Recently the head of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research was reported as saying that it is seeking to collaborate with MNCs, by offering its massive seed gene bank in exchange for “expertise” from private companies to develop a variety of high-yielding, climate-tolerant seeds that could be used in India and elsewhere in return for “a small share of the profits”.
Indian farmers under the banner of ICCFM (Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements) are indignant at this preposterous idea which is firstly illegal under Indian biodiversity laws. Secondly, to imagine private corporations as some benevolent entities working towards creating magic seeds to protect the world from climate change is totally misplaced – the real aim here is to access genes that have been developed by farmers over centuries – then to patent them and to then resell them to farmers in the name of climate tolerance, raking in profits while increasing farmers dependence. This is exactly what happened with Bt Cotton where most local cotton varieties have now been wiped out at a grave human and environmental cost and farmers left with little choice making the cotton growing belts of India the highest farmers suicide areas. Bt Brinjal was also developed by Monsanto after stealing local brinjal varieties. Monsanto is now rightfully being sued for bio-piracy by the Indian National Biodiversity Board.
The real knowledge and skills of developing climate resistant crops lies with the Indian farmers themselves. There are thousands of instances on the ground where farmers have been preserving local seeds, and developing all kinds of local variates of crops and that too without any institutional support in most cases. Indian research needs to reorient itself to its farmers and support local agro-ecological solutions in farming that increase farmers self reliance and not a failed outdated green revolution industrial model based on expensive external inputs.
The value of the genes that ICAR holds under its custody – as the custodian of Indian people is priceless. ICAR does not have the right to sell of the wealth of our nation by making some underhand deal with multi national corporations without any information or debate among the citizens of this country. The genes that are present in ICAR have been contributed by millions of farmers of India. They have given those genes in good faith so that ICAR may preserve them and collect them for the use of maintaining India’s food sovereignty, for its farmers, for its public good and posterity.
An act of selling of rights to those genes to private corporations will alienate the millions of farmers of our country who have the primary right over those genes. As we all are aware private seed companies charge exorbitant rates for their seeds – seed rates have gone up by upto 5000 percent in some cases as a result of private entries in the seed market making them inaccessible to farmers. The massive sickness of farmers suicides in India is a direct result of such policies that chain farmers to dependence on private corporations.
Indian farmers would like to warn the Indian government that any such move will be met with the highest levels of resistance. The ICAR’s job is to cater to the needs of India’s farming community not to private seed companies.