The Trojan Gates
by Sandhya Jain on 25 May 2010 21 Comments

It is now evident that Microsoft founder Bill Gates visited India to push the odious agenda of genetic engineering in agriculture. At a famous talk show, Gates mouthed platitudes about the world being unable to feed its growing population with existing technologies. The only solution, he argued, is agricultural biotechnology, and its only masters are Western corporates determined to control the resources of the entire world, and make a killing while doing so.


Gates was clearly intervening in the national debate over genetically modified food crops, to overcome Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh’s current veto on commercial cultivation of BT brinjal, after it was proved that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee gave its sanction without conducting all the mandatory tests. Gates revealed that the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, hitherto concerned with healthcare, is now investing in agriculture projects (which probably means he owns handsome shares in leading GMO firms).


The GM food controversy is not about resisting new plant varieties with higher productivity. There is a concerted movement by seed corporations of the United States and Europe, ably assisted by the United Nations and the Food and Agricultural Organisation, to snatch ordinary farmers’ rights over their seeds. It threatens the very right to life in the non-western world.


Study, for instance, the implications of Paul Bremer’s Order 81 of April 26, 2004, whereby the Coalition Authority banned Iraq farmers from using their own seeds and forced them to buy from multinational seed corporations of America and Europe. It is part of a neo-colonial project to destroy seed and plant diversity in the world, to expand markets and profits, and ultimately, to control world population in the manner desired (recall colonialism’s man-made famines in several parts of the globe).


Order 81 is a warning to the non-white, non-Christian world of its fate via the seed corporations. Farmers will lose the basic right to life from seed, the liberty to grow traditional foods with multiple traditional seeds that seasonally cater to people’s nutritional needs. Order 81 bans farmers from re-using seeds of protected varieties or any variety. The genetically altered seeds are called ‘protected variety’ and unregistered or local seeds the ‘infringing variety’ (what an obscenity). Iraqi farmers have to sign an agreement to pay a ‘technology fee’ and an annual license fee. Plant Variety Protection (PVP) has made seed saving and reusing illegal and ‘similar’ seed plantings punishable by severe fines and imprisonment. The seed corporations want to replicate this atrocity all over the world.


The planning was meticulous. On August 8, 2005 Reuters reported that Iraqi seed supply is at risk: “... The war in Iraq destroyed the country’s seed industry, putting the country’s domestic food supply at risk… The Food and Agriculture Organisation said it needed $5.4 million to help the agriculture ministry rebuild a seed industry destroyed by the fighting and looting. Iraq had a relatively stable and functioning public-sector-controlled seed industry before the war in 2003... Iraq can now cover only 4 percent of its demand for quality seeds from its own resources... This is wonderfully convenient for the corporations; first outlaw the seeds and destroy them, or vice versa, because no one is watching anyway.


Needless to say, no one in Iraq was allowed to vote on Paul Bremmer’s Orders, which total a hundred. This says everything about the genre of ‘democracy’ being introduced (read imposed) on Baghdad by the so-called leader of the free world. In one stroke, the millennia old agriculture of the Fertile Crescent has been destroyed, its place taken by the bastard seeds of American corporations. No wonder Free Trade always needs gunboat diplomacy for company.


Still, it is hardly possible to send troops to every part of the world (recall the resistance in Afghanistan, Iraq, even Pakistan). This is where ‘collaborator’ politicians, bureaucrats, intellectuals, scientists, and so-called independent experts and study groups come in. It all boils down to money power – the one truly universal language.


India’s BT Brinjal is another chapter in the sordid war on the primordial civilisations that are also world centres of food and plant bio-diversity. The Indian farmers’ dependence on local seed and exchange appears low in technical know-how, but it has successfully preserved our enormous crop diversity over centuries. The Indian farmers’ rate of re-use and exchange of seed among themselves is 70 percent; in Iraq it was 90 percent. It is this millennia-old culture of saving and sharing seeds that threatens the linear growth of seed corporates.


The Green Revolution actually decimated seed diversity in wheat and rice, besides ruining the soil, underground water, and public health, the extent of which is being concealed by government. Both public and private seed developers want to breed only those varieties that require intensive chemical and pesticide inputs (i.e., are costly); these will ultimately decimate the remaining biodiversity in food crops.


The so-called success in the accelerated sales of BT Cotton, where Monsanto and its associates raked stupendous profits over the last five years – has already cost India 90 percent of the local cotton seed diversity. Now they want to earn from (and ruin) cereal crops like rice and wheat. This is the logic behind pushing the introduction of BT Brinjal.


India’s Food Security Act will be infructuous if we surrender control over our seeds. Sadly, India’s elected government and pro-establishment scientists appear willing to compromise seed sovereignty (the very right to life) without reference to concerned citizens and affected farmers. The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture Education, Research, Services and Commercial Linkages is said to be the modem through which this agenda will be executed.


Experts fear that the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), where 180 countries have gathered to protect the sovereign rights of genetically rich but economically poor countries, is actually a step towards privatisation of genetic resources by patenting seeds and life forms, and promoting bio-piracy and bio-trade.


Agriculture began with humans cultivating nearly 7000 different species of food crops. Industrial agriculture of the last 100 years has shrunk the diversity of food crops and livestock breeds to fifteen plants and eight animal species! This homogenisation of the food industry rests on a very narrow genetic base; 75 percent of the world’s genetic diversity of food crops has been eliminated; the rest is in peril.


The author is Editor,

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