(Dr. krishan Bir Chaudhary)
The seed is the first link and the basic need of the food security of the country. It is a sacred code of evolution, an embodiment of life and memory, a latent world waiting to unfold. The seed gives itself to earth – warm soil, air and moisture – and comes alive. Drawing energy from the sun, it grows and multiplies manifold. Each seed and plant is unique.
Like the earth and the sky, the immense biodiversity of seeds is our collective heritage. Gifted by nature, and the cumulative innovations, adaptations and selections of many generations of farming communities, these seeds belong to all. They are our most vital wealth, essential for survival. They cannot be seen as mere commodities, to be bought and sold at will.
Allowing any variety of seed or plant to become a proprietary resource is a violation of natural justice, and a great suicidal blunder of modern economic civilization.
India is a global centre of origin and diversity of rice. Over 60,000 distinct rice seed varieties have been collected by Indian agricultural research centres. Many more yet grew in farmers' fields, adapted to diverse conditions. About 19,000 rice varieties were collected by Dr Richharia from just Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, of which 1600 varieties were found to be high-yielding. We have a rich diversity too of wheat, millets, pulses, coarse grains, oilseeds, vegetables, tubers, fruits, spices, and medicinal plants. About 25,000 Indian varieties of dry-land crops are held by ICRISAT alone.
Much of our crop seed wealth has ended up in distant gene banks – like the IRRI in Philippines, CIMMYT in Mexico, or Fort Collins in USA – far from its rightful owners and the cultures in which they were rooted. This wealth represents the collective bio-cultural heritage – including biodiversity, food culture, ecological knowledge and value systems – of local communities that freely shared and passed them down from generation to generation. It is also the most vital resource that must be reclaimed by us to safeguard our future livelihood options and the people we feed, especially in a scenario of climate change and increased farm vulnerability to erratic weather conditions.
With the inevitable growing scarcity and mounting prices of non-renewable fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers, as well as rising water shortages, the High Input Variety seeds supplied by agro-industry – tailored to optimal conditions – are sure to face a sharp decline in yield. Unless our farmers are able to adopt bio-diverse agro-ecological agriculture with their own traditional, locally adapted seeds, severe food scarcity looms ahead.
Today, the danger to our priceless heritage of agro-biodiversity – from proprietary commercial hybrid seeds and GM crops – is graver than ever. The GM crops threaten severe contamination of our local crop varieties through cross-pollination, as seen in the case of corn (maize) in Mexico. The aggressive marketing of GM crops also drives local varieties out of circulation, as witnessed by the near total erosion of traditional cotton varieties in India.
The creation of 'Intellectual Property Rights' (IPRs) of plant breeders over seeds and plants, especially under the 'Trade Related Intellectual Properties' (TRIPs) provisions of the World Trade Organization, combined with restrictions on unregistered traditional seed varieties, is an assault on our agro-biodiversity and its free, unhindered use. Such criminalizing of the natural rights of farmers and farming communities, whose ancestors nurtured such diversity in the first place, is a mockery of natural justice.
Together with the sanctioning of genetically polluting GM crops, this represents a concerted thrust by agri-business to wipe out our rich heritage of agro-biodiversity. All legislations and treaties that abet the biodiversity privatization of our collective genetic heritage, carving out proprietary spheres for exclusive use, must be discarded into the dustbin of history. Our failure to do so will ultimately destroy our agriculture and many millions of agricultural livelihoods, and the food and nutritional security of all.
(Editorial : Kisan Ki Awaaz Magazine)