Seeds and Robbers / Crop losses / No need for GM in India (3/8/2006)

1.Seeds and Robbers
2.Crop loss may amount to 550 million rupees this summer
3.'No need for launching GM seeds in India'

These articles constitute a devastating indictment of Bt cotton and the way it is promoted. The inflated prices and failure to deliver (item 2) are all at the expense of India's millions of poor farmers.

EXCERPT: Profit does become a dirty word when one realises that at a time when the countryside is reeling under a terrible agrarian crisis, the [ten billion rupees] that the seed companies have siphoned-off from the ravaged farms could have been the life saving thread for millions of farmers struggling between life and death. (item 1)

1.Seeds and Robbers
By Devinder Sharma

Fifteen years back, an American seed giant had offered the Bt cotton technology to India at a nominal fee of Rs 9-crore [One crore= 10 million]. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) turned down the offer.

Entering India later in 2002, the multinational seed giant - Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech Ltd (MMBL) - walks away with a profit of Rs 1400-crore in just four years of commercialisation of the first genetically modified crop. And it isn't giving up. After all, in a liberalised economy, profit is no longer a dirty word.

In 2005, Mahyco-Monsanto and its sub-licensees earned a profit of Rs 1000-crore from selling genetically modified seeds of Bt cotton. Profit does become a dirty word when one realises that at a time when the countryside is reeling under a terrible agrarian crisis, the Rs 1000-crore that the seed companies have siphoned-off from the ravaged farms could have been the life saving thread for millions of farmers struggling between life and death.

Ironically, while the Ministry of Agriculture remains a mute spectator to the greed of the seed companies, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh provided a Rs 1000-crore aid package to the visiting Nepalese Prime Minister G.P.Koirala to rebuild the shattered economy of the Himalayan Kingdom. If Rs 1000-crore aid lifeline can help rebuild the Nepalese economy, there is no reason why the same amount cannot infuse hope in the dying fields of India.

But for the seed companies, there is no reason to feel apologetic. Ever since Bt cotton was approved for commercial planting in 2002, Mahyco-Monsanto and its allies have been charging a hefty price of Rs 1600 -1700 for a packet of 450 grams, which includes a royalty (they call it a 'technology fee') of Rs 1200. But what makes the high 'royalty' appear disgraceful is the diverse technology standard the company applies in different countries. In neighbouring China, the corresponding royalty or 'technology fee' that the parent company charges is Rs 38, and in the United States it is pegged at Rs 108.

True, both China and the US know how to regulate the seed industry. In India, the seed industry is holding farmers to ransom.

Taking the bull by the horn, Andhra Pradesh took the initiative to bring the Bt seed under price control. Faced with a recurring failure of the Bt cotton crop, AP had publicly accepted that the technology had failed. Hundreds of Bt cotton farmers had committed suicide in Andhra and in the Vidharba region of Maharashtra. AP therefore had even demanded a compensation of a little over Rs 3-crore for the loss its cotton farmers suffered. But the company was unrelenting. It refused to compensate the farmers, thereby even defying the obligations of the MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] it had signed earlier with the state government.

Andhra Pradesh took the case further. It appealed before the Monopolies Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) asking for parity in prices (essentially the 'technology fee') with other countries. The commission accepted, and directed the company to reduce its trait value (royalty) from Rs 900 per 450 gm pack to a reasonable level as charged by its parent company Monsanto in China. One of the respondents, Nuziveedu Seeds, had earlier submitted that MMBL was forcing it to sell genetically modified seeds to poor cotton growers at exorbitant prices under the guise of 'trait value.'

For some strange reasons, the AP government lost the vigour and appeared not so willing to 'annoy' the multinational giant. It therefore passed an order directing the seed companies not to charge more than Rs 750 for a packet of 450 grams (enough for one acre) against the MRTP directive of Rs 38 per packet. The AP government (followed by Karnataka and Maharashtra) however needs to be questioned as to how did they arrive at the magical figure of Rs 750 per acre. After all, at Rs 750 per packet the state governmentís are allowing the seed companies a royalty margin of Rs 300. This is approximately three times what the highly subsidied cotton farmers in America are paying, and ten times what the Chinese farmer pay. Why should the same seed be sold at a higher price in India?

The seed multinational refused to take it lying down. It moved the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the AP government order. The apex court turned down the plea but qualified that it will either be the MRTP Commission or the court that will decide as to who should pay the additional amount. In other words, the Supreme Court hints at the need for a government subsidy for the seed companies. Meanwhile, adopting a unanimous resolution, agriculture ministers of eight cotton producing states have joined hands to fight the exploitative pricing of Bt cotton seed by the MMBL and its sub-licensees.

What does it mean for the farmers? Well, even at Rs 750 per acre, the AP agriculture minister N Raghuveera Reddy says: 'Cotton farmers in the state could save up to Rs 1200-crore on input cost in 2006.' Considering that each penny saved is a penny earned, the price order means a huge saving for the farmers.

