” Lucie squawked at 5.05am. “Don’t be silly, they don’t have firm alarms in India,” I replied. But she had a point. There was the constant ringing of a bell, which was accompanied by terrible and very loud music. Still believing this had to be something other than absolute stupidity, Lucie got up to see what was happening. It turned out there was a man in a yellow robe ringing a bell in the lobby of the hotel – which was opposite a temple blaring out tunes from its loudspeakers straight into the hotel. The music went on till 6.30am!

In the morning, I asked what the music was about. “For the temple,” responded the hotel manager. “Does this happen every morning?” “Oh, yes,” he said smilingly, utterly oblivious to the fact that some people who pay to stay in his hotel might not find this an endearing feature.

We had planned the day before to meet up with the secretary of the farmers’ community group and discuss stuff at 9am. At 9.30am he still hadn’t turned up. We called him and were told someone would come and pick us up “immediately”. At 10.30am someone turned up with a note saying that the secretary was sorry he couldn’t meet us, but something urgent had come up and he had had to go, but someone would come and pick us up at 11am and take us to their office, where we could do some research. Grrrr….We went to the office, but no one had a clue what we wanted. “What documents do you want?” “We don’t know, we were told there was stuff we could look at, we thought the secretary would be here, he was going to chat to us…” I think the people we met through-out those few days thought we were a bit stupid because we would turn up at a resource centre and not know what we wanted. The problem was, we were told (every time by someone who wasn’t there when we arrived) that the people at the centre would know what we wanted and we should just ask. FRUSTRATING.

After getting some documents, we caught the train back to BBS. We had a night bus to catch at 9.30pm. Our contact had told us “it might not be like UK night buses, but you get a good night’s sleep. I catch it all the time. You can wake up in the morning and get on with work”. I admire him for being able to do this. “Sleep” is not the correct word to describe what I had to go through that night. Cold, uncomfortable and stressed, we “woke” at 4.30am and stumbled of the bus. Yes, the bus arrived at 4.30am. A hotel had been booked for us, which a rickshaw driver took us to. You can check in in a few hours, we were told. “What!? Fine we’ll sleep on your sofa.” The hotel manager both took pity on us and achieved some amount of rationality and so let us move into our room a couple of hours early.

The next day (6 hours later, though Lucie had to wake up at 9am to ask the interviewees if they could come at midday instead of nine thirty…) was by far the hardest. Of course, no-one was there to meet us at midday. At 1.30pm a farmers’ trade union leader finally appeared in our hotel. It seemed he didn’t want to be seen with us (understandable as people on the front line of challenging the state and multinationals regularly end up face down in ditches or just banged up in prison under false charges) so we went to our hotel room. 5 hours later we were able to leave this room. In the meantime several people had entered it and expunged the entirety of their thoughts on the agricultural crisis in India upon us. We emerged shaken and exhausted having had to refuse a late comer: “No, I’m sorry, but no, no more interviews!”

Our work was done, but our endurance had to be stretched a little further the following day when a train which was meant to take 6 hours ending up taking (including waiting for it) 9. Pretty standard, but a long day… Luckily, there’s nothing I like more than reading in a train station and occasionally getting shat on by pigeons…

We are now officially going on holiday again (Tamil Nadu and Kerala), but will fill you in in much more detail on everything we have learnt in the past week.

One final point, while our contact’s communication skills were somewhat lacking, it should be said that this was made up for by all his hospitality, political insights, passion and commitment to this cause.

[1] The train system in India is, when you first arrive, excruciatingly complicated and confusing – the train stations moreso. Once you know it, it’s just irrational and frustrating (the stations remain totally confusing whatever you do, it seems). Tickets are available, wait-listed (meaning you can hope that the tickets the big travel agents have bought will be sold back to the train service), or RAC (dependent on someone’s cancellation). Available is obviously the best option. You can also opt for TATKAL, an emergency (not really an emergency) option 48 hours before departure, or FTQ (foreign tourist quota) if you’re lucky enough to be in a “metropolitan” capital (not Bhopal!) from which they can book them. This complicated system is saturated in bureaucracy, and you will probably have to fill in at least 2 forms just to get to the ticket counter! On top of all this, you can no longer book tickets online if you don’t have an Indian debit card…