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India the epicenter of GM crops

  • India as a center for the anti GM movement.
  • How could Indian ventures invest in GM research?

Article by Mr. K.Vijayaraghavan – Chairman, Sathguru & Regional Coordinator, IP CALS, Cornell University                                                                                                                       

CaptureThe Indian public researchers have been deploying investments in genetic engineering of crops over the last 15 years.  Beyond countries in Americas and Northern Europe, Indian public research has largest number of scientists, well trained in crop improvement, their safety assessment and deployment in farmer fields. The Indian private sector has demonstrated that these crop improvement efforts can be affordable, scientific and regulatory compliant in accordance with the best regulatory protocols adopted across the world. This was an unprecedented national effort and has certainly proved to be a threat for even mature agricultural economies. In Cotton, India has leapfrogged from a laggard to the forerunner. Soon, we will be largest cotton producer in the world, moving form Number 2 position to Number 1 position.

India has also shown the way for public private partnership with some of the discovered genes licensed by Indian research bodies to Indian private sector to develop vegetable and grain crops.  Indian private sector has established that just as the drugs and pharmaceuticals, they can generate and absorb affordable technologies for smart crop improvement and bring these traits to the farmers on their own or in partnership with global entities and there by provide affordable seeds not only to India but also to other developing countries. Indian cottonseeds goes far and wide – We see them grown in South Asia and South East Asian countries (such as Burma) though these countries have not officially approved these products. The fact is that proven technology gets pulled to regions where needy farmers adopt them for their own survival and any denial will only result in their uncontrolled adoption to the detriment of the nation.  This is witnessed today in China, where the Bt rice is widely adopted but the government is in a denial mode due to uncertain policy framework.

India, the ©center for Anti  GM movement:

The efforts of foreign funded NGOs to create obstacles for Indian public research organizations and the Indian private sector commenced about 14 years ago when the Bt cotton was under regulatory validation. During the last 8 years, several of Indian public sector research organizations, indigenous industry players, joint ventures with majority Indian holding have developed number of biotechnology derived seeds that can bring enormous advantage to Indian agriculture, more specifically small and marginal farmers and consumers. The effort is impaired by vigorous efforts of a handful of powerful, heavily funded Non-Government organizations with their origin based in Western world or seemingly in India with heavy funding originating from western world. Over the last five years, with the effort to introduce Bt Brinjal by the three leading public research organizations (Indian Council of Agriculture Research, Tamilnadu Agriculture University and University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad) and the Indian company Mahyco seeds (where Monsanto has only a minority interest) and the efforts of other seed companies in partnership with Indian public research organizations  (Bt Brinjal developed by Indian Agriculture Research Institute, IARI, Bt okra, disease tolerant potato, drought tolerant rice and other crops). The following efforts are note worthy that have attracted millions of Dollars of funding from western sources for select NGOs to engage in destructive effort of the public and private entities:

  1. Pursuing propaganda against the GM crops with international coverage in television channels for a series running for a length of 45 minutes to attract European attention to the issue and secure donation from them – Environment Support Group of Bangalore lead their propaganda with coverage in Al Zaheera, French TV and other channels and the poison on the platter was widely propagated all across the world.
  2. There are others who have engaged nationwide with series of television coverage, rural harnessing of non-farm communities in the guise of farmers (most of these converge never attracted the true farmers and their true associations), bringing such non-farmer communities to urban cities to agitate, provision of expensive costumes to such protesters (as can be seen in all the protests made in the public hearing of the then Environment Minister) and mobilizing school children to engage in agitation against the GM crops.
  3. Filing of Public interest litigations in the Supreme Court over the last 12 years with several days of prolonged litigation handled by some of the best paid Lawyers against the government departments regulating GM crops. The cost of the public interest litigation with best-known lawyers engaged would amount to several Million Dollars. Most of them were pursued by two or three organizations or a few individuals over a prolonged period.
  4. Mobilization of personnel (over 8000) to protest against the Bt Brinjal during consultations held by the Minister for Environment.  The Durbar held by the Minister during the public consultation was a demonstration of the shouting ability of the mobilized personnel. They often marginalized the articulation of most scientists who dared to speak in these durbars. All the education materials placed at any of the site were promptly destroyed by the paid people and the scientists were helplessly watching this.
  5. Deputing teams from India to other countries such as Philippines that are in the verge of introducing the Bt Brinjal. Debates were initiated and large teams were deputed from India supported by international NGOs present in India and Indian NGOs affiliated to these international NGOs for taking the battle to Philippines.  Some of the Indians trespassed the field of UPLB to destroy their crops and these Indians were deported by the Philippines government for trespassing. The legal proceedings are currently ongoing in Philippines courts. Campaign was held by the GEAC observer duly emphasizing his role in GEAC to emphasize to Philippines court the need to prevent introduction of the crops in Philippines. One of the scientists from Indian public research institution flew to Philippines to testify in their courts.  All of these efforts were led from India.
  6. Thousands of campaigns were held including puppet shows at village level to disseminate the false information to village communities and create a sense of fear and prejudice on the GM crops.
  7. Trespassing was carried out mobilizing activists in trials carried out in Tamilnadu Agriculture University and other locations where the research testing was carried out, obstructing the public research activity.
  1. Most of the NGOs arguing destruction of biodiversity by these crops are engaged       in export rare Indian plants and conserved seeds to European entities without any concern for biodiversity violation. The fact is that when traits are introduced in farmer preferred crops by public research institutions, their continued adoption by resource poor farmer is ensured. This is the only way to preserve biodiversity and ensure that these varieties are in vogue. The key role of public institution is to engage in continuous improvement of genetic material for continued adoption of resource poor farmers.

The foreign flow of funds to India and the funds mobilized internally by donations ( not sure what the source for the Internal donations too) during the last five years is hard to compute, but based on the massive level of campaign taken against Bt Brinjal particularly, the investment by these bodies would be of the order of Rs.200 crores during the recent years.  Some of them certainly fear progress as it will curtail their source of funding.

The last five years have turned the Indian clock in agriculture research by more than a decade. The gain is certainly for countries and organizations that wanted India not to progress. India will continue to be blamed for its shoddy regulatory system because only then the progress of science can be withheld in the country.  This can only be overcome with smart articulation of facts to public and communication of scientists and administration that can help public secure legitimate information.  In countries that have embraced science, this has catalyzed science to flow to society.

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