How many more farmers will Monsanto sacrifice for creating profits by selling deceit
On 26th March 2002 inspite of inadequate tests of biosafety and viability, Monsanto managed to get clearance for commercial planting of three varieties of genetically engineered Bt cotton from Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
Ironically, this permission was granted in spite of an ongoing Supreme Court case, filed by RFSTE, challenging the 1998 field trials and stating that there were numerous irregularities and violations of biosafety laws and guidelines in previous year field trials. Even then the GEAC have cleared Bt cotton for commercial release by Monsanto-Mahyco.
The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), Navdanya, farmers unions and public interests groups in India had warned the government that this irresponsible, rushed clearance would have high cost for farmers in terms of the economic sovereignty and seed sovereignty. What we have had predicted has come true.
In three major states Bt cotton has been wiped out completely leaving farmers in great economic and livelihood crisis. Not only the new pests and diseases emerged, the Bt cotton has failed to even prevent bollworm attack for which it has been designed. While Bt cotton is sold as pest resistant seed in India, it has proved to be more vulnerable to pest and diseases than the traditional and conventional varieties.
Madhya Pradesh, the heart of the cotton-growing belt in India, witnessed total failure of genetically engineered Bt cotton. The farmers of Khargoan district where Bt is a 100% failure are up in arms against Monsanto-Mahyco that supplied these GM seeds and are demanding compensation from the company for the failure of their crop. The failure of the Bt cotton has devastated the farmers since they have spent five to six times to buy seeds of Bt than the normal seed. The economics that was worked out by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Genetic Engineering Approval Committee and Monsanto-Mahyco to promote this unsustainable technology has turned out to be untrue.
Bt cotton has been afflicted with the 'leaf curl virus' in the whole of northern states of India. Dr Venugopal, ex-project coordinator of the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Coimbatore told Business Line that while some of the private hybrids and varieties released earlier were resistant to LCV, Bt cotton was found susceptible to LCV.
In Maharashtra, the adjoining state of Madhya Pradesh, the same story has been repeated. In Vidarbha, primarily cotton growing area in Maharashtra, Bt cotton crop has failed miserably. The first GE crop has been failed in 30,000 hectares in this district alone, completely devastating the already poor farming community. The farmers of the area are demanding a compensation of Rs. 5000 million (500 crores rupees) to meet their economic loss lest they would take a legal action against the Government of Maharashtra and Monsanto-Mahyco for allowing sale of inadequately tested GM seeds.
The Bt cotton crop in Vidarbha has been badly affected by the root-rot disease, a disease of roots. It is believed that this disease is caused due to wrong selection of Bt genes developed in America and brought to India. Many farmers have recorded only upto 50% germination of seeds and many others had poor germination, which is suspected to be caused by both, drought and poor seed quality. While other cotton varieties have also been adversely affected by the drought, they report a failure rate of only around 20%.
President of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, Mr. Kishore Tiwari, gave a legal notice to Ministry of Agriculture demanding the recovery of loss of Rs. 500 (5000 million rupees) crore incurred by the farmers due to sowing of Bt cottonseeds.
The main idea behind approving genetically engineered Bt cotton as a commercial crop was that this would increase farmers' income by reducing expenditure on chemical pesticides, which accounts for 70-80% of the total expenditure on hybrid cotton due to the heavy infestation of pest, mainly American Bollworm in last 3-4 years and the increased evolution of resistance to the chemical pesticides.
However, in Gujarat there is a heavy infestation of bollworm on the Bt cotton in the districts of Bhavanagar, Surendranagar and Rajkot. Initially Bt Cotton was found resistant to Bollworms in the early phase of plant growth, but as soon as the formation of boll has started, the worms started attacking them. The Department of Agriculture, Government of Gujarat has written to the Gujarat Agricultural University to submit a status report providing detailed information about the kind and intensity of the damage. It has also been found that Gujarat is growing 18,000 hectares of the Bt cotton more than the permitted 12,000 hectares by the Government of India. (Gujarat Samachar, 21st September 2002)
The failure of Bt cotton case in India reaffirms RFSTE's stand of safety first- commercial release of any new genetically engineered crops (e.g. transgenic mustard) and organisms must be frozen till a proper independent tests are conducted, the proper biosafety structure are put in place and capacity is built at the multiple level of governments as well as farmers to deal with biosafety issues.
