Democracy Now! December 13, 2006
Title: “Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the US-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India”
Author: Vandana Shiva with Amy Goodman
Global Research, October 9, 2006
Title: “Genetically Modified Seeds: Women in India Take on Monsanto”
Author: Arun Shrivastava
Title: “Sowing Trouble: India’s ‘Second Green Revolution’”
Author: Suman Sahai
Student Researchers: Jonathan Stoumen and Michael Januleski
Faculty Evaluator: Phil Beard, Ph.D.
Farmers’ cooperatives in India are defending the nation’s food security and the future of Indian farmers against the neoliberal invasion of genetically modified (GM) seed. As many as 28,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide over the last decade as a result of debt incurred from failed GM crops and competition with subsidized US crops, yet when India’s Prime Minister Singh met with President Bush in March 2006 to finalize nuclear agreements, they also signed the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA), backed by Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), and Wal-Mart. The KIA allows for the grab of India’s seed sector by Monsanto, of its trade sector by giant agribusiness ADM and Cargill, and its retail sector by Wal-Mart.
Though the contours of KIA have been kept so secret that neither senior Indian politicians nor the scientific community know its details, it is clear that Prime Minister Singh has agreed to sacrifice India’s agriculture sector to pay for US concessions in the nuclear field.
In one of very few public statements by a US government official regarding KIA, Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, states, “While the civilian nuclear initiative has garnered the most attention, our first priority is to continue giving governmental support to the huge growth in business between the Indian and American private sectors. Singh has also challenged the United States to help launch a second green revolution in India’s vast agricultural heartland by enlisting the help of America’s great land-grant institutions.”
Vandana Shiva translates, “These are twin programs about a market grab and a security alignment.” Burns announced that while the nuclear deal is the cutting edge, what the US is really seeking is agricultural markets and real estate markets, “to take over the land of people, not through a market mechanism, but using the state and an old colonial law of land acquisition to grab the land by force.”
Through KIA, Monsanto and the US have asked for unhindered access to India’s gene banks, along with a change in India’s intellectual property laws to allow patents on seeds and genes, and to dilute provisions that protect farmers’ rights. A combination of physical access to India’s gene banks and a possible new intellectual property law that allows seed patents will in essence deliver India’s genetic wealth into US hands. This would be a severe blow to India’s food security and self-sufficiency.
At the same time KIA has paved the way for Wal-Mart’s plans to open five hundred stores in India, starting in August 2007, which will compound the outsourcing of India’s food supply and threaten 14 million small family venders with loss of livelihood.
“This is not about ‘free trade,’” Shiva explains, “Today’s trade system, especially in agriculture, is dishonest, and dishonesty has become a war against farmers. It’s become a genocide.”
Farmers are, however, organizing to protect themselves against this economic invasion by maintaining traditional seed banks and setting up exemplary systems of community agrarian support. In response to the flood of debilitating debt tied to GM/hybrid seeds and the toxic petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides these crops depend on, one woman in the small village of Palarum says, “We do not buy seeds from the market because we suspect they may be contaminated with genetically engineered or terminator seeds.” Instead village women save and trade hardy traditional seeds that have evolved over centuries to produce low-maintenance, nutritious “crops of truth.”
Each village in this rural area of India has formed its own community-based organization called a sangham. Seventy-two sanghams are part of a regional federation. These sanghams form an informal social security network that, through the maintenance of seed banks, will come to the rescue of individuals or entire villages in times of crop failure. Every member of the community has access to food and is assured of some work even if landless. The federation furthermore trains students in skills such as carpentry, computing, pottery, bookbinding, veterinary science, herbal medicine, sewing, farming, waste management, and agro-forestry.
Author Arun Shrivastava comments that, “These seventy-two villages were once horizontally and vertically stratified along caste, class, and religious lines. Food scarcity was endemic, people were malnourished, the majority worked as unskilled day wagers. Today they are cohesive, interdependent. I did not see one malnourished person. Rarely do people go to urban centers to seek work.” Shrivastava continues, “The community is the most important entity that can help us ensure food and nutrition security. The right of access to natural resources—land, rivers, forests, air, and everything that Nature has given us, including seeds, is the fundamental right of the communities, not of the corporations or the state or the individual. No corporation has the right to expropriate what Nature gave us.”
