October 4th 2010 – From the Sabarkantha – Panchmahal route

“The yellow maize is ending up contaminating our own maize, say tribal farmers”

It was around 7.15 pm and the sky was brilliant with millions of stars shining brightly on us. Men and women sat together in this meeting in the village – Vangad. “We know better than to sow that hybrid maize given in the project. We take what the NGOs give us – throw away the seed, sow our own ‘safed makka’ and keep the chemical fertilizer. Even with the fertilizer, we don’t use all of it and sell away what we don’t need”, explained a young farmer, making us all burst into amazed laughter. We were told that this village is quickly going back to their own maize after trying out hybrid maize supplied by Monsanto.

In a large programme which in its very design is outrageous, large markets are being secured for the biggest seed company of the world, Monsanto, by the government of Gujarat, using taxpayers’ funds, in the name of tribal development. Quaintly called “Project Sunshine”, this project gives resource-poor, tribal farmers (who have always been practicing pro-Nature sustainable farming) hybrid maize seed (that too specifically of Monsanto’s) and chemical fertilizers free of cost and even brazenly says that it is only until the farmers get into the habit of hybrid maize – in other words, until they lose their own seed stock after which they will have no alternative but to fall back on these profit-greedy seed MNCs for their seed.

This is one of the villages where Project Sunshine, the tribal welfare department’s tie-up with Monsanto is happening in Gujarat. Yes, the yield is around 25% higher, reveal the farmers, ‘but then, we don’t like eating this maize. We give it to our cattle. There are more pests and we resort to using pesticides like Phorate, when we sow the hybrids”. Do the cattle like eating the fodder from hybrid maize, we wanted to know. “What option do those mute beings have? They have to eat whatever is given to them by us”, responded one of them.

Earlier, we met more tribal farmers in Sukhsar market yard at around 4.30 pm. Around 25 farmers present there shared their experiences with maize cultivation. Nine of them had taken maize seed and 3 bags of chemical fertilizers (Urea, DAP, Sulphur/MoP) for a payment of Rs. 1100/- to the local NGO implementing “Project Sunshine” in this area (the farmers were from Fatehpura taluka). Where the seed and chemical fertilizers were given free of cost initially, farmers are now being asked to pay Rs. 1100/-.

These farmers reported that the crop was a failure this season – there has been no germination for an entire lot of seed supplied. “What are you doing now that the crop has failed? Who will you hold accountable?”, we asked. There were bewildered looks on their faces. It was as though the thought never occurred to them to hold the seed supplier or the government or the NGO liable. As though a season lost is not about losing a large part of one’s meager earnings in this poor part of the state. “We can’t do anything about it since we are left with no receipts or bills. The NGO took it back while supplying the fertiliser, after giving it initially when they supplied the seed”, explained the local BKS leader. So, do your villages still have at least some native seed left, we wanted to know. “Yes, only about 25% which might also disappear soon if we are not careful”.

“Our white maize which was planted next to the hybrid maize fields started yielding yellow-colored grain due to contamination”, they explained. “Hybrid maize also requires more water and irrigation, while the yield advantage is only 20%. We also don’t sow any intercrops with hybrid maize whereas with desi maize, we grow some pulses and other crops. What’s more – our animals don’t like being fed on hybrid maize fodder. Even those mute animals seem to know what is good for them”.

Our own team members, who tasted both the yellow (Monsanto) and white (native) maize, immediately concluded that the villagers were right – the white maize was better-tasting!

It is interesting to note that Gujarat, where the government vouches for “Swadeshi”, is pursuing projects such as this, which will not leave anything “Swadeshi” behind for our tribal farmers but will only end up making these resource-poor farmers opt for risky technologies which will erode their productive resources sooner or later and leave them more vulnerable than ever.

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