EXCERPTS: "Non-GM farmers earned 60 percent more than their GM counterparts over the three-year period" - the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
"Rich government leaders are hotly debating the development agenda, but, sadly, small farmers and others such as the urban poor go largely unheard. This democratic deficit is harming both people and environment." - Dr Michel Pimbert, director of the sustainable agriculture and rural livelihoods programme at IIED
Indian Farmers Win Battle Against GM Cotton
LONDON, May 25 (IPS) - Indian farmers have won a small battle against GM crops by establishing simply that they can be less productive than normal crops.
Earlier this month the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Indian government withheld licenses for commercial cultivation on three varieties of genetically modified (GM) cotton developed by the U.S., firm Monsanto -- Mech-12 Bt, Mech-162 Bt and Mech-184 Bt.
That was followed by a painstaking campaign by several non-governmental organizations. ''For the last three years we carried out systemic research in Monsanto's Bt cotton,'' P.V. Satheesh, who heads the Coalition in Defence of Diversity in the southern Indian state Andhra Pradesh told IPS in London Tuesday. That led to the ban on the three varieties of GM cotton seeds.
''Every year we have been socking the results into the face of Monsanto,'' Satheesh said.
''They were not able to counter us. So it became very compelling for the Andhra government and for the Government of India to act.''
The three-year scientific study tracked the experiences of small farmers from planting to harvest in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. ''It found that three GM cotton varieties did not live up to the claims made by the agro-company Maycho-Monsanto and performed less well than traditional non-GM seeds,'' the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) which supported the anti-GM campaign said in a statement Tuesday.
Though costing nearly 400 per cent more to buy, the average yield from the GM cotton was about 150kg per acre, 30 percent less than from other non-GM varieties. The GM seeds also cost 12 percent more to cultivate in their need for manure and irrigation, and the reduction in pesticide use was negligible.
''Non-GM farmers earned 60 percent more than their GM counterparts over the three-year period,'' IIED said.
This is the first success of the campaign against GM crops in India, Satheesh said. ''India has one percent of the global GM crop coverage, but there is a strong biotech wing that wants to push it ahead. They see in this global opportunities for India,'' he said.
That push is being countered at present by many groups of farmers, NGOs, and by ''people involved in agricultural research who are trying to express concern,'' Satheesh said.
India imports GM seeds from Monsanto and Syngenta, the leading companies developing GM crops, and is also seeking to develop genes from seeds bought from these companies. In such cases the major royalties and control lie with Monsanto and Syngenta, Satheesh said.
Several farmers have been cornered into buying GM seeds, Satheesh said. ''Small farmers have to buy seeds on credit from dealers. The dealers get huge commissions from Monsanto, and since they cost four times as much as normal seeds, they get larger commissions.''
The dealers ask farmers to take a part of the seeds that are GM, and farmers have to comply, Satheesh said. ''Add to that pesticides and fertilizers; it is all a part of a credit package, and farmers have to accept the package.''
Every year farmers have been suffering huge losses as a result, he said. ''Earlier this year farmers went into Warangal town, and smashed into the stores of dealers selling Monsanto seeds. They created an environment in which the government group had to ban these crops.''
But the campaign against the GM cotton is only a small step forward for anti-GM campaigners. Strong government lobbies are pushing hard for further development of GM crops.
''This is a small but significant victory that signposts a way forward for small farmers and civil society the world over,'' Satheesh said in a statement earlier. ''But only a moratorium on the commercial release of GM cotton seeds will ensure that the Andhra Pradesh tragedy is not repeated across Asia, Africa and Latin America.''
Dr Michel Pimbert, director of the sustainable agriculture and rural livelihoods programme at IIED said: ''Rich government leaders are hotly debating the development agenda, but, sadly, small farmers and others such as the urban poor go largely unheard. This democratic deficit is harming both people and environment.''
This is the first time GM crops have been banned in India. Cotton is being cultivated first but others crops are in the pipeline,'' Satheesh said. ''Rice, mustard and vegetables are being looked at.''
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