Category Archives: Monsanto

Dirty white gold – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

Dirty white gold – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

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Indian Farmers Trapped and Desperate By Graham Peebles

Originally published in January 27, 2013 by Countercurrents.org

Losing the will to live

London : India has the largest number of smallholder farmers in the World, 600 million by some estimates. From this army of workers one impoverished desperate man, or indeed woman, with a noose of debt around their neck takes his or her own life on average every thirty minutes, A statistic barely comprehensible, representing the tidal wave of suicides that has swept through the farming community in the last 15 years.

The agrarian crisis of which farmer suicides are a tragic consequence is a mega calamity, rooted in one fundamental cause,which P. Sainath (i) ,rural editor for The Hindu describes as ‘the drive towards corporate farming’, predicated by the “predatory commercialization of the countryside”, that is forcing “the biggest displacement in Indian history”. Shocking and destructive it should be seen as part of a greater whole of interconnected issues facing India . Sainath makes this clear, “don’t detach this crisis from the overall political, economic social direction of the country, he says.

The number of farmer suicides – the largest in human history is estimated to have reached 300,000+ and rising as we speak. Add to this the 400 a day who attempt suicide and fail, the 2,200 that daily quit farming and the one and a half million family members affected by suicides, plus the millions facing the very issues that are driving the tragedy, and the scale of the inferno begins to be clear. Shocking, as they are, these figures are an indication only ; women are one of eight groups who are generally excluded from official data because most do not have title to land. A woman is not classed as a farmer, she is a farmer’s wife, and her suicide is not included in the figures, nor are The Center For Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University’s (HRGJ) (ii) report on farmer suicides tells us, “family members of farmers who have committed suicide—who themselves take over farming land, and subsequently commit suicide because of debt”, and less surprisingly the Dalit and Adivasi (indigenous) people are also invisible to a government who ignores them in death as in life.

The major cause of this epidemic is indebtedness to banks and moneylenders, hiding behind the debt however is twenty years of market liberalization at the hands of the government that has withdrawn all agricultural support, failed to invest in irrigation, improve the availability of rural credit, or provide farmers with alternative seed purchasing options – other than GM shopping. HRGJ convey government statisticsstating: “that 241,679 farmers in India committed suicide between 1995 and 2009”, the majority are cash crop farmers, growing cotton being particularly hazardous work. Suicides have been highest in the states of Maharashtra , Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal , all high cotton producing areas.

Growing disadvantage

As a result of economic liberalization, designed and sold by the parents of globalization or market fundamentalism; the IMF and the World Bank, India has become integrated into the global market and what Sainath(iii) calls ‘McEconomics– it tastes the same everywhere’. The state has increasingly withdrawn from the public sector and become “ more interventionist on behalf of the corporate world and the super elite.” As state support for farmers was withdrawn India opened up to huge foreign corporations and their equally mega native partners.

The foreign multinationals were at a huge advantage because as HRGJ makes clear, “the price of their products was set artificially low as a result of agricultural subsidies in their home countries,” affecting the costs to Indian (and African) farmers, secondly and equally devastating, “the Indian government’s removal of quotas, duties, and tariffs on imports made it cheaper for these entrants to import their products into the country.” Whilst these policies implemented some twenty years ago have as HRGJ makes clear “helped usher in dramatic economic growththis growth has been unevenly distributed, largely benefiting the nation’s elite, while the majority continues to endure grinding poverty.” Sound familiar; political loyalty in corporate politics lying firmly with the corporations, the duty of politicians in market fundamentalism beingcontinual accelerated growth and maximum profit, no matter the human or environmental cost.

Genetically modified mayhem

With the invasion of multinational corporate man came his agricultural weapon of choice, GM modified cottonseed. The Monsanto Bt seed has flooded the Indian market, to the extent that in some Indian states it is now impossible to buy non-Bt seed, despite the unconvincing evidence to its efficacy. With no choice and convinced by blanket advertising and misleading demonstrations made in ideal conditions, 95% of farmers take loans and invest in GM Bt seeds that, the New York Times ( 16/10/12 ) (iv) report, “ can cost three to eight times the cost of conventional seeds”. In addition to authorized distributors a black market has thrived, that as shortages appear, can set “prices as high as 2,000 rupees ($38) per packet, leading to a profusion of bootlegged seeds illegally marketed as genetically modified products.”

