Freedom to Access Latest Technologies

June 25, 2019

On behalf of Indian farmers, the Shetkari Sanghatana demands access to new science and technologies. The Sanghatana has six specific demands given below.

The Kisan Satyagraha began in Akola district of Maharashtra, in June 2019. The principal aim of the Satyagraha is to highlight the desperate need for new technologies in agriculture.

Shri Lalit Bahale, a local farmer, began the Satyagraha by symbolically sowing the seeds of HTBt cotton, and Bt brinjal, on a two-acre plot in Akoli Jahagir, a small village in Akot tehsil, in Akola district, on June 10, 2019.

Everyday, in different parts of Maharashtra, more farmers are coming forward to join the Satyagraha announcing their intention to actually sow HTBt cotton or express their support for new technologies. Farmers’ organisations from other parts of India have also declared their intention to sow HT Bt cotton and Bt brinjal where possible.

Low input – high output agriculture is the need of the hour to transform Indian agriculture. This is possible only when our scientists are allowed the freedom to explore new vistas. And when our farmers enjoy the freedom to try out the new advances in modern science and technology.

 

The context

With increasing scarcity of labour in rural India, cotton farmers are eager to find alternative ways to reduce the cost of labour, and stay competitive in the global market. De-weeding traditionally is an extremely labour intensive activity. And labour cost accounts for well over 40% of the cost of growing cotton. It is in this context that herbicide tolerant (HT) new generation Bt cotton has attracted the attention of many farmers.

 

In addition, with regular de-weeding, farmers have reported a decline in population of other pests too. Farmers have felt the impact of HTBt cotton in terms of lower costs and reduced crop losses, and therefore higher production and income. A field survey conducted by the Department of Biotechnology in 2017, reported that 15% of farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Telangana had planted HT Bt cotton.

 

Likewise, farmers pay a high cost for frequent application of pesticides on brinjal plants. Brinjal, along with chilli are the two vegetable crops where pesticide use is the highest. Farmers’ are exposed to pesticides, and consumers too are potentially vulnerable to  chemical residues in vegetables. Bt brinjal reduces pest infestation, lowers the input costs, and significantly increases marketable produce, contributing to the greater income and welfare of farmers.

 

The Shetkari Sanghatana had informed the Minister of Environment and Forest (MoEF) about the proposed Kisan Satyagraha before the campaign started.

 

The Shetkari Sanghatana doesn’t encourage breaking of laws and regulations. But in the current situation farmers access to advances in science and technology has been stalled for over a decade, despite the availability of Bt brinjal and GM mustard seeds developed within the country.

 

This Kisan Satyagraha is, therefore, primarily aimed to highlighting the plight of the farmers. This is an urgent plea to enable the farmers to have access to modern technologies, just like all other sectors of the Indian economy. The Satyagraha seeks to sensitise policy makers and build awareness among citizens about the unjust restraints placed on Indian farmers.

 

The Demands

The Shetkari Sanghatana has identified six key demands as the basis for the ongoing Kisan Satyagraha.

 

  1. Approve Bt Brinjal immediately, since all the regulatory processes had been completed. Both the technical committees, RCGM and GEAC, satisfactorily concluded in 2009, that Bt Brinjal is safe for human and animal consumption, and for release in to the environment.

 

  • Bangladesh used the same safety dossier that was produced in India, for considering the release of Bt brinjal in their country in 2013. There has been no adverse impact on humans and animals, nor any signs of adverse environmental impact detected. Today, more than 50,000 farmers are growing Bt brinjal in Bangladesh.

 

  1. Expedite the regulatory process to approve GM mustard at the earliest. GM mustard technology has been evaluated for over the past decade, and found to be safe. New technologies in oil seeds are urgently needed to meet the growing demand, opening new opportunities for farmers, while reducing the need to import.

