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In 1865, a child was born in Madras, India. Her parents named her Lucy Deane. As destiny would have it, in 1893, Kensington Vestry (UK) wanted to hire women Inspectors where, at that time all inspectors were men. Lucy Deane was hired and was a factory inspector. In 1898, she cautioned the authorities that asbestos was causing lung disease. The report collected dust. It took a century and in 1998, EU and France banned all forms of asbestos. (1)

As we stand today, Government of India has approved the use of GM Mustard for use in India. Like all throughout the world, there is a pro-GM and anti-GM groups in India. There have been spate of articles and influential voices who are supporting GM Mustard and its widespread use, without knowing the ramifications. Those who are against it are being labelled Luddites, risk averse, unscientific, elites and hypocrites. With government approving this, we know where the government stands.

Comparing the incomparable:

In a recent article in Indian Express(2), an author compares Viagra, Insulin and cell-phone towers and makes a point whether the elites sought zero risk proof for these products. First it pitches the GM crop as pro-poor and pro-farmer and insinuates all others as elites who swallow Viagra and go out to protest. Let me not rebut on this clever ploy of making this about one man versus the other.

The larger stupidity of this is the comparison of risks of Viagra against the risks arising out of a GM Crop. Though it is appealing to the common sense and immediately identifiable, its conceptually flawed from the first word. Viagra is a thin tailed risk and GM is a fat tailed risk. Thin tailed risks are common sense probabilistic and form the majority of Risk Management. The world as we see, revolves around with the use of such risk.

Insurance, the business which completely relies on risk had a seminal paper by Filip Lundberg in 1903 which formed the basis of what risk managers and many insurance actuaries know as Ruin Theory. Ruin is “the physical destruction or disintegration” which has no chance of recovery. There cannot be an un-ruin. Rebuilding is not bringing back the same structure which was there. By ruin, in this context, we mean the ruin of the complete system. This is not fear mongering and is grounded on sound logic and evidence.

The system here is the nature. This system is so complex that we cannot predict the weather pattern for the next month. The complexity of the system also makes the impact of GM crops unquantifiable. In 2005, UNESCO with its advisory body World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), released a paper called as “The Precautionary Principle.”(8) It states:

“The emergence of increasingly unpredictable, uncertain, and unquantifiable but possibly catastrophic risks such as those associated with Genetically Modified Organisms, climate change etc., has confronted societies with the need to develop a third, anticipatory model to protect humans and the environment against uncertain risks of human action: The Precautionary Principle (PP).”

What it states is essentially this: lets protect before something bad occurs and not get into the damage control where we may not have any chance. This paper also puts forth when we need to apply this principle. Just by quoting this, we cannot stop the human progress.

Conditions to satisfy are:

  1. Complexity of the system
  2. Unquantifiable scientific uncertainty

If we look at GM Crops, it is a tailor case to apply this principle.

One, interaction of GM Crops with nature cannot be ascertained because nature is highly complex system and it is non-localised. Two, the impact is unquantifiable. Applying the risk of ruin, which essentially states that the impact cost will be infinity, and any non-zero probability will make the overall risk as infinity.

This is not same as one crore road accidents nor losing Titanic nor losing MH370. These are localised risks. Or the aforementioned opinion item provocatively mentions – Viagra.

Anyone who states that GM is completely safe is fooling us and fooling themselves. A recent study has revealed unintended mutations were induced in mice by a genome editing technique. And we are not sure how that will affect GM Crops.(3)

Thus we can safely conclude, that this is a system which must be seen from the Precautionary Principle and Ruin Theory view.

For detailed study of these risks, please read the books The Black Swan and Antifragile by Nicholas Taleb.  Also, he, along with many has authored a paper on GMO based on Precautionary Principle.(7)

Anti GM is essentially anti-corporates:

This is another lie that is being spread against the principled, theory and research oriented stand against GM Crops. What this essentially states are that since the anti-GM group, doesn’t like profits, are somehow socialists or communists and hence hate corporate profits. The same author(2)chides us for being perfectly fine with the duopoly of only Boeing and Airbus for travel and iOS and Android for mobile. Be that as it may, let me not address the trap again but the logic why this is wrong.

Nature provides biodiversity. What we essentially see in GM crops are close to monoculture. The single minded approach to GM crops as espoused by the pro-GM side is productivity. More, for less. More, for less land. More, for less water. More, for less pesticide. More for less, insecticide. More, for less fertilizer. Even our love of our own mother has some negatives but nowhere will you find any negatives that the pro-GM lobby presents with us. This is logical.