Costs of seed, fertilizers and pesticides, all incidentally supplied by the same company, have increased year on year. One farmer relates in the NY Times how “the old pesticide used to cost us 200 rupees per litre…. Now I have to pay between 2,000 to 3,000 rupees. And I need to apply it more and more every year.” With low yields and low market rates as well as the collapse of government investment Indian farmers are increasingly dependent on loans resulting in a debt cycle that is inescapable.

As well as costing the earth the Bt cottonseed demands a great deal more water, a fact that is being hidden from Indian farmers unable to read the English instructions and water warnings on seed packaging – an accidental corporate oversight, no doubt. With poor irrigation, most farmers rely on rainfall to feed crops. When the monsoon rains fail, so does the crop, leaving the farmer with a massive debt to service and the prospect of further loans to continue farming the following year. The lifeblood of the Indian farmer is in danger of becoming even more scarce as the government goes ahead with the privatization of water (as we collectively shake our heads in disbelief) and irrigation pathways, sold no doubt into the hands of Indian corporations. One doubts there are farmer, Dalit or Adivasi cooperatives in the bidding – so much for participatory democracy.

Critics of GM seeds maintain, “the solution to increasing costs and spiralling debtis a shift toward organic and eco-friendly farming methods.” The NY Times reports, “and these are low technology, simple to use, not costly methods – you don’t have the high costs of pesticides or genetically modified seeds.” Monsanto unsurprisingly offer a different answer to this social tragedy: “Buy more BT seed,” they suggest,” with the hope of increasing yields. Unsurprisingly, they dodge any responsibility for farmer suicides, asserting that claims attributing debt to the impact of the thirsty, expensive Bt seed are spurious and “misinformed”. Corporate responsibility beginning and ending at the door marked profit.

A Legacy of debt

A suicidal farmer’s debt does not, alas, die with him: loans merely become the responsibility of the wife (or husband) of the victim, who in many cases repeat the final desperate act, some families have witnessed two or three suicides. Dowries add to the mountain of debt for families in poverty, and widows under the unbearable pressure of huge debt and the burden of finding a husband for their daughters, may in desperation take their own lives.

The cycle of debt has created a spiral of death and extended multiple suffering; Children whose Father or Mother commits suicide are forced to quit school or university and take up the reins of the farm. Sainath describes one young man, symptomatic of many thousands, “I see a child trying to be a man whose eyes tell you how scared he is, pitchforked into a position he is not ready for”. Entrapment the order of the day, keeping people in a position of permanent anxiety, depleted of energy and with no state support, completely at the mercy of market forces and unable to resist. In the 1960s and 70s, when agricultural reforms where tabled in India, Sainath relates there was a peasant revolt, “in the ‘1990s and 2000s there is mass suicide and despair,” outcomes causing less obstruction to the corporate political plan, of the commercialization of everything and everyone, everywhere.

In the face of what is suicide on epidemic proportions the Indian government is guilty of appalling neglect, moral and legal- they are signatories to all the key international human rights conventions and are obliged to respect, protect and observe the human rights of farmers and their families. Instead, and in keeping with corporate politics, a plethora of fundamental human rights are being ignored. HRGJ list the rights breached, as: “the right to life; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to work; the right to food; the right to water; the right to health; and the right to an effective remedy among other rights.” Instead of meeting its responsibilities the government has followed the bureaucratic line of least resistance and set up a series of committees to examine the crisis. It is the Indian way, according to Sainath: “You keep forming committees until somebody gives you the report you want. There have been 13 reports on farmer suicides, for example.” These are pointless distractions from a government that, whilst ignoring the human rights of the most vulnerable members of Indian society, subsidizes the wealthy and procrastinates as farmers in deep despair drink pesticide or rat poison to escape the interminable torture of debt.

The governments actions and inaction have fanned the flames of the crisis, sending a message of indifference loud and clear to farmers and rural communities, and of unity and shared interests to corporations eager to work to ‘commercialize the countryside’ with government backing and poste haste. Farmer suicides are a blood red stain of shame on the democratic pretentions of the Indian government that is duty bound and legally required to act on behalf of the men, women and children being marginalized in rural areas, many who have farmed the land for generations, and are now unable to compete against the machinery of economic fundamentalism that is crushing them totally.

