Ahmedabad/New Delhi, 26th April 2012: The Gujarat government’s cabinet decision yesterday to withdraw controversial American MNC Monsanto’s proprietary seed from ongoing government projects was welcomed by Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA). BKS state President Maganbhai Patel, Kapil Shah of Jatan and Prabhakar Kelkar, National President of BKS organized a press conference in Ahmedabad today, thanking the government for its decision, having protested and campaigned against the unscientific, controversial and unsustainable aspects of Project Sunshine for several seasons now. Earlier, a Cabinet Sub-Committee has recommended the withdrawal of Monsanto’s seed from government projects.
The seeds of Monsanto, under the brand name “Prabal”, a double-cross hybrid of Maize, were being distributed to more than half a million tribal farmers of Gujarat since the inception of Project SunShine under Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana in 2008. This project came under great criticism not only from within the state but also at a national level by various agencies including farmers’ organizations, tribal organizations and leaders, organic farming promoters, ecologists and scientists. It is estimated that the Gujarat Govt has procured seeds from Monsanto worth of 500 million rupees in the last four years, to be distributed in turn to poor tribal farmers, thereby providing ready markets for this controversial corporation seen by many as anti-farmer. It is not clear whether proper bidding and other transparent procedures were followed or not while favoring Monsanto in this project, apart from several questions on the scientificity of proprietary hybrid seed being chosen to be distributed to resource-poor, vulnerable farmers.
Several efforts were put in by various groups and individuals against this project, through letter campaigns, rapid appraisal visits, public debates and personal meetings with policy makers. Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the largest farmers’ organization in Gujarat, has also been demanding withdrawal of Monsanto and its ‘Prabal’ seed from such government support. This proprietary hybrid seems to have been selected against the opinions of agricultural scientists. There has been increasing opposition in the state since the past couple of years against such encroachment of MNCs in State’s agriculture. In February 2012, ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture) released a Rapid Appraisal Report visiting tribal farmers of project villages and pointed out to several problems and flaws in the project. The last Assembly Session witnessed a debate and questions being raised on Monsanto’s seed. It appears that finally, the government has sought opinion of State Agriculture Universities, which gave their scientific opinion against these seeds for distribution to tribal farmers.
Four reputed scientists having enormous experience of working with maize and agricultural universities including two past Vice Chancellors were requested to opine about selection of ‘Prabal’ for distribution through government project.
All of them have opined about it in writing and have voiced strong views against the inclusion of this proprietary brand..
Dr. M. C. Varshneya, Former Vice C hancellor of Anand Agriculture University said, “Prabal variety of maize was selected by tribal department without consulting Research Scientists.
1. Prabal is suitable only for deep soils.
2. Prabal needs more water than other varieties.
3. Heavy doses of fertilizers are needed for Prabal.
4. Prabal is not suitable for Godhra (where the maize Research Station is located) conditions where shallow soils and rainfed crop is taken”.
He adds, “ Inspite of candid opinion of University Scientists, Prabal seed was distributed to the farmers. Rather to say it was pushed on farmers without caring for technical suitability of the variety for that area.” As per his view SAU was not given a fair chance to supply its seeds. Showing his helplessness he says “Nothing could be done to stop the Monsanto released variety Prabal from entering in Gujarat.”
A well known maize breeder Dr. S. N. Goyal (awarded by the state government for his remarkable work) who worked as a Research Scientist for Maize at Anand Agricultural University for 12 years (from 1994 to 2006), and during whose tenue some of the most popular maize varieties in Gujarat were released, opined that, “My considered opinion about “Prabal” hybrid is, being a late-in-maturity, yellow-coloured and dent-type seed, “Prabal” is unsuitable for majority of maize growing areas of Gujarat. He described the following seven reasons for his view.
1. Majority of maize growing areas, especially eastern part is rain-fed for where early maturity varieties are recommended and grown. Late maturity hybrids grown under rain-fed condition may not set seeds and chances of crop failure will be high which may lead to farmer’s distress.
2. To overcome the risk of total crop failure in rain-fed area, farmers grow maize with other crops as an inter-crop which is not possible with “Prabal” Hybrid which is meant only for sole cropping.
3. “Prabal” hybrid requires high inputs involving more expenditure which is not desirable under rain-fed condition, especially for resource poor farmers.
4. Considering the AAU report, despite of high dosage of NPK application to “Prabal” hybrid, marginal depletion in NPK and Zinc level have been observed in maize fields, which will result in soil deterioration in the long run.
5. Storability of “Prabal” Grain / seed, which is dent type is less compared to flint type, which may lead to food insecurity for tribal families.
6. “Prabal” hybrid is double cross hybrid. Double cross hybrids are less uniform and unattractive as compared to single cross hybrid. Double cross hybrid has high cost of seed production. Now-a-days, only single cross hybrids are developed and released. Using double cross is considered as an age old technology in the scientific forums. Double cross hybrid technology is rejected in USA also. World over, including at ICAR and SAUs in India, single cross hybrids are developed.
7. Economic survey of “Prabal” growing hybrids in Gujarat revealed that financial gain is achieved only to 25% to 30% sample farmers in Dahod, Panchamahal and Vadodara and 40-50% in Sabarkantha and Banaskantha district, where as in rest of the area, it had no significant impact on economy.