Let me present you another evidentiary proof. Between, 1845 and 1852, more than 10 lakh people died of famine in Ireland, also known as Great Famine of Ireland or Potato Famine. The root cause of this is a blight had wiped out the entire crop in Ireland.  What is also said and repeated many times, which we tend to forget is that the entire population was dependent on just one or two varieties of potato.

Now, you can see that why one loss of MH370 is not as same as a crop failure.

Now, you can see why the risk is unquantifiable and the losses in this case is near infinity or what we call as ruin.

With our single minded aim to improve productivity, we are laying the foundation for the unknown. Again, this is not fear mongering to be ignored, this is rooted in risk theories and in history.

Recent studies have also shown that GM crops may not be as insect resistance as we might have thought.(4)(5) This states that there is an evolutionary resistance to the GM crop. Again, we do not understand the nature as much as we think we do. And as stated above, nature is complex.

Mankind has always tampered with crops:

This is another half-truth that is being peddled by the lobby. For example, we are shown a black rose which is not available in nature but has been modified by the influence of mankind.

In 1865, Gregor Mendel, gave a speech on his experiments on peapods. The translated title of that speech stands “Experiments in Plant Hybridisation.”(6) This is essentially wrong comparison, again. Methodologies, processes and techniques were human but the ‘law of selection’ was left to nature. But, in present GM crops, we tend to select on behalf of nature. And herein lies the greatest issue we have.

Mankind have played with crops and animals. All the dogs that we see are examples. The interracial kids that we see are examples. We, you and I are examples of this selection. But nowhere but in GM crops have we altered at this micro level, the DNA.

The march of technology is inevitable. The advancement of science is unstoppable. But what can be and must be done is to make these crops into more and more trials till we are near certain that there won’t be any systemic impact of ruin.

The Precautionary Principle also states that the burden of proof does lies with the entity which brings into the system the GM crops.

To borrow Sun Tzu, “it’s a matter of life and death. A road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry, which can on no account be neglected.”

  1. http://www.wilpf.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Streatfeild-Lucy-Deane.pdf
  2. http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/gm-mustard-us-them-the-farmers-4683373/
  3. http://www.gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/17657-crispr-induced-mutations-what-do-they-mean-for-food-safety
  4. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carey-gillam/new-research-shows-failin_b_14003604.html
  5. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0169115
  6. https://archive.org/details/mendelsprinciple00bate – Page 317.
  7. http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/pp2
  8. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001395/139578e.pdf

This post was originally published here.

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When you begin with a conclusion and backfit "science" to prove it, absurd things happen.The Holy Cow seems to be one such absurdity plaguing India these days. Trumpeting the importance of the cow, the Hindutva right governments are all out to "protect" said cows by preventing all cattle slaughter. While cow slaughter is already banned in most states, Maharashtra now takes another step up the bovine ass to ban all cattle slaughter, meaning calfs and bulls that could earlier be slaughtered with appropriate certificate can no longer be killed.

This, naturally has implications statewide as the bulls get reduced from economically viable livestock to a liability overnight in addition to the cows. The idea of bans on cattle slaughter itself is economically problematic in a country with a large number of poor people. From the obvious removal of beef as cheap nutrition for economically weaker sections to the removal of specialities on menus of non-vegetarian restaurants that serve beef (buffalo meat is tougher and not completely substitutable). From the removal of the prized beef from the meat exports leaving only the tougher carabeef (buffalo meat) to instant losses for cattle owners who will no longer have buyers for their livestock.

While the move is projected as a pro-Hindu move, in reality, there is a significant number of eaters who are Hindu, but even more importantly the economic loss to the cattle owners is largely among Hindus - since Hindus are greater in population, own land and livestock in greater numbers. The largest beef exporters in India are Hindu. Meat eaters can eat other meats, it is livestock owners that are left with nowhere to dispose off unviable livestock, let alone profit from it. As drought stricken farmers take up loans to transport bulls to cattle fairs in a desperate effort to sell them, they still don't find buyers. Who would buy bulls in an era of motorized transport and slaughter bans? What would one do with the bull? Our champions of the Hindu Rashtra appear to not have thought that far. Yet as drought sweeps Maharashtra, there is going to be an urgent need to sell people further driven to ruin by the cattle slaughter ban some con about why they cannot sell their animals for slaughter instead of feeding them non-existent feed and watering them with scarce water.