Notes

(i) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q6m5NgrCJs

(ii) www.chrgj .org/publications/docs/every30min.pdf

(iii) P. Sainath: “Slumdogs vs. Millionaires: Rural Distress in the Age of Inequality” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1OlgDw5tQ4

(iv) http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/16/in-india-gm-crops-come-at-a-high-price/

Graham Peebles is Director of The Create Trust, www.thecreatetrust.org A UK registered charity (1115157). Running education and social development programmes, supporting fundamental Social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. Contact , E: graham@thecreatetrust.org

 

From Ecologist: Monsanto, Bayer and Dow face trial for ‘systematic human rights abuses’

Monsanto, Bayer and Dow face trial for ‘systematic human rights abuses’

Matilda Lee

16th November, 2011

Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal accuses biotech giants Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont and BASF of promoting dangerous pesticides including endosulfan, paraquat and neonicotinoids

The world’s major agrochemical companies, Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont and BASF, will face a public tribunal in early December accused of systematic human rights violations.

They are accused of violating more than 20 instruments of international human rights law through promoting reliance on the sale and use of dangerous and unsafe pesticides including endosulfan, paraquat and neonicotinoids.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT), an international opinion tribunal created in 1979, will hear expert testimony from scientists, medical doctors and lawyers to prove the charges. Victims who have been injured by these products – from farmers, farmworkers, mothers and consumers from around the world – will also testify to the causes and nature of their injuries.

The cases will be heard over a four-day trial in Bangalore, India beginning December 3. While the Tribunal has no legal weight, and cannot force sanctions on companies, it aims to expose and raise awareness of large-scale human rights violations.

Pesticides Action Network (PAN) International, a global network comprised of 600 organisations in 90 countries, has spent years collecting information to bring about the indictments and is seeking justice for more than 25 specific cases – such as Silvino Talavera, an 11-year-old from Paraguay who died days after breathing in a cloud ofMonsanto’s RoundUp herbicide sprayed by a crop duster. The trial will also hear evidence of the link between pesticide use and a decline in bees.

The corporations, known as the ‘Big 6’ control 74 per cent of the global pesticide market, as well as dominating the global seed market.

Bayer reject the allegations saying they are a ‘wholesale distortion of the role of pesticides in our society.’ Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow, after being contacted by the Ecologist, were unavailable for comment.

Pesticide poisonings

An estimated 355,000 people are believed to die each year from unintentional toxic chemical poisoning, according the World Health Organization, many of these from use or exposure to pesticides and other agrochemicals. Nick Mole from PAN UK said the trial would give a voice to the otherwise voiceless victims of pesticides.

‘The pesticide industry is massive and incredibly powerful. It is difficult to prove corporate manslaughter even when these products are killing hundreds of people a year,’ he said. ‘We’ve spoken to people who have been abused and we are allowing them to give voice to their individual stories. We will be presenting the outcome of the Tribunal to the corporations and will be inviting their response,’ he said.

It is hoped that the verdict, to be delivered on December 6, will lead to greater discussions at UN institutions on holding agrochemical corporations accountable for crimes relating to the impact of their products.

The PPT grew out of the work by Italian Senator Lelio Basso, and serves as a grassroots, ad hoc court to consider charges and to issue verdicts on complaints of human rights violations submitted by victims or their representative groups.

Since 1979, the PPT has held 35 sessions exposing various forms of human rights abuses in cases from the Bhopal disaster, Tibet sovereignty and the intervention of the US in Nicaragua.

Useful link:

Pesticide Action Network UK

Deccan Herald: Compromising Agriculture GM crops by backdoor

By Basudev Acharya
Apart from issues related to seed monopoly and rural livelihood, there are serious biosafety concerns the world over.
Across the world, there is huge controversy around the introduction of genetically modified/engineered (GM/GE) crops. On one hand there are a few biotech crop developers and scientists recommending the use of GM technology as solution for food security and on other there are concerns about its impact on human health, environment and socioeconomy.

Added to that is the unpredictability and irreversibility of genetic engineering and the uncontrollability of GM crops once let out in the environment. One of the major concerns about GM crops is that they only serve the purpose of multinational seed giants. All GM technologies come along with Intellectual Property Rights and patent tags of multinational seed companies which would ensure their monopolies as has happened in the case of Bt cotton, the only GM crop commercially cultivated in India.

While there were 619 varieties of Bt cotton approved for release until Aug 2009 in the country, 514 of them are owned by Monsanto, the US multinational seed giant, which also holds a global monopoly in the total seed sales of Bt cotton.

