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Translation of a German article on the recent civil disobedience by farmers

The following is a machine translation of the German article here.

Completely unnoticed by the German public, farmers in India practiced civil disobedience in June. They protest that the Indian government is preventing effective measures to protect the environment and crops.

When it comes to the protection of the environment or protests against genetic engineering, German media are usually fast on the spot. There even creates a demo with 300 participants in the news . The fight of activists against genetic engineering in other regions, such as Argentina, the Philippines or India – for example against genetically modified soy and cotton or the Golden Rice – is widely reported. The fact that farmers who go out on the streets in India and practice civil disobedience was ignored this week may be due to the fact that they took to the streets not against but for genetic engineering. It would also be worth while for the German debate to deal with the history and arguments of this protest movement. After all, in Germany even among the Greens there are meanwhile groups that consider genetic engineering to be an annoyance to the concrete fraction (“let’s not, do not we need, the debate is over”) as an important and helpful element in efforts to make agriculture more sustainable shape and adapt to climatic changes.

PREHISTORY

India’s politicians are taking a gentle course in terms of genetic engineering. In 2002, they approved a genetically-engineered, insect-resistant cotton variety called Bt cotton. But unlike in other countries, this was the only plant so far. The reason: After the market launch, the protests of political activists swelled in such a way that the government has since moved on the question of further approvals. While the farmers – mostly small farmers – are hardly organized, there are several right and left parties in India that strictly reject genetic engineering for various reasons and thus find support, especially in the big cities. In addition, there are a handful of influential activists and western-funded NGOs (an in-house Indian government investigative report identifies five activists and seven organizations, including Greenpeace) who repeatedly protest against GM because they believe that this technology is bound to have an environmental and health impact Carries risks. 

It does not do any good that the success of Bt cotton was outstanding: Just eight years later, almost 90 percent of Indian cotton production was made for this variety. It reduced insecticide consumption by 41 percent, while harvest increased by 30-40 percent. Farmers’ profits even increased by 50 percent , although Bt seeds were nearly twice as expensive as conventional ones. Small farmers in particular could profit because the usual size of an Indian cotton farm hardly exceeds three hectares. Another effect: The poisoning by dubious remedies against insects, which was common among small farmers, declined. Even farmers who cultivated conventional cotton benefited from the insect resistance of the new varieties .India, by 2002 a net importer of cotton, is today the largest cotton producing country in the world.

But these achievements refute the claim made by activist Vandana Shiva and unproven for years by Western NGOs and the media that insect-resistant cotton would “fail” and cost hundreds of thousands of those heavily indebted because of the expensive seeds of suicide. In addition, this tale is disproved by the death statistics of the Indian authorities as well as numerous official and scientific studies .

RESISTANT PESTS THANKS TO ACTIVISTS

However, India’s existing legal uncertainty regarding the protection of intellectual property had a disastrous effect. De facto, there is currently neither variety nor patent protection for seeds – the Indian government is following the slogans of anti-GM activists who reject “patents on life” and argue that seeds should be freely accessible and replicable and replantable by anyone , However, since the cost of producing a GM crop variety is considerable, the seed companies prevent the reproduction of their legally unprotected varieties in a technical way. They sell hybrid varieties in India – unlike in all other countries of the world. Although it is not possible to prevent offspring, the subsequent generation loses its yield and resistance. It is not worth it. The farmers still grow the plants because the benefits are evident to them. However, the hybrid Bt cotton varieties are not optimal. They grow into larger and bushier plants and therefore can not be planted as densely as the patented and non-hybrid Bt varieties (11,000 to 16,000 plants per hectare instead of 80,000 to 100,000). In order to make up for this disadvantage and still be able to harvest enough cotton, the farmers let the plants grow longer. Another disadvantage: cotton plants from hybrid seed each contain only one copy of the resistance gene. In addition, the lack of patent protection has led to a now unmanageable number of varieties that promise all Bt resistance but are often of poor quality. These factors – overgrowth, half dose of Bt toxin, bad seed quality – are the reason that in India (and only in India) Bt cotton has become resistant to important cotton pests – a fact from which Western genetic engineering opponents triumphantly deduce that genetic engineering had “failed”. A detailed discussion of these claims can be found here .

BLACK MARKET FOR SEEDS

To circumvent all these problems, more and more Indian farmers have acquired and cultivated new Bt varieties not authorized in India in recent years. This is illegal, but the demand is so great that there has been a flourishing black market for GM seeds in the cotton-growing regions for decades. In fact, it existed before the official launch of the first Bt cotton . Illegal Bt-resistant cotton varieties have been repeatedly identified for years in random samples in the major cotton-growing regions. Presumably, the seeds are smuggled from neighboring Bangladesh, a country where genetic engineering is much less ideologically considered. But it can not be proved so far. Seedlings and seedlings have long been on the black market   of other varieties and plants used in the production of genetic engineering. For example, representatives of Shetkari Sanghatana, an association of farmers in the state of Maharashtra, India, also believe that glyphosate-resistant cotton seed is being illegally grown, to about 10 percent of India’s 12.2 million hectare cotton acreage. Here, activists against genetic engineering immediately accused Mahyco Monsanto Biotech, a joint venture between Bayer’s subsidiary Monsanto and India’s Mahyco Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds, because this company had applied for approval for a herbicide-resistant cotton variety and later withdrawn because of the Indian government’s course of retreat in genetic engineering. However, a government commission investigating the case concluded that it is a variety sourced from smaller Indian seed producers . Illegal cultivation is also available with aubergines. In recent years, samples of genetically modified varieties have repeatedly been found. This fruit, called Brinjal in India and Bangladesh, is a staple food in both countries, but cultivation is a gambling game because pests such as the eggplant boar keep destroying large parts of the crop. It is known from Bangladesh that 50 to 80 times per season are applied to conventional crops and up to 140 times in exceptional years to insecticides. Nevertheless, the harvest losses can amount to 70 percent in some years. This has been over in Bangladesh since the introduction of insect-resistant Bt Brinjal varieties in 2014. The four varieties have spread rapidly because of their successes . According to the government, in 2018 they were already being cultivated by more than 27,000 farmers – that’s about 18 percent of the 150,000 small-scale farmers who grow eggplants in Bangladesh. The income of the farmers who grow Bt-Brinjal increased by an average 55 percent; the use of insecticides fell as expected by 70 to 90 percent. The environment also benefits .