Professor of genetics Suman Sahai concludes, “India must be cautious that it does not become the dumping ground for a technology and its controversial products that have been rejected in many parts of the world and whose safety and usefulness remain questionable. Food security is an integral part of national security. All India’s efforts in the nuclear arena to shore up its national security goals will be undermined if it allows itself to become insecure in the matter of food.”
1. Nicholas Burns, “‘Heady Times’ For India And the US,” Washington Post, April 29, 2007.
UPDATE BY Arun Shrivastava
Nature has given us seeds and ‘crops of truth’ that do not require any tending but give us nutrition at no or low-cost. This knowledge needs to be rapidly disseminated; soon our lives may depend on it.
With current farming and food distribution systems it takes ten calories of fossil fuel energy to transport one calorie of food from farm to fork. That is unsustainable now; the era of cheap oil is effectively finished. Since we are already past peak oil, we all must learn to ensure food and nutrition security for our family and community. We will have to learn basic skills like conserving seeds, growing nutritious food, and medicinal crops without chemicals and machines. We will need more cohesive and interdependent local communities, like the women of Zaheerabad have shown.
The women of Zaheerabad save seeds in community-held seed banks and grow nutrition-dense food through a system that ensures health and livelihood for all. They have established how self-sufficient, sustainable communities might live in a post-carbon world.
A handful of multi-national corporations are patenting seeds. These genetically modified (GM) seeds neither increase yield nor reduce costs nor enhance nutritive content of foods, nor reduce dependence on oil. The seeds of deception have destroyed farmers in India, the US, and elsewhere.
Patenting ensures monopoly control while subverting farmers’ right to save seeds; it is antithetical to natural rights of local communities. The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture covertly seeks to gain access and control over community-held seeds.
Since publication of the article, Deccan Development Society (DDS) has extended the model to twenty-six more villages but the community FM radio station remains silent.
At People’s SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in Kathmandu (March 2007) participants voted for a “GM-free South Asia,” community control over seeds and protection of South-Asian biodiversity. Over six million farmers requested the Supreme Court of India (April 2007) to ban open field trials of GM seeds because of the dangers of irreversible contamination of community-held seeds and adverse impact on health.
The mainstream media is silent. They don’t have space for disseminating information that will save us from disease and starvation. These are unglamorous issues.
For more information on growing crops of truth and the need for a new social order, the following are ideal sources:
1. The Web site of Deccan Development Society (DDS), initiator and facilitator of the sanghams, ishttp://www.ddsindia.com/www/default.asp. Contact PV Satheesh, Director of Zaheerabad Project.
2. Beej Bachao Andolan (BBA, Save the Seeds Movement) is a well-known movement of farmers who save traditional seeds of the Himalayan region. Contact Biju Negi, [email protected].
3. For information on growing food for health and personal freedom, go to http://www.soilandhealth.org.
5. The Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey Smith discusses how GM foods, introduced in the US in 1993 without proper biosafety assessment, endanger our health. It is available at http://www.seedsofdeception.com. See also the research of Dr. Irina Ermakova at http://irina-ermakova.by.ru/eng/articles.html/, and of Dr. Arpad Pusztai:http://www.freenetpages.co.uk/hp/a.pusztai/.
6. “Heartless in the Heartland” is the ghastly story of how Monsanto blackmailed US farmers not to save their seeds. See http://www.mindfully.org.
7. For an excellent summary, watch The Future of Food, a documentary by Deborah Koons Garcia, downloadable from http://www.mindfully.org.
8. For discussions on peak oil and food security, see Richard Heinberg’s Fifty Million Farmers, published on November 17, 2006, available athttp://www.energybulletin.net/22584.html. Also visit the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, managed by Dr. Colin Campbell, one of world’s leading oil experts, at http://www.peakoil.net.
9. My two recent papers also shed light on the subject: “The attack on our seeds,” a related article published by Farmer’s Forum in India (contact the editor at [email protected]), and “The Silent War on the People of India,” which can be found at http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/cgi-bin/blogs/voices.php/2007/03/22/the_silent_war_on_the_people_of_india.
UPDATE BY Vandana Shiva
The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture impacts 650 million farmers of India and 40 million small retailers and it is redefining the relationships between people in the two biggest democracies in the world.
A new movement on retail democracy has begun in India that is bringing together small shopkeepers, street hawkers, trade unions and farmers unions. On August 9, 2007, which is Quit India Day, the movement will be organizing actions across the country telling Wal-Mart to leave India.
For more information, visit our website at http://www.navdanya.org.