Alas, the problem is, in their hurry to protect, they haven't quite figured out what to do with the cattle that don't get killed. More than that, the impracticality not being a deterrent, they are aiming to expand such "protection" across India. Jharkhand may follow suit with a similar expanded ban. But how can this be done without appearing to be complete idiots?

The efforts are relentless. It helps that the greatest defenders of the slaughter ban have never been responsible for looking after cattle and are free to expound on the merits of a live cow over a dead one. Thus they are completely free to use all their creative faculties with scant regard for practicalities. "What we don't know can't inhibit us"appears to be the new mantra. All sorts of uses for otherwise useless cattle are being found - namely dung and urine.

The premise of the Gobar economy, as I've started calling it, is that excreta is more valuable than feed. Therefore, the grass that has passed through the body of a cow is not as valuable as the dung that exits the other end. Or, more accurately, you will earn enough from dung to cover the cost of grass PLUS the money you'd have earned from selling the animal for meat. And of course they don't get laughed right off the social networks because most people there have no idea what grass, dung or cow meat costs in India. They also appear to have no idea that fertile milch cattle too provide dung and urine as additional utility and ban or no ban, no sane cattleowner butchers milch cattle because they are too profitable to be sold for the one time price of meat.

Yet, they do not seem to have hurried to construct their cow protection centers - probably because their rural staff aren't complete idiots and will be wondering where the money for care comes from once the propaganda utility is over. Still, it does not serve to stem the torrents of absurdity spewing in social media in a desperate bid to prove that an economic loss inflicted on cattle owners by those who profit from ideology and not cattle; is not actually a loss.

Here are some such statements:

Would you kill and eat your mother?

No, but I wouldn't tie her in a shed either.

A cow doesn't have to be given special feed if she isn't giving milk. Just grass and water.

Grass doesn't manifest from thin air. It grows on land, has to be cut into bales, transported, fed. Paid for. Grazing can only last so much. But of course, you can always leave your "mom" at a garbage dump for some takeout. In Maharashtra where we have drought in a fifth of the state before the monsoon ends, we are talking of an animal that drinks an average of 60 liters of water a day. Have you ever watered a cow? I have. A twenty liter bucket and half each time offered twice a day doesn't sound excessive at all. Particularly in hot weather. This would be ferrying three LARGE buckets of water PER COW, DAILY. In places like Marathwada, children are quitting school to help families find and ferry enough water to survive. There are people marrying water wives not so far from Mumbai - their only job is to ferry water. Someone want to explain how simply giving water to a cow three times a day is a minor thing for the sake of faith? How many of the loudmouth laptop jockeys would ferry three buckets of water out of respect for their real mother?

Uses of cow dung and cow urine

The uses of cow/bull dung and urine are the same whether the cow is a productive one or non-productive one. Makes no sense to maintain a non-producing animal for the sake of excretion. Additionally, buffalo dung is practically interchangeable with cow dung as fertilizer or plastering floors and walls of mud homes.

The government has jumped in with all its four feet to make cows more useful.

Maharashtra is now promoting organic farming

This is no doubt a very welcome step, except the government is also promoting GM crops. Organic farming depends on a very robust ecosystem of organisms that keeps pathogens and pests at bay. Genetically Modified crops have a high dependence on chemical inputs - which destroys the ecology. When push comes to shove, is the government that betrayed their largest supporter group to push GM crops, going to create the chemical free space organics will need? Let us see. If they do, it will be great. Unfortunately a cynical part of me believes that the farmers will be pushed toward the two opposite goals simultaneously and left to deal with the results and absorb consequences on their own.

Cow urine disinfectant

This is probably the most alarming of the lot. The idea is not entirely impossible. Cow urine is used in some organic pesticides already. However, the idea that because it is non-toxic for humans and can be safely used to control several pests does not automatically mean that it will work to prevent vectors of infection among humans. Inherently, there is nothing in cow urine that would prevent organisms that decompose living matter to thrive - cow urine, for example can be happily added to compost heaps without any harm to the decomposers in it. For that matter, so can human urine. Excellent sources of nitrogen to get a compost pile hot fast. For someone into organic farming, the idea that anything that can be added to a compost pile will prevent growth of microorganisms is a little difficult to digest. No pun intended.

Still it is possible that the cow urine is processed in a manner that enhances its action against pathogens. Not impossible. There are many other organic products that have proved safe for medical use - for example sphagnum moss for absorbent dressings or maggots to clean infected wounds.