One has already seen how Monsanto has armtwisted the state governments in India to increase the cotton seed prices this season. Bt Brinjal, the first GM food crop to have reached commercialisation stage in our country, also had a Cry 1Ac gene owned by Monsanto and licenced to Mahyco for developing Bt Brinjal. There is a threat of GM crops becoming the tool for control of the seed and thereby the agriculture sector by multinational seed corporations.

Apart from issues related to seed monopoly and rural livelihood, there are serious biosafety concerns being debated world over. Different studies have consistently indicated the possible ill-effects of GMs on health and environment. There is a clear need for an independent report on various effects of GM crops, including long term studies and chronic toxicity studies. Biosafety concerns must be addressed before any open air release of GM crops including field trials.

It is in this context that one should look at the growing debate on GM crops in India. The crisis in Indian agriculture needs no further statement, but to attribute it to just technology lag and promote technofixes, like GM crops, as the only solution to it is not only myopic but also criminal and this is precisely what the Indian government seems to be doing.

The debate in India on GE crops started with Bt cotton, the only commercially approved GE crop in the country (March, 2002) and had become loud and visible around the approval of Bt Brinjal.

During public consultations organised by the Union ministry of environment and forests last year on Bt Brinjal, there were concerns raised by farmers, civil society, and health and environment experts against GM crops and also against the existing regulatory system in the country, the government then rolled back the approval validating these concerns.

Field trials 
While Bt Brinjal is under moratorium, numerous GM crops are being released in to the open fields in the name of field trials, which could lead to contamination of our regular crop varieties by these GM crops whose biosafety is yet to be ascertained. Efforts are also on by GM crop developers like Monsanto to push herbicide tolerant corn and cotton in India. Field trials of these crops have been happening and are expected to come up for commercialisation soon.

Recommendations submitted by the Swaminathan Task Force on Agri-Biotechnology, whose report was accepted by the government in 2004, clearly stated that India should  adopt  such technologies as genetic engineering only where alternatives do not exist. It also categorically rejected technologies that would be detrimental to agriculture labour like the herbicide tolerant crops.

To top it all the government is proposing a new regulatory system for GM crops called the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) which is supposed to be tabled in the monsoon session. From what one has seen of the media leaked versions of its drafts, BRAI is going to lower the bar for approvals of GM crops. The problems with the proposed bill starts with the grave conflict of interest where the regulator is proposed to be located in the ministry of science and technology which also has the mandate  to promote GM crops in the country.

The last version seen in the media paints the picture of a centralised technocratic body with pretty much no role for the elected representatives of the people of this country. It did not have longterm biosafety assessments and also maintains the current system of letting the GM crop developer do the biosafety assessment.

It also proposed to circumvent the Right to Information Act, 2005, and went even to the extent of proposing imprisonment and fines for those opposing GM crops without scientific evidence. Thus the BRAI that government plans to put in place, at its onset looks like a non transparent, unquestionable authority.

Given that the existing regulatory system is defunct, what needs to be immediately done is stopping the release of any GM crop in to our environment be it for commercialisation or for research. We should not fail to ask fundamental questions like whether there is a need for this technology and whether safer and sustainable alternatives exist for a proposed product.

This is what the existing and proposed regulatory systems for GM crops fail to do in India and the fact is that for any GM crop that is being developed in any part of the word right now, there exists ecological alternatives which are economically and socially sustainable.

(The writer is the chairman of parliament’s standing committee on agriculture)

Special Edition : Monstanto Quit India (August 9)

First Report:


A wake-up call: On the occasion of Quit India Day, hundreds of farmers, NGOs and social workers took out a procession demanding ‘Monsanto, Quit India!’ in Bhopal on Tuesday calling for ouster of the multinational seed and agro-chemical giant from the country and an end to all kind of trials on GM crops. – Photo: A. M. Faruqui

Ahmedabad remembers Quit India, in many ways
Published: Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011, 19:40 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA

Gujarat NGOs Bhartiya Kisan Sangh and Jatan Trust, Baroda, carried out a rally in Ahmedabad on Tuesday to make public aware of the ill effects of Monsanto seeds, chemicals used for pest control and how tribal farmers are allegedly becoming a vanishing tribe. They also held a press conference and sent a letter to chief minister Narendra Modi in this regard.

