May 22 has been declared International Biodiversity Day by the UN. It gives us an opportunity to become aware of the rich biodiversity that has been evolved by our farmers. It also provides an opportunity to acknowledge the threats to our biodiversity from IPR monopolies.
Just as our Vedas and Upanishads have no individual authors, our rich biodiversity, including seeds, have been evolved cumulatively. I recently joined tribals who evolved thousands of rice varieties for their festival of “Akti”. Akti is a celebration of the relationship of the seed and the soil, and the community.
In addition to learning about seeds from women and peasants, I had the honour to participate and contribute to international and national laws on biodiversity. I worked closely with our government in the run-up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, when the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) was adopted. Three key commitments in the CBD are protection of the sovereign rights of countries to their biodiversity, the traditional knowledge of communities and biosafety in the context of genetically-modified foods.
The UN appointed me on the expert panel for the framework for the biosafety protocol, now adopted as the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety. I was appointed a member of the expert group to draft the National Biodiversity Act, as well as the Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act. We ensured that farmers rights are recognised in our laws. “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”, it says.
Patents on seeds are unjust. A patent or any intellectual property right is a monopoly granted by society in exchange for benefits. But society has no benefit in toxic, non-renewable seeds. We are losing biodiversity, we are losing nutrition, and quality of our food. Above all, we are losing our fundamental freedom to decide what seeds we will sow.
Seed as a common good has become a commodity of private companies. Unless protected and put back in the hands of our farmers, it is at risk of being lost forever.
Across the world, communities are saving and exchanging seeds. They are creating and recreating freedom — for the seed, for seed keepers, and for all life and all people. When we save the seed, we also reclaim and rejuvenate knowledge — the knowledge of breeding and conservation, the knowledge of food and farming. Uniformity as a pseudo-scientific measure has been used to establish unjust IPR monopolies on seed. Once a company has patents on seeds, it pushes its patented crops to collect royalties.
Humanity has been eating thousands (8,500) of plant species. Today we are being condemned to eat GM corn and soya. Four primary crops — corn, soya, canola and cotton — have all been grown at the cost of other crops because they generate a royalty. For example, India had 1,500 different kinds of cotton, now 95 per cent of the cotton planted is GMO Bt Cotton for which Monsanto collects royalties. Over 11 million hectares are used to cultivate cotton, of which 9.5 million is used to grow Monsanto’s Bt.
Why do farmers adopt Bt cotton which harms them? They have to buy Bt cotton as all other choices have been destroyed. Monsanto establishes monopoly through 3 mechanisms:
1. Make farmers give up old seed, called “seed replacement” in industry jargon.
2. Influence public institutions to stop breeding. The Central Cotton Research Institute did not release cotton varieties for Vidharba after Monsanto entered.
3. Lock Indian companies into licensing pacts.
These coercive mechanisms are now falling apart. Navdanya created community seed banks and farmers have access to open pollinated seeds. The CCIR, under the leadership of Dr Keshav Kranti, is developing native cotton varieties. Finally, the government intervened to regulate Monsanto’s monopoly. On March 8, it passed a seed price order regulating the price of seed.
Monsanto and the biotechnology industry challenged the order. We were impleaded in the Karnataka HC. On May 3, Justice Bopanna gave an order reaffirming that the government has a duty to regulate seed prices and Monsanto does not have a monopoly. Biodiversity and small farmers are the foundation of food security, not corporations like Monsanto. These crimes against humanity must stop. That is why on October 16, International Food Day, we will organise a Monsanto Tribunal at The Hague to “try” Monsanto for its various crimes....