It is not just in the case of Bt cotton that corporation like Monsanto are deceiving poor farmers. Monsanto is pushing the farmers of drought stricken and famine-ridden Udaipur and neighbouring districts of Rajasthan to take to industrial farming of maize, and to use its Roundup, no doubt as a prelude to introducing the genetically engineered Roundup Ready varieties once farmers are further pushed on to this ecologically genocidal herbicide trap. But Monsanto is introducing hybrid corn and Roundup (herbicide) with false claims to deceive poor and innocent farmers of Rajasthan.
Monsanto claims that as a result of the Humsafar programme, the yield of maize rose from 25 quintals per hectare to 50 quintals per hectare and the profitability of the farmers also doubled form Rs. 7500 per hectare to Rs. 15000 per hectare, whereas its publicity brochures distributed among the farmers is claiming even much higher yields i.e. 50-90 quintals per acre (125-225/ hectare).
However, a study conducted by RFSTE shows that Monsanto claims are based on utter lies. Monsanto's own field staff at Wana and Menar villages in Udaipur reported that their varieties have achieved maize productivity of only 12 quintals/acre (30 quintal/hec.).
Three Different and Contradictory Productivity Claims by Monsanto:
~ Reported by Monsanto field staff: 2.4 qtls/ bigha ; 12 qtls/acre ; 30 qtls/ hectares
~ Reported by Monsanto for the Humsafar Award: 4 qtls/ bigha ; 20 qtls/acre ; 50 qtls/ hectares
~ Reported by Monsanto in its brochure: 18-20 qtls/ bigha ; 50-90 qtls/acre ; 125-225 qtls/ hect.
However discussion with farmers growing Monsanto varieties and desi (local) varieties reveals that there is hardly any difference in the yield compared to the desi maize varieties. While desi maize varieties yield 6 quintals per acre (15 quintals per hectare) whereas Monsanto varieties yield 7 quintals per acre (17.5 quintals per hectare).
Moreover there is a vast difference in the cost of the desi and Monsanto varieties. While cost of these Monsanto seeds vary from Rs. 250 to 275 for a packet of 5 Kg., whereas the same quantity of Desi/Local varieties costs only Rs. 25/-. However there have been no tests, whether these "high yielding" hybrid varieties seeds are genetic engineered. This is urgently required since Monsanto has recently extended its operation to 98 villages in Udaipur, Chittorgarh and Banswara districts of Rajasthan and so far So far about 80 tonnes of seed have been sold to the farmers of the region.
However, Monsanto's much-lauded project "Humsafar" actually involves the introduction of its eco-narcotic, Roundup (the controversial glysophate-based herbicide) to small and marginal peasants Udaipur, and turning an important local food and fodder crop into raw material for industry. Monsanto, through its new varieties of maize, is pushing to increase the sales of its broad-based herbicide Roundup in Rajasthan.
For Roundup, farmers are being totally misled about its safety in a region, which is drought prone, the ready recipe for desertification.
Herbicide use is supposed to reduce labour involved in tilling and weeding, and at the same time, reduce competition for nutrition and space by killing of the weeds. The concept of weeds as competing for nutrition and space with cultivated crops is the result of monocultures, where all crops other than the one being "cultivated" is considered a weed. However, small farmers, such as the farmers in Rajasthan, traditionally cultivate more than one crop at a time. In fact, in typical traditional Indian agriculture, there is no concept of weeds. Plants that are not sown often provide food for humans, cattle, and finally for the soil as green manure. Many of these plants and their roots form the most critical ingredient of food security in the drought-stricken region, where people stave off famine through consuming these plants.
Often, the supposed weeds are a source of medicine for humans, for animals and for plants; they also may have pesticidal or other beneficial properties. Udaipur region in fact, is rich in its naturally growing medicinal plant diversity used by thousands of traditional healers for ayurvedic preparations.
The killing of agro-biodiversity by the broad spectrum herbicide will only wipeout the rich medicinal plants biodiversity but also the fodder for animals the which has become more scarce due to drought in Rajasthan. Already hundreds of animals have died in Rajasthan, the scarcity of fodder will lead to increased starvation and deaths of animals.
The case of both Bt cotton and hybrid corn-Roundup sales confirms that the corporations like Monsanto are not selling farmers' prosperity but disaster. It is time for an independent assessment of Monsanto's seeds and products worldwide. Meantime the scientific call for a freeze on commercial release of any genetically engineered crop must be headed if poor peasants have to be saved.
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Last Updated on 10/2/02