ISIS Report 30/04/08
Mass Protests against GM Crops in India
Kavitha Kurunganti reports from Tarnaka, India
Nari Samaj rally in Bhubaneswar, Orissa
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India-wide coalition against GM Brinjal in the wake of toxic GM cotton
As India edges closer to what is probably
the last year of field trials for Bt Brinjal (eggplant, aubergine) before
commercial approval may be granted, large scale resistance has been building
up all over the country.
Bt Brinjal, if allowed in India, would be the first food crop in the
world with the Bt gene inserted into it that is to be directly consumed by
human beings. Indians feel that they are about to be made guinea pigs by USAID,
and by Monsanto and Cornell
University that have developed this crop.
For the past six years, Indian farmers have experienced the stark realities
of GM crop cultivation in the country in the form of Bt cotton. Reports continue
to pour in from various districts of Andhra Pradesh including Adilabad, Warangal
and Nalgonda on animal illnesses and deaths after grazing on Bt cotton fields.
Farmers and shepherds have been reporting the toxic effects of Bt cotton on
livestock since 2003 (see Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt
Cotton, SiS 30). But the regulators continue to rubbish the reports.
Farmers and workers experience allergic reactions during harvest of Bt cotton,
with scores of victims in different states (see More
Illnesses Linked to Bt Crops, SiS 30). However, the governments have
not even begun to acknowledge that.
matters worse, the ecology of cotton pests has altered drastically and Bt
cotton farmers are dealing with newer pests and diseases. Last season’s infestation
of mealy bug, a sucking pest, has resulted in pesticides sales shooting up
steeply in several states including Punjab.
For farmers who wish to remain GM-free or organic, they find
it almost impossible to get non-GM seed. Hundreds of organic farmers are placing
special orders directly with seed companies for non-transgenic seed, as it
is not readily available from retailers.
It is at this juncture that farmers’ unions,
consumer organizations, environmental groups, development organizations and
concerned scientists have stepped up their protests against Bt Brinjal, realizing
that the experience with Bt cotton cannot be allowed to be repeated, especially
with a vegetable crop that is directly consumed by people.
informal network called “Coalition for GM Free India” was formed in 2006,
representing organizations and individuals from more than 15 states of India. The Coalition has been active since
then in raising awareness among civil society groups, media and the general
public, and in creating an informed debate on GMOs. The Coalition also sees
resistance to GM crops in a larger framework of democratization of policy-making
in science and technology for the country. Members believe that farmers’ science
and knowledge, especially with regard to ecological farming, is the only sustainable
way forward for farming in India.
Concerted countrywide day of action
farmers’ organizations and other civil society groups in different states
undertook concerted direct actions to highlight the dangers of GM crops in
general and Bt Brinjal in particular. They
targeted the state governments, which have a constitutional responsibility
and authority with regard to agriculture-related issues. This is a prelude
to a national level protest in Delhi
on 6 May 2008 where hundreds
of concerned citizens – farmers and consumers – will join the protest from
around 15 states. The day of action included many events countrywide.
Pradesh, more than 250 people took part in a protest meeting in Hyderabad organized by the Coalition for GM-Free Andhra Pradesh and
around 15 mothers with their children put out a “NO GM IN OUR FOOD” message.
Farmers and consumers from nine districts of Andhra Pradesh attended the meeting,
including those who suffered losses with Bt cotton, those who have experienced
allergies while working in Bt cotton fields and others who have lost their
livestock that grazed on Bt cotton. Scores of farmers who practice ecological
farming also joined in, urging the AP government to ban GM crop trials in
Hyderabad moms say No GM in Our Food
In Chittoor, the APVVU (an agricultural workers’ union) organized
a rally in the district headquarters against GM crops. Speaking to a delegation
that presented him with a memorandum in the evening, the Minister for Agriculture
in Andhra Pradesh, Mr Raghuveera Reddy, assured the delegation that “if there
is even 0.001 % problem with Bt Brinjal as per the University
scientists, the government will proceed very cautiously on the matter.”
Pradesh, around one thousand farmers took out a “death procession” of Bt Brinjal
in Jhabua. In this symbolic protest, four pall-bearers joined by hundreds
of farmers carried a large GM brinjal in a solemn Hindu cremation ritual;
the protest was organized by Beej
Swaraj Abhiyan (Seed Freedom Movement).
Death procession of Bt Brinjal in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh
during a seminar organized by Thana (an environmental organization), the state Agriculture Minister reiterated
his stand against allowing any GM crop trials in the state of Kerala, which
is a mega-biodiversity hotspot. He also signed an anti-GM banner
to be displayed in Delhi on 6 May. The seminar noted that foods
containing soy, canola, corn and cottonseed ingredients, imported from the
US, were being sold in many
supermarkets, posing health threats. Speakers in the seminar called upon the
people to boycott soybeans, corn (maize) products and other GM foods.
the Coalition for GM-Free Orissa submitted a petition signed by more than
30 000 farmers, intellectuals and activists
in the state to the Minister for Agriculture. And rallies were held at Kendrapara,
Bargarh, Bolangir, Rayagada, Sundargarh, Ganjam, Nayagarh and
Sambalpur districts. Letters from 50 sarpanches (elected heads of local governance
councils at the village level) were also submitted to the Minister asking
him to ensure that Orissa remains free from genetically modified seeds.
protest took place in Bhubaneswar, the state capital of Orissa, organized by Orissa Nari Samaj, a tribal
women’s collective. More than 5 000 tribal women from 54 blocks, along with
hundreds of farmers from Dhenkanal and over 300 students from Bhubaneswar joined a large protest rally
against GM crops. They exhibited 500 indigenous paddy varieties that they have collected in front of State
Assembly to send their message to the state government that it will put the
rich diversity of rice species at risk if GMOs entered the region.
a memorandum to the Chief Minister, urging him to declare Orissa a GE-Free,
In Maharashtra, district level anti-GMO meetings
were organized by the Sashwat Sheti Kriti Parishad to build farmer- and consumer
awareness. The districts covered were Buldana, Amravati, Akola, Washim and Wardha.
Nadu, CREATE and FEDCOT, consumer rights groups, organized a consumer awareness
meeting in Tirunelveli on “GM Food & Consumer Health”. The meeting called
for a ban on all GM foods in India.
April 2008, the day of Baisakhi (the new year’s day
in certain states), protest and awareness meetings were again organized in
Tamil Nadu and Punjab.
Ecological farming is the answer and not GM
various events on and around 8 April are an indication of the growing mass resistance
against GM crops and foods in India, and it is high time that the central
and state governments took note of the concerns of farmers and consumers with
regard to this technology being thrust down their throats in an undemocratic
at a crucial time when ecological farming is spreading rapidly all over India, supported by civil society groups
including those in the Coalition for GM-Free India. It should convince the
government that safer and much more sustainable alternatives do exist, and
there is really no need for GM crops in the country.
Kavitha Kurunganti is with Consultant on Research and Campaigns working
with Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Tarnaka ,