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Farmer-the most endangered species

Assault on farming: Punjab Government ties with Syngenta

Posted by Ramoo on September 17, 2008

UMENDRA DUTT

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Now it is understandable that government machinery in Punjab is more worried to offer market to MNCs rather then serving the genuine interests of farmers. Recently a Punjab government agency Markfed has signed a MoU with Syngenta to provide agrochemicals and its right practices on farmers’ doorstep.

This indicates that either the government officials do not have understanding of real crisis of farmers or they do not want to understand it. There is a strong third possibility also that Marked and its parent department wants to serve MNCs only sans the poor farmers.

Kheti Virasat Mission-KVM deplores this move of Markfed. The will prove a disaster for the farming and ecology of Punjab. This is an anti-farmer and anti-environment step and will jeopardize the possibilities of ecological sustainability of agriculture in Punjab. 

It is ironical that the Minister for Cooperation Capt Kanwaljit Singh was present in person in this MoU signing ceremony. This irony turned in to a tragedy when Minister speaking on the occasion urged the company to develop eco-friendly crop protection inputs. What an incident Capt Kanwaljit Singh is giving the responsibility of protecting ecology to a known environmental offender and poison merchant.

While speaking on the occasion Capt Kanwaljit asserted that ” The state is facing threat of disease due to overuse and misuse of pesticides, which is both unmanageable and unacceptable……so the need of hour is cutting costs and bringing in environment-friendly and safe methods of crop protection.”. It is a great statement indeed. But minister was betting on wrong side. Those who are known environmental scandalous cannot and should not be asked for environmental solutions. 

    The Markfed is more enthusiastic to serve MNCs and become their extension arm to market their products.  First it was Bt cotton in 2005. Then CM Capt Amarinder Singh very passionately makes Markfed the distributing arm of Mahyco for Bt cotton seeds. There was euphoria at that time and Markfed has published advertisements in newspaper singing happily about its achievement. Mahyco is a Monsanto owned company. 

After Monsanto now it is Syngenta.

Monsanto sold Bt cotton with a promise to reduce use of pesticides and now Syngents is entering with promise to provide extension services to farmers to educate them about right method of pesticide use. It is regrettable that government executives, agriculture experts and technocrats and departments dealing with agriculture or farmers particularly are still obsessed with the pesticides and their so-called safe use. They cannot think of agriculture without agrochemicals. After witnessing adverse impacts of pesticides several countries are now pursuing the pesticide free farming. There are several successful examples of chemical free natural / organic farming in the world, in India and even in Punjab. 

Chemical pesticides were pushed in indiscriminately. Forty years after the advent of green revolution, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Manila, Philippines now clearly accepts its mistakes in promoting pesticides and has gone on record saying that ‘pesticides were a waste of time and effort’ in Asia for rice. Punjab Agricultural University however continues to push in pesticides knowing well that these were not required in the first place. In case of cotton, agricultural scientists have compounded the problem by turning the insect profile hostile. There were only six or seven pests that worried the cotton farmers in the 1960s. Today the number of cotton pests has multiplied to over 60.

Studies done by ICRISAT and IRRI clearly demonstrate the sustainability, viability and successful economics of Non-Pesticide Management practices. Farmers in Bangladesh, Philippines and Vietnam have successfully opted for pesticide free rice cultivation. The Cuba has also shown the way. Former Director General of IRRI, Dr. Robert Cantrell had this to say: “It shows that the mistakes of Green Revolution where too much emphasis was sometimes put on the use of chemicals for pest control have clearly been recognized and corrected”.

But irony of Punjab is that the agriculture establishments are not open to this truth of pesticides and even they are not tolerant to any question and debate related to pesticides and environmental health crisis. They are still in green-revolution mindset and insulated from alternative paradigm for sustainable agriculture, environment and development. The agriculture establishments feel honour of their role played in green revolution, it could be their proud. They already got pat for that, they earned whole lot of admiration for the work they had done, but now it is time to have an honest introspection and constructive criticism. Those who are supported Green Revolution setups until now should own responsibility of its adverse effects.

The Markfed and Ministry of Cooperatives should open to know more about the alternative paradigm of agriculture, they should came forward  to learn from the farmers committed to ecological practices. Capt Kanwaljit rightly raise the issue of rising cost of production and depleting returns ,but he should be aware of the fact that every village is exporting cash roughly something between Rs  25 lakhs to 5 crors , depending upon its area, cropping pattern and ecological factors. If the minister is really sincere in saving and serving farmers he and his department should encourage natural farming. We should proudly shout -“Say No to Pesticides”. It is only way to save ecology of Punjab, it is only way to bring Punjab out of devastating environmental health crisis. 

Punjab government has no vision, no roadmap for restructuring agriculture to make its agriculture ecologically sustainable. Neither they have any plan to learn from farmers nor do they want to promote any civil society initiative in this regard. Government is just promoting corporate model of farming. This is symbol of intellectual impoverishment and bankruptcy of thoughts and ideas.    

Syngenta is also known for hiding facts related to adverse effects of its bestseller herbicide Atrazine. The scientists working on test the effects of Atrazine on African clawed frogs found that Atrazine inhibits development of the larynx in male frogs at low doses, that Atrazine, at even lower doses, feminizes male frogs by altering the testes so they will produce eggs. Syngenta even tried to purchase the silence from the concerned scientists.  

Pesticides are only one side of coin of doom, the Genetically Modified seeds are waiting to spill the new era of sorrow.  Syngenta will use this MoU to create market for its GM seeds. The company is trying to get proper IPR protection for its seeds. Syngenta has done a day light robbery on rice.  This Swiss biotech giant based at Basel in Switzerland, has tightened its monopoly control over rice. Seeking global patents over thousands of genes in rice (a single grain of rice contains 37,544 genes, roughly one-fourth more than the genes in a human body), the multinational giant is all set to “own” rice, the world’s most important staple food crop. Syngenta claims it invented more than 30,000 gene sequences of rice. Syngenta in collaboration with Myriad Genetics Inc of USA had beaten Monsanto in the game of mapping the genetic structure of rice by sequencing more than 99.5 per cent of the rice genome. Syngenta’s efforts to seek control over rice have severe implications for the future of rice research and its resulting impact on food security and hunger. For countries like India or Japan, one of the seats of origin of rice, it is an ominous sign. In other words, biological inheritance of the world’s major food crop is now in the hands of a Swiss multinational. If Syngenta’s application for global patents is accepted, the Asian countries will lose all control that comes through ‘sovereign’ control over genetic resources (as defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992) of the staple grain.

Syngents is going to bring its GM seeds with in next few years; the company is preparing its market network from now courtesy Markfed.

Marked is working like Mir Jafar for MNCs which is highly intolerable. This MoU will prove battle of Plassey and will pave way for total corporate takeover of Punjab agriculture. Those who are signing these documents should prepare them selves to be known as Mir Jafars. History will teach then a lesson.

It is high time that farmers of Punjab should resist and revolt against this onslaught on their sovereign right over natural resources and knowledge system.

(Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission civil society ecological action group based at Jaitu town in Faridkot district, Punjab. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail: umendradutt@gmail.com)

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