It was the biggest line-up of farmers’ organisations and they came to Delhi from all parts of the country with one clear message: they did not want to grow the genetically modified (GM) version of one of the country’s most popular vegetable, the brinjal. The leaders looked mild enough but they said they would resort to “direct action ” if their voice was not heard and they said they represented 200 million farmers in the major brinjal-growing states.
Leaders of four of the country’s largest and most vocal of farmers’ groups, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), which says it represents 115 million cultivators in the northern states, the Shetkari Sanghatana of Maharashtra, the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha and the Tamizhaga Vyavasayigal Sangham of Tamil Nadu met in Delhi today in the wake of the regulatory body ’s approval to the Bt brinjal that has been developed by Mahyco. Last week,the Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC) gave its stamp of approval to the country ’s first GM food crop, the Bt brinjal, after its expert committee said that Mahyco’s controversial data was in order. This paves the way for its commercialisation once the government gives its nod.
Reaction has been swift. The farmers’ organisations meeting under aegis of the Coordination Committee of Indian Farmers’ Movements, led by Yudhvir Singh -–he is the Delhi president of Mahendra Singh Tikait’s BKU –- decided they would take ‘direct action’ if the government did not respond to their queries and concerns.
The questions are basic. Why does the country need a GM brinjal when there is surplus production leading to a glut at times? Why is GM brinjal being thrust upon them when they did not ask for it and are dead set against it? Why is the government not promoting more ap-propriate and proven methods of cultivation that has the backing of even the World Bank?
Singh says the coordination committee has sought an appointment with the prime minister and is also planning to meet the ministers of agriculture, health and environment to put forward their concerns. These are many,starting with their contention that the pesticide use will not come down with the introduction of Bt brinjal because Mahyco ’s technology, as the company itself admits, only takes care of the fruit and shoot borer. There other pests like aphids, jassids and white fly apart from problems like fungal disease.
“With brinjal,the crop losses are no more than 20 per cent which is normal with most crops,” points out Vijay Jawandhia of the Shetkari Sanghatana. “What we need is a comprehensive pest management system for brinjal and not a GM variety that is effective against just one pest.The Bt brinjal,as in the case of Bt cotton, will need heavy pesticide spraying for the other pests.”
The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Secunderabad,a research institute part funded by the government of India,believes it has the answer. Its Executive Director G V Ramanjaneyulu, made a startling revelation at the meeting. Farmers in Andhra Pradesh who opted for ecologically sound and economically viable methods of farming which excludes the use of pesticide have found their incomes growing significantly in addition to promoting health and environmental benefits.
In coming days,the farmers plan to step up their campaign if the government does not offer a convincing reply, warns Singh. The farmers, he adds, are on the warpath.