New Delhi/Pune: The conspiracy theorists of anti-GMO lobbies are facing a formidable political challenge for the first time in India. After farmers across several districts in Maharashtra defied the ban on genetically modified cotton to buy and sow herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton (or HTBt cotton) and got the support of the Shetkari Sanghatana, the liberal-economy promoting Swarna Bharat Party (SBP) has extended its support to what these cultivators call their satyagraha.
Two weeks after the launch of Kisan Satyagraha for GMO in the presence of 1,500 people, with Lalit Patil Bahale planting HTBt cotton seed at his farm in Akoli Jahagir village, Akot tehsil, in Akola district of Maharashtra, on 10 June, the grassroots movement has gathered steam. Farmers from 10 districts in Maharashtra have joined the satyagraha.
Two major programmes were held on 24 June. One was at Adjoin Budruk village, Telhara taluka, Akola district. The other at Sita Mata Mandir in Raveri village, Ralegaon taluka, in Yavatmal district. Other than sowing the new-generation cotton seeds and expressing their support for GMO breeds like Bt brinjal and GM mustard, two new decisions were announced at today’s events.
A select few progressive farmers, a press release by the SBP says, will set up a demonstration in field trials to test the efficacy and economic viability of HTBt cotton. Secondly, farmers in Maharashtra and their friends will contribute whatever they can in support of Jeevan Saini, the farmer in Fatehabad district in Haryana, whose brinjal crop was uprooted, buried and burned by the local administration in May, on reports of it being unauthorised GM brinjal.
Every day, over the past two weeks, ordinary farmers, and leaders of farmers’ organisation, Shetkari Sanghatana, from different parts of Maharashtra are coming forward to plant new generation HTBt cotton varieties in their fields. So far, farmers from ten districts, Ahmednagar, Akola, Amravati, Buldhana, Dhule, Jalna, Jalgaon, Parbhani, Wardha, Yavatmal, have joined hands to plead for access to the new generation of GM technology in cotton, as well as brinjal, soya, maize, and others crops.
A similar programme was held at Shegaon (Kund), in Hinganghat taluka, Wardha district on 20 June. A few days earlier, Madhusudan Harne and other organisers had submitted a letter to the newly elected MP, Shri Ramdas Tadas. The Hon. MP raised the issue of difficulty faced by farmers in view of the lack of clear laws and policies governing genetically modiÞed crops, during the Zero Hour in Lok Sabha on 21 June.
Field trial of the GMO HTBt cotton by farmers
Laxmikant Kauthakar, head of Shetkari Sanghatana in Telhara taluka, of Adgaon Budruk village, in Akola district, explained his aim to set up a demonstration Þeld trial at Gordhanaba field, by following some of the common guidelines and practices. Over the next couple of weeks, over a dozen progressive cotton farmers are expected to declare their intention to conduct similar demonstration trials to test the efficacy and economics of HTBt cotton.
Such farmers will select a contiguous parcel of land, ranging from 1/2 acre to 1 acre. Divide the parcel into three equal plots, with a gap of 6 feet of clear ground between and around these plots. A different kind of seed will be planted in each of the three demarcated plots – in one traditional non-GM cotton seed, in another the conventional Bt-cotton (BG II), and the alleged HTBt cotton in the third one. The field trial parcel would be surrounded by suitable non-cotton crops, for about 50 to 100 feet, to provide a degree of insulation to the trial parcel. This is expected to be a multi-location demonstration.
Each of the three plots will receive the same treatment. The seeds would be sowed at the same density in these three plots. Irrigation, fertiliser, pesticide, weeding, herbicide, etc., will be applied consistently as per the standard guidelines in all the three plots. The intensity of pest infestation, flowering, ball formation, etc. will be monitored and counted according to standard practices. Records will be maintained in a suitable format, which will be shared with experts for analysis, at the end of the cropping season.
The pro-GMO farmers undertaking the demonstration will invite others, farmers, scientists, agronomists, economists and other experts to visit these fields to observe the progress of the crop, and advise. Ajit Narde, head of science and technology cell at Shetkari Sanghatana, said the organisation was committed to advising the farmers on best agricultural practices.
The farmers recognise the risk they are taking, since the unauthorised seeds they are sowing, assuming it to be HTBt, may turn out to be spurious or fake. But this only underscores the vulnerability of the farmers in the current policy paralysis over agriculture biotechnology.
The farmers are the prime victims of the prevailing regulatory environment. The farmers are only pleading for the freedom to adopt the technology of their choice, be it GM, organic or zero budget, or any other practice.
Sirf News is a pro-science news and views website. We hold no brief for any GM breed developer or seller. At the same time, we find the demonisation and rejection of genetically modified organisms (GMO) lock, stock and barrel by organisations like the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch downright unscientific. Equally, we deplore all governments that yield to the pressure of this powerful lobby, whose belief system is dictated by contents of some spurious websites, the owners and content providers of which, in turn, are American and European interest groups (a euphemism for “lobbyists”).
There is consensus in the community of agriculture scientists that GM crops pose threat no more than traditionally grown crops. Every breed, therefore, be it of a naturally occurring or genetically modified variety, needs to be tested and any conclusion reached must be based strictly on the results of the scientific test. Thereafter, the breed can be used or discarded — or used in a time-bound, geographically restricted manner — depending on the extent to which science says the breed will be safe and useful.
The percentage contribution of agriculture to the GDP of India is constantly falling (from 53.1% in 1950-51 to 15.2% in 2016-17). Economists have started worrying why such a large section of the population (around 45%, down from the level of more than 65% at the time of independence) must remain in the vocation. For the sake of increasing farmers’ income, which happens to be one of the goals of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, low-cost, high-yield crops are unexceptionable. Given the impracticality of large-scale organic farming, GMOs are the only alternative. Yet, let only such breeds be used that pass the scientist’s scrutiny. The likes of SJM activists are not scientists.