Against GMOs - Farmers' leader's address at massive farmers' rally (21/2/2007)

EXTRACT: There is a conspiracy being hatched against farmers in the name of increasing production for food security by forcibly introducing genetically modified (GM) crops. The failure of the first non-food GM crop – Bt cotton – is before us.

Address by Dr. Krishan Bir Chaudhary,
Executive Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj in 35th National Convention of Farmers in Erode, (Tamilnadu), India on 17th & 18th February, 2007

We are meeting here in Erode at a critical juncture in the history of country's agriculture where the farmer is faced with multiple problems in sustaining his livelihood. The rate of farmers’ suicide is increasing day by day primarily due to continued experiments of new models being imposed.

Farmers fighting every odds are increasing the production, but not getting remunerative prices for their produces. The cost of production has increased phenomenally due to the introduction of capital-intensive unsustainable agriculture. The use of costly chemicals has not only degraded the soil health and factor productivity. There is an increasing demand for organic food across the world and Indian farmers are missing this opportunity.

The minimum support prices (MSPs) of different crops estimated by the Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP) and subsequently endorsed by the government are low and not remunerative. There is a need for up-gradation of the methods for estimation of real cost of production and arriving at the real remunerative prices. The process should be transparent and open to farmers

Farmer has almost lost his sovereignty over the tools of farming. Today he has to depend upon profit-making corporate houses for supply of chemical pesticides, chemical fertilizers and farm implements and machinery at high costs. He is also dependant upon the supply of hybrid seeds by seed companies and multinationals. Whatever little sovereignty the farmer has over his seeds is now sought to be eroded by the proposals in the new Seeds Bill.

I appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and pleaded for restoration of farmers' rights. The Parliamentary Standing Committee has incorporated many of my views in its report. If the government wants to re-introduce this new Bill, it should incorporate the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee. Further there is no need for a separate Act for regulating the seed sector. The Plant Varieties Protection & Farmers Rights (PVP&FR) Act is sufficient to regulate the seed sector and should be the only law in the country. The old Seed Act should also be repealed. The PVP&FR Act should be further amended to provide greater protection to farmers' rights. The PVP&FR Act is already TRIPS consistent and there is no need for a patent regime on micro-organisms, genes and other life forms.

There is a conspiracy being hatched against farmers in the name of increasing production for food security by forcibly introducing genetically modified (GM) crops. The failure of the first non-food GM crop – Bt cotton – is before us. Due to failure of Bt cotton, some varieties have been banned in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The governments of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have asked Mahyco and Monsanto to reimburse the farmers’ losses. The dispute is pending before the MRTP.

The failure of Bt cotton is also reported across several cotton-growing states. Worldwide there are reports of farmers being put to heavy losses on account of cultivation of GM crops. The GM crops developed so far claim for reducing pesticide use and not for actual increase in productivity. India should learn lessons from the failure of GM crops across the world. Recently the US court has called for a review of the approvals of GM crops in that country. In India in response to a PIL, the Supreme Court has ordered a ban on fresh approval of GM crops for field trials.

The free entry of corporates and multinationals in agriculture marketing has raised new problems. They purchase produce from farmers slightly higher than the MSP to capture the market and dismantle the government's procurement system. Subsequently they hoard the stock, manipulate the market prices and sell at high prices. This is the major cause for the present rise in prices of essential commodities. The manipulations in the futures market is another cause for price rise. Thus the present rise in prices benefits only traders and corporates, whereas the farmers and consumers buy at higher prices.

With a view to contain rising prices, the government is encouraging import of agro produces. This measure will be detrimental to farmers’ interest in the long run and destroy country's food security.

With a view to destroy the traditional food habits and culture and to encourage the processed junk food of the MNCs and discourage consumption of fresh food, the Food Standard & Safety Act has been brought in.

The government does not give any direct subsidy to farmers. Whatever minimum subsidy the government intends to give for agriculture should be given directly to farmers.

Unfortunately Indian agriculture has been dragged into the ambit of the WTO and we have given market access for some agro produces at a time when the developed counties have distorted global prices by their huge support to their farm sector. In this situation Indian farmers cannot compete with the farmers in the developed world. Both EU and US have protected their markets through high tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers. The US through its recent Farm Bill 2007 has increased direct payments to farmers by 10% over the previous years. It has increased direct payments by $ 5.5 billion. It has extended its support to horticulture crops also and kept its support to dairy sector intact.

As the developed countries have not fulfilled their commitments in the agreement on agriculture for reducing their subsidies and support to the farm sector, India should not open up its markets. However, we are surprised to note our commerce minister making an unilateral offer at Davos for flexibility on the issue of Special Products and Special Safeguard Mechanism. For Indian farmers every crop is a Special Product and not a matter for negotiation. If the government wants to save agriculture from any consequent disaster, it should fight for recognition of every crop as Special Product at the WTO and seek for application of special safeguard mechanism. If this is not possible then India should ask for restoration of the right to impose quantitative restrictions (QRs) on imports.

Jai Hind, Jai Kisan
17 February, 2007

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