There appears to be no conclusive research that would indicate its suitability in an environment where humans in fragile health would be kept. To run a trial of such a disinfectant in the ICU of a hospital - monitoring or not treads into several problematic areas.

  1. To begin with, trials are best conducted by scientists and not politicians.
  2. Trials conducted without consent are ethically problematic.
  3. Even utility in a human environment would not establish safety in a situation where sterility is a requirement. Many pathogens occur naturally in the environment but are rarely a problem unless they manage to find a host. Examples would be Fusarium wilt in plants or tetanus among humans. Given that hospitals often have patients with injuries and the target use appears to be sterilizing instruments in an ICU (of all things!), the risk also needs to be assessed in terms of safety around open wounds.

By default, organic and sterile have a problem co-existing and while I am all for organics, it is important to recognize that hospital treatments are often not organic to begin with. The need to promote a cow urine based product, with dubious and currently unproven safety directly in a high risk environment stinks of "research" invented by PR departments. A scientific mind ought not to have a problem with systematic testing for target use before deploying in real life situations.

A scientific mind ought to have a problem with human trials without consent and a scientific mind ought to be asking who is responsible if irreversible infections happen.

All this STILL will not explain how unviable cattle can find an alternative viability that is greater than the input into their care. It still will not explain how cattle dying horrible painful deaths from plastic ingested in garbage heaps where these "mothers" are abandoned by their "sons" is more pious than cattle well cared for till they are finally butchered. It does not explain how cows abandoned at garbage dumps but buffaloes and bulls (till recently) being fed well for slaughter respects cows. It does not explain how it respects cows for them to be turned into an economic liability for owners, nor does it explain what the government's right is, to pay public funds for the passive upkeep of thousands of animals that could feed people, while people die of hunger.

Even Savarkar had recommended allowing cattle slaughter if that made economic sense.

But is our cow infested right wing willing to relook at the gobar economy and allow the poor to make choices that sustain them?

While we all agree that research and science are important and that innovation shouldn't be blocked, here's a little devil-in-the-details sharing about GM (genetically modified) foods technology.

The present GM varieties being marketed, those being in focus, are defective models that a company shouldn't be pushing to market. Kind of like releasing a car model whose braking system the company's management internally knows tends to get defective after the first 10,000kms, so they decided to test the car only for 1000 kms. Results were positive so it went into production and is now being aggressively marketed. The industry regulator believes that there is no further independent testing of the car needed since they already know that it is safe, from the 1000km test. The top boss of the regulatory commission happens to be the car company's former high-level employee. Oh, and IPR (intellectual property rights) laws ban any third party from conducting any kind of tests on the car, they're quite strict about that. If you as an independent consumer try to conduct any test or research on this car model, you're likely to get sued and loose everything you have in lifelong litigation, and your research results likely cannot be accepted as evidence. Hence, the car company isn't doing the tests needed and isn't letting anyone else do them either.

The car is now released for open trials, which isn't actually a test for safety; it's one for studying financial potential and performance metrics. But people are led to falsely believe it's a safety test and the car company likes it that way. This test isn't being conducted in separate off-limits proving grounds or Top Gear style retired airport runways where the car being tested wouldn't interact with normal civilian traffic.. several units of the car are actually being driven actively all throughout the country, including on the streets you cross everyday, highways, expressways, AutoBahns etc, by regular people and with children in the back seat. The law of the land has exempted the company from any liability or any obligation for call-back or money-back should anything unfortunate happen, since the regulatory agency has already declared it to be safe. No one wants to talk about what will start to happen when the users of this car cross the 10,000km mark. Right now there are very few first-buyers who have, and the company is quick to respond to any complaints with the standard "it's the driver's fault, we are not liable" reply.

As per our current wisdom which is brought to us by our academia, government and media, all the people who are protesting against the release of this car model or its open testing are hereby decreed to be against technology and anti-progress, anti-science, and should not be listened to. Otherwise society will end up going backwards and we will all die for lack of cars, as if there isn't any other company on the planet capable of manufacturing the requisite number of cars (scroll down to find out that there actually is).