“Across 15 states of India, NGOs working for the welfare of farmers are demanding the government scrap various agreements that it has singed with Monsanto, Mahyco, Bayer, Dow, Syngenta, DuPont and the like in the name of PPP (public private partnership),” Kapil Shah, founder of Jatan Trust, said. He alleged that state and central governments are actually facilitating the build-up of monopolistic markets for these corporations.

Events under the banner, ‘Monsanto, Quit India’ were carried out pan India. The objective of this campaign is to force the government to scrap its agreements with Monsanto and others in the name PPP. In their demands submitted to Modi, the NGOs have asked that seeds sold to farmers by the companies operating under the aegis of Monsanto should be taken back and their production should be stopped immediately.

They have further demanded that there should not be any GM crop trials and facilitation of bio-piracy of invaluable germ-plasm that belongs to farmers of this country in the name of collaborative research.The NGOs have also demanded that the government should make efforts to improve farmer’s research institutions, which for some reason, are unable to come up with new varieties of seeds that are friendly to farmers and soil.

Additionally, an agriculture policy safeguarding farmer’s land and water resources should be formed at the earliest possible, they said. They have appealed to the government to promote local-level solutions that Indian farmers have pioneered.

Second Report:
Quit India anniversary strikes many chords
Staff Reporter

From corruption to biopiracy, several issues come to the fore
Farmers gave a call, ‘Monsanto, Quit India’, in Bangalore on Tuesday. — PHOTO: Sampath Kumar G.P.
Several programmes were held across the city to mark the 69th anniversary of the Quit India Movement on Tuesday. Early in the day, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) organised an all-religion prayer meeting at the Mahatma Gandhi statue on M.G. Road here where students paid floral tributes.

Mayor Sharadamma, who participated along with Deputy Mayor S. Harish, Commissioner Siddaiah and Ruling Party Leader B.R. Nanjundappa, said that the BBMP had been organising programmes every year to mark the movement’s anniversary to create awareness among people about its significance. She said that the country won Independence when its citizens came together as one to support the movement.

Speaking at an event organised by Gandhi Bhavan, Karnataka Human Rights Commission Chairperson S.R. Nayak said that politicians and bureaucrats indicted in corruption cases should quit.

Pointing out that both the Union and State Governments are mired in scams, be it 2G or illegal mining, he said that “elected people who don’t follow the Constitution should leave their positions”.

‘Quit India, Monsanto!’

At another event, several farmers gathered and called for scrapping of any partnerships, deals and projects with Monsanto, the largest seeds corporation in the world. Around 300 farmers gathered and gave a call: “Monsanto, Quit India”.

Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) president Kodihalli Chandrasekhar said that State agencies such as the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, were facilitating biopiracy in the name of collaborative research.

The protesters demanded the scrapping of the development of BT brinjal varieties. They demanded that agencies going against the legal provisions of the Biological Diversity Act be penalised for such violations.

Against humanity

In a memorandum submitted to the State Government, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) and the KRRS pointed out that the Government should be aware of Monsanto’s long history of crimes against humanity.

They claimed that Monsanto used several strategies, including deploying technology that reduces possibility of farmers re-using their seeds, legal frameworks that prevent farmers and researchers free and open access to seeds, and aggressive, monopolistic market manoeuvres that suppressed competition. The protesters were assured by senior officials that projects with Monsanto and other companies will be reviewed.

Third Report

Social bodies launch campaign against agri MNC

TNN Aug 9, 2011, 01.29am IST

NAGPUR: On the occasion on Quit India Day on Monday, NGOs and social activists launched a campaign called ‘Monsanto, Quit India.’ To be held simultaneously at various places across 15 states of the country, the aim of campaign is to raise the demand of turning away big multinational seed and agro-chemical companies from domestic markets.

The movement is heralded by Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), an all-India network of about 400 organizations of farmers, agricultural workers, consumers, social activists and academics, ‘working to promote ecologically sustainable agriculture and secure livelihoods for farmers, and stop corporate domination of our agriculture and food system’. The organizations claim that the government seems to have an agreement with Monsanto, Mahyco, Bayer, Dow, Syngenta, DuPont and other such companies.

They also wish that Monsanto be blacklisted. The corporation had recently hit the headlines because of alleged violations of some biosafety norms in its GM maize plot in Bijapur, Karnataka.