Combating seed monopoly and agro-chemical destruction of food sovereignty and security
Farming has become capital intensive with higher levels of input in the form of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, energy and water. This shift from sustenance to commercial farming has resulted in mono-cropping, land degradation, water depletion, harmful chemicals getting into the food chain, nutritional imbalance and the consequent effect on family’s health and excessive production and resulting low prices for agricultural commodities. As farming becomes unsustainable, small and marginal farmers leave villages and migrate to urban centers in search of means of livelihood and end up as “garbage heap” of big cities.
This was the context in which a seminar was organized by Chethana on “Combating Seed Monopoly and Agro-chemical Destruction of Food Sovereignty and Security” on 23 January 2012 at the United Theological College, Bangalore. Ms. Kavitha Karuganti, Convenor of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), Ms. Divya Raghunandan Campaign Director Greenpeace, India, and Dr. Channesh, Soil Scientist, Karnataka Agricultural University were the resource persons for the seminar.
Multinational companies monopolize the seed market in India, particularly with Genetically Engineered seeds. It is ironic that while they sell their seeds to the farmers, they take away traditional seeds from the farmers and store them in their seed banks without paying any cost to the farmers who originally used them.
Monsanto and its associates have a market share of 43% for the sale of seeds in general and 93% market share for the sale of cotton seed alone. Despite India’s stringent regulatory frame work, Monsanto and its affiliates exert major influence to introduce ever greater numbers of genetically modified crops into India. MNCs establish their monopoly through technology (GE), facilitating legal regimes favorable to them and market maneuvers.
Monsanto is one of the three corporations that represent the US in the advisory board of the India-US Knowledge Initiative (AKI); Wal-Mart and Archer Daniels Midland Co. being the other two. These multinational companies with records of exploitation and unethical business practices world over will now decide the priorities of education, training, research and dissemination of knowledge between India and the US with our scholars and scientist acting as their neo-colonial agents.
Indian Government is striving hard despite stiff resistance to allow 51% foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail. The farmers' groups believe that the monopolistic buying power of the large retailers would further weaken the marginal farmers' position, resulting in lower share of value to them, dictating the production techniques and output by the larger retailers. This in turn would result in the destruction of diversity in Indian agriculture. Kavitha pointed out: “FDI in retail sector, besides resulting in loss of employment (97% of 97 per cent of the business is run by the unorganized small retailers) for small retailers, would result in manipulation of prices by these multi-national giants to the detriment of farmer’s interests and total lack of a level playing field''.
India is spending crucial resources on biotechnology research to produce GM seeds with eventual benefit accruing to private US companies. Promised increases in crop yields, for example cotton and corn, were not achieved; the hazards of using and consuming GM foods and products have not been disproved. Patent of GM seeds results in dependency of farmers on expensive input provided by such giants as Monsanto, loss of biodiversity and food security, marginalization and displacement of small and traditional farmers, and further degradation of land and water systems.
Complete takeover of the Indian farming by the Agro-business interests is achieved through de-skilling of small and marginal farmers and alienating them from very valuable ecological resources. This, in turn, would inevitably result in undermining India’s food sovereignty and food security.
The seminar reiterated its resolve in supporting the following action plans:
- Encourage and Invest in farmer-level production of locally available, high yielding seeds that are suitable to the ecological conditions of each locality.
- Agri-research and extension institutions to facilitate farmer-led participatory breeding programs.
- Establish and run community seed banks and also institutions that would make credit available on easy terms and conditions.
- Private sector should work in a statutory regime that allows the government to regulate not just the quality, but also the price at which seeds are sold. Regulatory regimes should pro-actively watch out for seed monopolies/oligopolies.
- Cancel immediately all MoUs/PPPs both in research and extension with private seed corporations; Monsanto alone gets more than 2 billion rupees every year from such PPPs on just one crop.
- In the case of seed technologies that pose potential environmental and health hazards, open air trials should not be allowed unless it is proved that there are no alternatives and until bio-safety has been cleared through independent long term testing in a participatory and transparent decision making regime.
- Any seed related regulation like seeds bill 2004/2010 should include regulation of seed prices/royalties/monopolies and oligopolies in addition to quality. Penalty clauses should be deterrent enough and in favor of farmers.
The meeting suggested that Chethana could also join the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) and Chethana could further facilitate the joint campaign with international partners.