Farmers, first of all, are breeders. They might not have the lab coats that have come to define modern plant breeding, but their wisdom, knowledge and contribution is unquestionable. To be able to continue breeding, using their own seed, is their first right, their first freedom and their first duty. This right has been recognised in India's Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Rights Act:
39 (iv) a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this Act
All seeds bred by the public sector or by private corporations are based on varieties bred by farmers.
For the last two decades, Monsanto has forcefully monopolised the cottonseed sector with its Bt Cotton seeds, through illegal, illegitimate and corrupt means. It controls 95 percent of the cotton seed supply and collectsroyalties in the form of technology fees even tough it does not have a validpatent - because Monsanto introduced Bt cotton into India illegally, beforeIndia changed its patent laws (following a WTO - TRIPS dispute), and whenwe did amend our patent act we introduced clause 3 (j) clearly defining that biological processes are not inventions.
Article 3(j) excludes from patentability "plants and animals inwhole or in any part thereof other than microorganisms; butincluding seeds, varieties, and species, and essentially biologicalprocesses for production or propagation of plants and animals".
Knowing that Monsanto was collecting illegal royalties, and that there is an epidemic of farmers suicides (3,00,000 farmer suicides due to a debt trapcreated by costly seeds and chemicals) the government has failed to act.
The government failed to break Monsanto's illegal monopoly, and it failed in its public duty to ensure a supply of safe, reliable, renewable seed for our farmers.
A Right To Information (RTI) request submitted by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) to the Central Institute for Cotton Research in Nagpur revealed that CICR has not released a single variety of cotton for the farmers of Vidarbha since Monsanto entered India's cotton seed market.
Suddenly, after 20 years of slumber, there is a flurry of activity - in thepress, in the PMO, in the agriculture ministry - to rush the introduction of astraight variety of Bt cotton by the CICR, claiming that it will serve the farmer. "Straight" is a word used to describe renewable varieties whichare selections from farmers varieties. These farmers' varieties have been bred in the commons and belong to the commons.
Could this sudden rush be a desperate attempt by the biotech industry and government to use the public sector as a Trojan horse to dilute anddismantle India's biosafety regulations? Could this be an attempt by big biotech to bypass the Indian judiciary by bypassing the pending Supreme Court Case on GMO field trials? The biotech industry is using the public sector as a mask.
There are legal aspects related to GMO seeds. First is the issue of IPR'sand royalty collections. The second is the issue of biosafety. Monsanto has violated both sets of regulation in India and must be held accountable for breaking the country's laws. While Bt in straight varieties of cotton addresses the issues of seed costs for the future, it does not negate Monsanto's prior violations, nor is it any different from Monsanto's Bt when it comes to biosafety. According to our field studies, at least 84 per cent of the cases of farmers suicides in Vidarbha are related to debt and failure of Bt cotton crop. If the government is committed to protecting farmers' rights and bringing justice to the farmers, it must force Monsanto to compensate farmers for illegal royalties collected on the basis of an imaginary patent, and make reparations for the hundreds of thousands of farmers it has killed by collecting these illegitimate and illegal royalties.
Insurance statisticians have put the life of a "prime aged worker", in the US, where Monsanto is based, at a median value of USD 7 million. 84 per cent of 3,00,000 suicides, 252,000, are directly attributed to Monsanto's Bt Cotton. By this calculation, Monsanto, in addition to the illegal royalties collected, owes the families of "prime aged" working Indian farmers an amount of USD 1.764 Trillion.
Unless action is taken on this front, the talk of straight Bt varieties is a distraction from Monsanto's criminal actions against the farmers and seed businesses of India, and the country at large. It is also an attempt to use Indian tax payers' money and public institutions to open the flood gates for GMOs beyond cotton into our food - dismantling and weakening India's biosafety - without corporate liability. Read more here.