The seed, the source of life, the embodiment of our biological and cultural diversity, the link between the past and the future of evolution, the common property of past, present and future generations of farming communities who have been seed breeders, is today being stolen from the farmers and being sold back to us as “propriety seed” owned by corporations like the US-headquartered Monsanto.
Under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, various state governments are signing MoUs (memorandums of understanding) with seed corporations to privatise our rich and diverse genetic heritage. For example, the government of Rajasthan has signed seven MoUs with Monsanto, Advanta, DCM-Shriram, Kanchan Jyoti Agro Industries, PHI Seeds Pvt. Ltd, Krishidhan Seeds and J.K. Agri Genetics.
The Rajasthan government’s MoU with Monsanto, for example, focuses on maize, cotton, and vegetables (hot pepper, tomato, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower and water melon). Monsanto controls the cottonseed market in India and globally. Monsanto also controls 97 per cent of the worldwide maize market and 63.5 per cent of the genetically-modified (GM) cotton market. DuPont, in fact, had to initiate anti-trust investigations in the US because of Monsanto’s growing seed monopoly. Sixty Indian seed companies have licensing arrangements with Monsanto, which has the intellectual property on Bt. cotton.
In addition, Monsanto has cross-licensing arrangements with BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Sygenta and Dow to share patented, genetically-engineered seed traits with each other. The giant seed corporations are not competing with each other. They are competing with peasants and farmers over the control of the seed supply. And, in effect, monopolies over seed are being established through mergers and cross-licensing arrangements.
Monsanto, which controls 95 per cent of the cottonseed market, has pushed the price of seed from `7 per kg to `3,600 per kg, with nearly half being royalty payments. It was extracting `1,000 crores per annum as royalty from Indian farmers before Andhra Pradesh sued it in the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission.
The commodified seed is ecologically incomplete and ruptured at two levels: First, it does not reproduce itself, while, by definition, seed is a regenerative resource. Genetic resources are thus, through technology, transformed from a renewable into a non-renewable resource. Second, it does not produce by itself; it needs the help of purchased inputs. And, as the seed and chemical companies merge, the dependence on inputs will increase.
The failure of hybrid sunflower in Karnataka and hybrid maize in Bihar has cost poor farmers hundreds of crores of rupees. There are no liability clauses in the MoUs to ensure farmers’ rights and protection from seed failure. The seeds that will be used for essentially derived varieties by corporations like Monsanto are originally farmers’ varieties. The Farmers’ Rights and Plant Genetic Resources Act is a law to protect farmers’ rights, but nothing in the MoUs acknowledges, protects or guarantees farmers’ rights. It is, therefore, violative of the Farmers’ Rights Act.
The MoUs are one-sided and biased in favour of corporate intellectual property rights. The Monsanto MoU states: “Monsanto’s proprietary tools, techniques, technology, know-how and intellectual property rights with respect to the crops shall remain the property of Monsanto although utilised in any of the activities outlined as part of the MoU”. So the issue here is not technology, but seed monopoly.
What is being termed a public-private partnership (PPP) and is being conducted under the supervision of the state is, in fact, the great seed robbery. Rajasthan is an ecologically fragile area. Its farmers are already vulnerable. It is a crime to increase their vulnerability by allowing corporations to steal their genetic wealth and then sell them patented, genetically engineered, ill-adapted seeds. We must defend seeds as our commons. We must protect the seeds of life from the seeds of suicide.
Farmers breed for resilience and nutrition. Industrial breeding responds to intensive chemical and water inputs so that seed companies can increase profits. The future of the seed, the future of the food, the future of farmers lies in conservation of the biodiversity of our seed. Navdanya’s research also shows that biodiversity-based ecological agriculture produces more food than monocultures.
Hybrids and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) produce less nutrition per acre and are vulnerable to climate change, pests and disease. Replacing agro-biodiversity with hybrid and GM crops is a recipe for food insecurity. The MoUs will, in effect, facilitate bio-piracy of Rajasthan’s rich biodiversity of drought-resilient crops, which become more valuable in times of climate change. By failing to have any clauses that respect the Biodiversity Act and the Farmers’ Rights Act, the MoUs promote biopiracy and legalise the great seed robbery.
According to the MoUs, private companies’ seed distribution will be based on “seed supply and distribution arrangements involving leverage of extensive government-owned network”. In other words, selling hybrids and then GMOs will be subsidised by allowing the use of public land for “technology demonstration farms to showcase products, technology and agronomic practices on land made available by the government of Rajasthan”.
Besides the handing over of seed and land, “Monsanto will be helped in the establishment of infrastructure towards the fulfilment of the collaboration objectives specified above through access to relevant capital subsidy and other schemes of the government of Rajasthan”.
While public resources will be freely given away to Monsanto as a subsidy, Monsanto’s Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) monopolies will be protected. This is an MoU for “Monsanto takes all, the public system gives all”. It is clearly an MoU for privatisation of our seed and genetic wealth, our knowledge, and a violation of farmers’ rights.
Seed sovereignty is the foundation of food sovereignty. Seed freedom is the foundation of food freedom. The great seed robbery threatens both. It must be stopped.