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‘Foreign Entities not letting India become food self sufficient’

These groups are Greenpeace, Climate Works, Ford Foundation, Huvos, Cordaid and IDRC, says a report.

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 12th Jul 2014

ix foreign NGOs based in wealthy countries, many of which themselves permit such innovations, have thus far succeeded in blocking Genetically Modified Foods (GMF) from getting introduced in India, documents available with The Sunday Guardian show. The entities are Greenpeace, Climate Works, Ford Foundation, Huvos, Cordaid and IDRC.

While some of the concerns expressed by the small but effective anti-GMF lobby in India (such as dependence on overseas sources for seeds) are real, others (such as that such foods are injurious to life) are not. The documents show that the expertly cultivated access enjoyed by foreign NGOs to media outlets has led to a drumbeat of reports that such foods are inherently disastrous to health, of course in an unspecified "long term". Diseases such as cancer and even dementia have been ascribed to "long term" ingestion of genetically modified foods, ignoring the fact that in the total global cropped area, 32% of maize and 74% of soybean, apart from 81% of cotton, are already based on genetically modified (GM) organisms, and that consumers in the world's largest economy, the US, have been ingesting GM foods for 15 years without any noticeable side effects. The till now effective infowar blocking GMF in India also ignores the fact that Indian biotechnologists working in 17 companies in Gujarat were able to develop their own varieties of BT cotton some years ago, and that the new strains have been embraced by cotton farmers across the country. There is no reason why genetically modified foods such as BT brinjal too cannot be locally developed and disseminated to farmers.

Documents available with the Ministry of Home Affairs say that foreign (or foreign-funded) NGOs have repeatedly claimed that there have been more than 800,000 "farmer suicides" across the country over the past 15 years. Apart from the fact that the figure relates to the total of reported suicides across the country, rather than just from the farming community, neither the NGOs nor the Indian activists taking up their war cries can explain what such suicides have to do with GMF, given that they have blocked the introduction of such foods across India. The only exception to such a blockade is cotton. A freeze got introduced in 2010 on field trials of both BT cotton as well as BT brinjal. However, in the case of BT cotton, Gujarat has quietly pioneered self-sufficiency in the new technology. The documents say that the consequence of Gujarat's success has been that "India is on the way to becoming the largest exporter of cotton goods in the world. Cotton yields have risen by 168% in ten years, while farmers have increased acreage by 29%", contrary to the view being spread that such innovations are deadly for the welfare of farmers.

Scientists say that a similar numerical boost can be given in the food sector, provided the ban on such foods gets removed. Interestingly, although US consumers extensively partake of such foods, much of the funding for the anti-GMF campaign in India comes from US entities such as the Ford Foundation and Climate Works, besides those perennial foreign blockers of (i) innovative technologies in foods and (ii) needed boost to power supplies in India. These include Greenpeace and Cordaid, besides the Canada-based IDRC and the Netherlands-based Huvos, all of whom have expended large sums on their campaigns in this country.

The documents say that "a well-funded and expertly orchestrated campaign designed to deny India self-sufficiency in farm products is being carried out" over the past decade. Interestingly, while several foreign backers of such agitations are religious fundamentalists opposed (in underdeveloped countries, though seldom their own) to "tinkering with God's design", in India, it is the opposite end of the political spectrum that provides oxygen to such movements. In their case, the motivation is antipathy to "development through corporates", even if in the process, no or very little development at all takes place, as was seen in Bengal for decades.

The MHA documents reveal that should an Indian citizen agree to be active in the anti GMF campaign in India, there are a plethora of foreign agencies willing to fund such efforts, provided that the activist (a) gains access to the media, and (b) is skilled in using the legal system to block or to slow down the introduction of the targeted new technologies in agricultural products. They are also enabled to (c) give talks and lectures across the country, so as to create scares in the public. An example the reports point out is the wholly imaginary claim that "hundreds of cattle and sheep died (in Warangal AP) after ingesting BT cotton leaves", or that "there were hundreds of recalls of genetically modified foods over the past decade", when the actual figure for such recalls is zero. Although the worry that foreign countries may secure monopolies in matters such as provision of seeds to farmers is justified, the BT cotton example shows that domestic companies are easily able to produce substitutes to the products of the foreign giants interested in entering and dominating the Indian market. However, as yet there is a ban on the field testing of such foods, thereby effectively blocking them from possible use in the future. The NGO-friendly UPA government made no effort to unblock such barriers to the use of foods that have the potential to boost farm production manifold in the country. Of course, this would mean lower food prices, something unwelcome to the mafias controlling key farm products, and whose sole interest is to boost consumer prices to as much as the market can bear. Such mafias are beneficiaries of the GMF and BT bans operational in India, stoppages which prevent other crops from gaining for farmers the advantages that new technology has brought to cotton cultivation in India.

The reports speak of four Indian activists who have "most assisted foreign NGOs succeed in their mission of denying selected new technologies in the domestic food sector". These are Aruna Rodrigues, Suman Sahai, Kavitha Karuganti and Vandana Shiva. It needs to be said that the integrity and dedication to the public interest of all four is beyond doubt. However, they have fully accepted the conclusions and tactics of global NGOs seeking to prevent India from accessing selected technologies that are already commonplace in the production of food consumed by 2 billion people across the globe, including in several high-income countries who would be expected to be solicitous of the health of their citizenry. The success of the lobbying conducted by the anti-GMF NGOs can be gauged from the fact that even a Parliamentary Committee and a Technical Expert Committee (which coincidentally was made up almost entirely of experts with a record of opposition to GMF) separately recommended a ban on even routine trials of such foods for an initial period of three years from 2012. Interestingly, two local NGOs active in the Block GMF movement, ASHA and IFSF (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture and India For Safe Foods), are headquartered in the company of four anti-nuclear power NGOs at the same address, a two-room flat in Katwaria Sarai, New Delhi. The anti-nuclear power NGOs are PEACE, CNDP, INSAF and JSSS. Interestingly, the foreign funds received by them come from the same international organisations bankrolling the anti-GMF movement, including Rs 7. 5 crore from German entities.

Interestingly, a media campaign seems to have started against agencies pointing to the agenda of foreign NGOs that openly seek to deny India the energy and food production needed to lift hundreds of millions of the desperately poor to levels adequate for an acceptable lifestyle. Given the success of such infowar efforts, it seems unlikely that the success of BT cotton (produced entirely by domestic companies) will soon get replicated by the introduction of BT brinjal and other GMF designed to boost farm production to levels which would end the stranglehold of agriculture mafias on markets and thereby lower farm prices across the country, while boosting farmer productivity and incomes. "We are lucky these NGOs were not around in the 1960s, or India would never have had a Green Revolution", an official remarked, adding that "this is a country that is easy to mislead and to panic, especially to those having deep pockets".

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