STANDSTILL IN INDIA

These successes have also spread in India, and farmers as well as agronomists have long been pushing for the marketing of insect-resistant Brinjal varieties in India as well.   But there is a standstill there. As early as October 2009, the Indian Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the competent Indian approval authority, judged that a Bt aubergine developed in India was safe for people and the environment. India’s farmers would have been even more likely to get Bt aubergines than their counterparts in the neighboring country. Under pressure from NGOs, most notably Greenpeace, the government passed a moratorium on licensing in 2010 , which remains in place today .Again and again new reports are obtained, which, as soon as they are available, are judged to be inadequate with good regularity. Then new ones are commissioned. There are also processes that drag themselves through the instances. The same goes for some other plants. At the University of Dehli, a herbicide-tolerant mustard oil plant was developed, which was assessed as safe by GEAC 2017 – it is not approved. A similar fate is also likely to flourish in a peanut that is resistant to aflatoxin-producing molds (a dangerous poison that can cause liver cancer in consumers) and a pest-resistant pigeon. All projects are from academic research in India. But where the need is great, there is a market, and as the Indian government does not move, the farmers have begun to take matters into their own hands – legal or not. Remember the mosquito plague that currently prevails at the Ammersee, on Lake Constance and the Upper Rhine (” 460 mosquito bites send footballers to the clinic “).Here, too, those affected push for remedies, but the NGOs accuse them of unilaterally emphasizing the “interests of humans”, instructively point out the role of mosquitoes in the ecosystem and, before making a decision on fighting mosquitoes, ask for multi-year studies , And on top of that there is the hint that the mosquito infestation is made by human hands.

SELF-HELP OF THE FARMERS

In India, too, the excitement of anti-genetic engineering associations financed by Western or European and US-funded associations is high. They complain bitterly that the Indian state does not prevent smuggling and the black market. But the government is largely powerless. Although the illegal cultivation of such crops threatens to destroy the fields and impose fines of up to Rs 100,000 (approximately EUR 1,274) and up to five years in jail, the Indian authorities are unable to control thousands of fields of Indian peasants. They also lack the capacity to seamlessly monitor the border with neighboring Bangladesh. In addition, in the villages, hardly anyone understands what is wrong with the new seed: the crops are rising, the quality is good, insecticides and working hours are saved (insecticides are generally applied by hand in India) and healthier lives , If in doubt, the farmers are unaware and use the “no-GMO, no patents on seeds” activists brought about and idealized state in which each seed can produce and sell. The Hindustan Times quotes a farmeraccused of illegally cultivating Bt-Brinjal: “I was looking for a variety that could handle the eggplant burger better … A man told me he has a resistant strain. He gave me the seedlings at a bus stop in Dabwali, on the border with Punjab. I have no idea where his breeding station is. “What the anti-GM activists are even more excited of is the results of recent analyzes that show that even the illegal Bt eggplant is not the sort of hated Monsanto company , They put forward a long-planned sabotage of biodiversity integrity in India, but variants that were presumably developed at academic institutions in India.

OPEN RESISTANCE

For the first time, organized farmers have had their say in this mixed situation. They are openly committed to deliberately cultivating cultivated varieties using genetic engineering.They simply can not see why they should be further condemned to growing crops that require virtually daily use of insecticides and still produce poor yields. And they also do not see why they need to get hold of plants on the black market that sometimes work, but sometimes they do not. Black markets are especially lucrative for fraudsters, and seeds and seedlings do not show their quality until months after the goods have been purchased, when the man from the bus stop is long over the mountains. Farmers are calling for the release of varieties that have been declared safe by GEAC. To bolster their claims, they seeded herbicide-resistant cotton last week in the presence of heavy police forces and television cameras. They also planned the cultivation of Bt-resistant eggplant, but could not get enough seed on the fly. They place their action in the tradition of Satyagraha, the basic attitude developed by Gandhi, to appeal to the reason and the conscience of the opponent through non-violence and the acceptance of punishments. We want to “motivate more and more farmers to reject unreasonable agricultural restrictions,” said Lalit Patil Bahale, a peasant farmer from The Wire . Anil Ghanwat Chairman of the Shetkari Sanghatana (Farmers Union) organization in Maharashtra state, said the same newspaper: “A dozen genetic engineering plants such as corn, soybeans, cotton are grown all over the world and have consumed millions of people and livestock for two decades , There is no evidence of any harmful effects on the health of humans or animals. Contrary to claims that genetic engineering would pollute the environment, genetic engineering is actually reducing the use of pesticides that can harm many beneficial insects. In fact, genetic engineering is increasing biodiversity, and because it reduces crop losses, it reduces the need to convert more land into agricultural land. ” According to newspaper reports, other farmers have joined the campaign and planting publicly herbicide-resistant cotton.Activists responded with well-known statements based on false figures and factual claims .They were also quick to blame the Bayer subsidiary Monsanto as mastermind . Vandana Shiva tweeted, a “gang set up by Monsanto lobbyists to violate the ban goes into criminal action.”

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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