 

  • Japan is the largest importer of Canola oil extracted from rapeseed hybrids grown in Canada. The same GM technology has been used in mustard in India. Canadian Canola oil sells at a premium because of its health benefits.

 

  • GM mustard is an indigenous product very useful in the production of hybrids in the self-pollinated crop. Once approved, a series of new hybrids with better quality and higher yield can be generated. This will open new avenues for existing companies as well as new start-ups, who would be able to engage many young biotechnology students, who are currently crying for productive employment opportunities.

 

  1. Farmers participating in the Kisan Satyagraha must be allowed to undertake demonstration field trial for HTBt cotton. The farmers will adopt a simplified and common protocol to test the efficacy and economics of the new seeds on their fields.  The farmers are compelled to take great risk by using unauthorised and unbranded seeds, and misdirected government policies are solely responsible for this unwarranted situation.

 

  1. Farmers must be compensated in full, for any loss of investment, assets and income, if their crops are to be seized and destroyed by the government for any reason. The farmers must be duly informed of the reasons prior to any action, so that they may seek legal remedies if necessary. It must be recognised that the farmers are the victims of the unproductive regulatory environment, rather than perpetrators of any crime. Farmers are the principal stakeholders in agriculture, and their freedom to decide on crops and technologies of their choice must be respected and protected.

 

  1. The regulatory processes governing agricultural biotechnology must be completely overhauled. The regulators must narrow the focus to basic biosafety issues, and not look at efficacy or economic viability of the GM product. Regulators must adopt the best lessons and research findings from across the world, and not seek to reinvent the wheel.

 

  1. Ministry of Agriculture must revoke the price control order on Bt cotton seed. The cost of seed is just around 5% of the total cost of growing cotton, and farmers had not called for lower seed prices. Withdrawing the price control order will encourage developers of herbicide tolerant (HT) technology to submit their products for approval. This will ensure that farmers benefit from genuine seeds.

 

  • There is a need to recognise and respect intellectual property rights, to encourage the scientists to develop new technologies and products. Prices must be governed by commercial considerations and negotiated between concerned entities.
  • The price control order has encouraged fly by night operators selling spurious and fake seeds, greatly increasing the risk for farmers. It has almost halted the introduction of newer and better GM technologies to the detriment of Indian farmers.

 

The future beckons

After the green revolution in the 1970s, cotton has been the most successful agricultural produce in the past two decades. Powered by Bt cotton, in just ten years, our farmers have made India the biggest cotton producer, and the second largest exporter of cotton in the world.

 

However, Bt gene is just one small aspect of genetic engineering for control of lepidopeteran insects. Agbiotech offers a wide range of strategies to manage diverse challenges confronting agriculture, such as salinity and drought tolerance, herbicide tolerance, improved nutrient use by plants, delayed ripening of crops to extend shelf life, crops fortified with necessary vitamins, hybrid technology in self-pollinated crops, and many others.

 

Across the world a dozen GM crops have been approved so far, and these are being grown over 185 million hectares, in more than two dozen countries. Hundreds of millions of people, including Indians travelling abroad, have consumed many products made from GM crops over the past two decades, without any adverse impact on health.

 

The potential of agbiotech to improve farmers’ income and welfare, and create new economic and employment opportunities needs to be recognised, and facilitated by the government. Information technology opened new vistas for young educated Indians. It spurred entrepreneurs and technologists to seek new avenues, creating huge economic and employment opportunities. For the past twenty years, while the potential of agbiotech has been repeatedly stressed, the regulatory bottlenecks and political indecisiveness have robbed Indian farmers access to latest advances in science and technology, while stifling the prospect of bright young Indians, who are looking for new opportunities in agbiotech.

 

The Shetkari Sanghatana invites every farmer and urban dweller, irrespective of organisational, social or political affiliations, to join this campaign to transform the face of Indian agriculture. The  Sanghatana hopes that an early resolution of these issues would greatly contribute to the welfare of every Indian, consumers and producers of crops.