FORUM - Cultivating Ideas

Indian farmer's leader is not in Italy for the Grand Tour. He is representing millions of farmers who are sinking into their native India's well of rural poverty and he want to tell the rest of the world just  Dr. Krishan Bir Chaudhary is speaking on behalf of Indian farmers. He is the President of Indian farmers' organization an association representing India's small farms. 

On his way to the UN's ill-fated World Food Summit in Rome (July 8-10, 2002), Chaudhary stopped at Slow Food's National Congress held in northern Italy, to talk about what the farmers of India want and what they don't want, which is, in a Chaudhary nutshell, 'control over their own land and no more genetically modified crops'.

In an interview with Chaudhary  spoken of their fight for a return to biodiversity and Indian farming practices.


Chaudhary's agenda is to improve the conditions of India's farmers, he represents approximately 85% of whom work tiny holdings (less than two acres). Citing its failure to lower the price of seeds, implement regulations against GM introductions, lower prices for pesticides, diesel, electricity and farm machinery, he calls the government anti-farmer and is calling for change.

The answer, Chaudhary believes, is a return to traditional diets, organic farming and consequently a more varied diet for more people. It's a preventive approach to the rural poverty, to the endemically low immunity of so many Indians, and consequently to the disease facing his country. 'By a return to traditional farming, foods and lifestyles, the economy and health of our people will improve,' he says.

India doesn't need biotechnology is the message..'Monsanto cannot feed India,' Chaudhary argues. 'What we need instead is a return to traditional farming practices, a return to biodiversity-based ecological farming which is low cost, conservation oriented, low input-high yield system as affirmed by UN-IAASTD. It is the most appropriate technology.'

Farmers have reacted amgrily to the problematic forcible introduction of agricultural biotechnology in India.

Chaudhary illustrates with an example from one region in southern India, where in only one month just under 500 farmers committed suicide. He explains why: 'The biotech salesmen told the farmers that their profits would rocket with these new seeds, that they would need to spend far less on pesticides and that bumper crops would be a certainty'.

So the farmers bought GM seed, signed loans to do so and bought pesticides to spray on the buffer zones. But agriculture, being the messy, unpredictable business that it is, didn't play nice. The harvest was one of the region's worst, with monsoons wiping out every crop and the farmers left with nothing but debt.

Chaudhary takes over the narrative, explaining that the shame of debt was too great for many of these farmers: 'Some killed themselves, some sold their kidneys or their children's organs just to stay alive. I'm not making this up; these are the results of industrial agriculture'.

Since then, we have been fighting industrialized agriculture on every front. As Chaudhary says, 'We're fighting against GM crops, water privatization, Land acquisition, unreasonable regulations and the government'. Our organization is also working directly with the farmers, holding workshops to explain their rights, how the biotech system works and how they can regain control over their seeds and land.

'Don't think we're blindly against science or technology,' Chaudhary says, 'we're right behind anything that can help the farmers. However, almost every instance where GM crops have been introduced in India, the farmers have suffered terribly'.

As Chaudhary explains, 'By its very nature, biotechnology must inherently change agricultural systems'. Farmers from America's mid-west to India's deep south have always shared, cleaned and re-sown their own seeds. But with biotechnology, wherever it may establish itself, seeds become patented commodities, farmers sign complicated legal contracts with every purchase of GM seeds and this binds them to an agreement not to re-sow.

This means that farmers are obliged to buy new seeds every year. Companies such as Monsanto have gone so far as to set up toll-free phone numbers where people can phone in and report neighbors, friends or family suspected to be re-sowing their seeds.

Chaudhary says, 'This monopoly system means that the farmers become slaves'. Our 'diversity is the basis of our rural future. Our farming culture is based on the tradition of sharing seeds, knowledge and benefits. Industrialized, GMO based agriculture has no room for sharing.'

'But this diversity is under great threat, from the globalization taking over our agro-economic system and culture,' Chaudhary continues, 'Kellogg's and Nestlé produce nearly all the food sold in our country today. Our national foods don't exist anymore in many parts of India and because of this our agricultural systems are under threat. Monocultures are eating away at small scale, patchwork agriculture.'

“ Chaudhary nods and concludes that, 'Biodiversity means traditional foods, traditional health, satisfying livelihoods and no more urban poverty. We must keep poverty off the streets and, with a healthy agriculture system, this would happen.”


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