The entire sequence of events that led to the unsavoury row is the outcome of a national seed policy that remains silent on seed price control. Even the Seed Bill 2004 that has been introduced in parliament does not make a mention of the need to regulate seed prices. Otherwise there is no reason why a seed company that was desperate to sell the improved seed technology to the ICAR for a paltry Rs 9-crore in 1990-91 should be allowed to romp home with a profit margin that actually pauperises the farmers.

Not only Bt cotton, a large number of hybrid crop varieties are being sold in the market at ridiculous prices. There is no justification for hybrid seeds of papaya for instance to be sold at Rs 1,50,000 per kg, chillies at Rs 32,000 per kg, and capsicum at Rs 60,000 per kg. After all, the hybrid technology is not so expensive that the prices should go out of the roof. Allowing the seed companies to play robbers at the expense of subsistence farmers is a cruel joke that the policy makers can no longer allow.

One crore= 10 million


2.'Crop loss may amount to Rs 55k cr this summer'
Financial Express, August 2 2006

NEW DELHI, AUG 1: The pesticide industry has said the crop loss in the current kharif

(summer) season could amount to Rs 55,000 crore if adequate doses of pesticides were not applied in time.

Apex industry body Agrochemical Promotion Group (APG) has estimated that the annual crop loss due to incidence of pests in both kharif and rabi (winter) season is about Rs 90,000 crore. This is because only one-fourth of the total 180 million hectare cropped area is treated with crop protection chemicals.

APG chairman S Kumaraswamy said this year the monsoon would be timely and the distribution would be proper. About Rs 3,100 crore worth of technical grade pesticides are expected to be sold in the current summer season.

The biotech industry, however, claimed that there would be a reduced application of pesticides due to increased area coverage under Bt cotton. Usually cotton crop consumes maximum amount of chemical pesticides.

But a recent study titled‘'Tarnishing Silver Bullets' by the Cornell University has exploded the myth that Bt cotton leads to a drastic reduction in pesticide use. The study says, 'We saw that the total pesticide expenditure for Bt cotton farmers in China is nearly equal to that of their conventional counterparts, about $101/hectare.' Bt farmers in 2004 on the average, have to spray pesticides 18.22 times, which are more than 3 times higher compared with 6 times pesticide spray in 1999.'

The study further says : 'Detailed information on pesticide expenditure reveals that, though Bt farmers saved 46% Bollworm pesticide relative to non-Bt farmers, they spend40% more on pesticides designed to kill an emerging secondary pest. These secondary pests (one example is Mirid) was raey found in the field prior to the adoption of Bt cotton, presumably kept in check by bollworm populations and regular pesticide spraying. The extra expenditure needed to control secondary pests nearly offsets the savings on primary pesticides frequently cited in the current literature.'

3.'No need for launching GM seeds in India'
India Express, 3 August 2005

EVEN as the Union government is looking at introducing genetically modified (GM) seeds in the country, they are totally ignoring the problems of the farmers. It launched BT Cotton in Vidharbha leading to suicides by farmers as they could not pay back the loans they had taken to buy hybrid seeds. There is actually no need for launching Genetically modified seeds in India.

This was stated by Dr Suman Sahai, eminent scientist and director of Gene Campaign, which has been opposing the introduction of genetically modified food in the country. She was speaking at the Public debate on Genetically modified foods, organised by Centre for Contemporary Studies and Research (CCSR) and Gene Campaign in the state capital on Wednesday.

Speaking about the problems with GM seeds like BT Cotton and now, the forthcoming BT brinjal, Dr Sahai said that these technologies will not only harm the farmers, but also the consumers in a big way. "We have seen the BT Cotton seeds failing in Vidharbha. Tons of cotton is lying waste in Vidharbha, as the government is importing cotton from China. If you are asking the farmers to use BT seeds, then one should also give them a market," said Dr Sahai.

Talking about introducing hybrid GM seeds, Dr Sahai said that it should be noted that India is the only country where GM seeds are being used as hybrid. "In countries like Australia, China and Spain, they are being used as two-brid variants. Indian government is the only one which is introducing a hybrid variety," said Dr Sahai adding that after a certain time, hybrid varieties are less effective and its the farmers who have to bear the loss.

The other speakers of the debate included eminent botanist Dr Vivek Prasad. Speaking on the issue of genetically modified seeds, he said that technology is never bad for development of human beings. Instead, it should be seen that how the technology is being used and the GM technology is certainly not right in Indian context.

Dr Sunilam, MLA and founder of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti at Madhya Pradesh, said that scientists should try to develop farmer friendly technologies.

He said that although they have kept themselves aloof from social issues, yet scientists should try to think in a more humane manner when it comes to agriculture. The director of the CCSR Utkarsh Sinha said that the participants from three states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi have finally decided to launch a large scale campaign against GM seeds in the country.


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