Another retired senior plant breeder and former Research Scientist for forage crops at State Agricultural University Dr. J. P. Yadavendra, told that, “The crop varieties are developed and released as per regional requirements and specific agro-ecological niches. Any crop variety/hybrid which has not been tested in a particular environment and disseminated for general cultivation among farmers poses a great danger in the long run. To safeguard the farmers’ interest, there should be an honest follow up of the official guidelines set up for the purpose by the state agricultural universities. In case of cross-pollinated crops, the contamination of the well-adapted local cultivars may lead to the loss of valuable existing gene pool. In my opinion, the popularization of Prabal maize hybrid amongst the tribal farmers of Dahod and Panchmahal districts of Gujarat has been done without considering the proper procedures and opinion of the cultivators.” It is important to note that he is working in tribal areas of six states of India through an NGO called Gramin Vikas Trust.
Padmashree Dr. M. H. Mehta, Former Vice chancellor of Gujarat Agricultural University opined that, “ We do not seem to have given enough back up and large scale extension support to promising new maize varieties of Agri. University in Gujarat. Instead there seems a stronger support and preference to the varieties of multinational company. I have watched the organic model of Bihar where through a state level lead up & the package of eco-friendly agri. bio inputs, excellent yields of vegetables could be achieved in some of the poorest & backward districts. Low input cost, eco-friendly technology is the most appropriate for tribal people. It is time to adopt such a model for Gujarat farmers.”
Multinational seed companies including Monsanto are encroaching upon Indian agricultural fields by using government funds. At least four other states began spending public money to buy such seeds in the name of farmer/tribal/rural welfare, emulating the Project Sunshine model and serious opposition has been mounted against this in the other states too, with Odisha dropping this support after piloting it for one season.
“Gujarat’s Project Sunshine is a classic case of how Agri-MNCs like Monsanto bypass scientific opinion and administrative procedures and promote their unscientific and risky products. It is also a matter of investigation whether proper bidding was done to buy these seeds or not. It is the same companies like Monsanto that also promote GM crops and sell patented technology. Even as genetically modified maize is knocking on the door, pushed by corporations like Monsanto, ready ground is being created for this controversial technology by replacing public varieties through various questionable practices.”, said ASHA.
BKS appreciates the Gujarat Government’s move and strongly demands withdrawal of such seeds & projects in all states of India. At the same time, it warned the state government to be extra cautious to ensure that the same seed does not take back door entry. It is high time to set up a non-corrupt, transparent, efficient and scientific system so that such case never occurs in future
Gujarat Govt should ban Monsanto and GM crop trials in the state
Various groups in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country are now demanding a ban on Monsanto and various GM crop trials allowed in the state of Gujarat. This was in the context of Gujarat Government’s decision to withdraw this controversial agri-business corporation’s proprietary seed from government projects in the state. Monsanto’s seeds worth crores of rupees have been distributed without proper scientific basis and by bypassing proper administrative procedures. The Press Release added that “Monsanto is the company along with other corporations trying to introduce GM crops including Bt Brinjal, Roundup Ready Bt maize and so on. This company already controls around 93% of India’s cotton seed through its proprietary Bollgard technology when it comes to GM cotton. It is also being proceeded against by the National Biodiversity Authority for violations in Bt brinjal development, while being investigated by Indian biosafety regulators for violations in its GM maize trials”.
The Gujarat government decision to withdraw Monsanto from Project Sunshine is significant in the context of GM crop trials also. Last year, Rajasthan government had annulled agreements that it made for seed-related R&D with Monsanto and other corporations while Odisha did not pursue a Public Private Parntership programme initiated in the state after one season.
In India, at least eight states including Bihar, Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Orissa, Kerala and Karnataka have decided not to allow any GM crop trials, while Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have also said NO to such trials. Some of them have declared their desire to remain totally GM free. Only three states have allowed trials of this controversial and hazardous technology: Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat. In Gujarat, NOC by state govt was given to about 10 “events”, all of which have proprietary right of MNCs. It was also found that this was done without the legally obligated institutions in place for monitoring and supervision. It is also worth noting that illegal planting of GM crops has been recorded in the past without any liability being fixed.
Why Gujarat Should Ban GM Crop Trials
There are various important reasons to ban such trials in Gujarat as mentioned below:
1. The very need of Bt Maize, HT Maize and HT cotton has not been assessed or decided by scientists and farmers and there are safer alternatives available with SAUs. Need assessment and assessment of alternatives is not governing GM crop trials-related decisions.
2. Open air trials precede biosafety clearance (biosafety testing runs parallel to such open air trials) and these open air trials pose a great risk since this technology is a living, imprecise, unpredictable, irreversible and uncontrollable technology.
3. Open Air Trials are permitted based on privately-generated safety data and not even independent scientific analysis. This was also stated as an argument against such crops being released by very senior and credible scientists in the country.
4. All the GM crops trials are sponsored by the seed developer. (No Blinding is done). This may lead to biased results. There is a need to cut off the relations between company and evaluating agency.
5. There are chances of contamination from novel organism to local germplasm as the facilities and isolation requirements to avoid the contamination are limited and questionable. Moreover, the agri-campuses where such trials take place are also repositeries of valuable germplasm collections.
6. As per the EPA, there is a need to have State Biosafety Coordination Committee (SBCC) in function, In Gujarat, SBCC is non-functional with different agencies washing off their hands on their responsibility.
7. There are mounting evidences depicting risks related to transgenic crops including unexpected changes in the organism, ecological and health risks.
8. Even the export and trade of certain farm products will be at risk (as example of rice in China and basmati rice in India). Field trials have been known to cause enormous damage to trade security in various parts of the world in the past.
9. The seed owner wants to enjoy IPR restricting the very right of farmer to produce their own seeds. We cannot have such trials until several basic things are made clear.
10. GM crop trials are disallowed in an overwhelming majority of states in India. Why should Gujarat allow them, and on what additional scientific basis and regulatory capability?
Maganbhai Patel, BKS: 09426394801
Kapil Shah, Jatan: 09427054132
Kavitha, ASHA: 09393001550