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Coming back to the GMOs.. two main technologies:

BT : they produce a toxin that supposedly only harms one specific insect (in the patent they're classified as pesticide and not as food), but it turns out that humans and that insect are not from different planets after all and share certain physiology. Hence, that toxin is turning out to be harmful to living organisms other than that particular insect, surprise surprise. Plus, it turns out that insect is already evolving to beat the BT-toxin, and there's other pests coming in too, resulting in farmers having to resume spraying pesticides on their crops. That ruins the single most important USP of BT technology : that pesticides would no longer be required. The technology was basically betting that biological evolution doesn't happen. (and that's Intelligent Design for you). It also turns out horizontal gene transfer does exist as a phenomena.. the technology was betting on the assumption that it didn't. Which means that the BT-toxin-producing tendency is capable of "installing" itself into other plants as well as the human body's gut bacteria : that itself was a very grey area and treated as non-existent until quite recently.

HT  or "Roundup-ready" herbicide tolerant : glyphosate tolerant.. the recent Mexico court ruling was mainly about glyphosate. It's a toxin right up there next to DDT and friends, and its devastating effect on pollinators like bees (without whom you can't have most plant reproduction) as well as on humans is only now being brought out. If you remove the glyphosate herbicide, that GM crop is useless.. the whole technology was betting on the assumption that glyphosate only kills every single other plant in the whole field (making multicropping impossible btw) but is perfectly safe for humans and other non-plants (despite Monsanto in their own fields mandating their employees wear fully enclosed protective suits and not get in contact with any particles in the field).

Some other technologies being explored:

Golden Rice : It is being compared only with rice, and so is claimed to provide more necessary nutrients. The assumption here again is that people only eat rice and nothing else. Foods like drumsticks (Moringa) have more of those nutrients than the Golden Rice can ever hope to achieve, and it's far cheaper to increase their consumption in the target population. (this thing and others like it literally grow on trees) But the assumption is that people prefer eating only and only rice in their meals and will never ever touch anything like drumsticks, so one must try squeezing all the required stuff into the rice only while forgetting that there are other items in people's meals and the rice was supposed to be for the carbs.

DNA structure:

Also, it turns out that plants are not predominantly left-brained like the people who designed the GM seeds. So DNA is quite messy and integrative, whereas the gene theory upon which the entire GM technology is based, says that DNA is linear and reductive. It assumes that there is an exact input-to-output relation between gene and characteristic. So they thought that precisely X gene sequence controls Y characteristic, and its placement or removal will then control only and only that characteristic of the plant and have absolutely no side effect whatsoever on the rest of the living being and its other characteristics. It was assumed that there is no integrative overall structure  or inter-relationship between the various parts of the genetic sequence. Typical assumptions of the techno-savvy left-brain mindset. All very neat and orderly, a place for everything and everything in its place. Turns out that assumption was false, DNA is integrative and inter-relational, and one drastic change in one part tends to have other effects on other characteristics too which they didn't bother to check out, since the assumption was that nothing else will get affected.

So it's not like the flagship products of the GMO sector have "a few chinks to iron out". The very technologies they are based upon have lost their core USPs in light of emerging realities, and have become redundant. You can't make an improved version of a floppy disk : it's pointless, you need to go back to the drawing board and look at the whole thing again from an improved understanding of the science of food.

Some websites where you'll find good info on this topic:
GMO Evidence
GMO Seralini  : this European scientist repeated Monsanto's same feeding trial on rats that had "proved" safety of their GM products, but made one tiny alteration: He ran the experiment for 2 years instead of Monsanto's 3 months. (after which their opposition to independent testing really kicked in!) The result : After 2 years of eating them, those GM foods seem to be the exact opposite of safe, and the rats that managed to survive the feeding trial are just not what you'd call "perfectly healthy". To this day, Monsanto is refusing to accept the research's results, but not daring to repeat it, which would have been the scientific way of proving something wrong, which happened to them (Seralini repeated their study and got disputing results). They even terminated another long-term study of theirs midway and refused to share the results with anyone. So for someone who supports science, it's worth questioning which side of science are GM producers on? If they are pro-science, then why are they and their supporters opposing independent scientific research?

8 ways Monsanto fails at sustainable agriculture

Videos : Genetic Roulette, Seed Freedom, Bought... there's many independent films out there which channels like Discovery don't want to show, even if the film-makers themselves aren't charging any money. (saala tereko free mein itna mast maal mil raha hai... fir bhi wohi purane shows repeat pe repeat karte jaa raha hai tu?). But there's surprisingly no independent films out there (not in my years of looking around) which make any case FOR GM foods. It seems every independent film maker out there working on food sector is against GM only, while every corporate studio wants to religiously avoid sharing these objections. Wonder why?

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Now, for those who don't care about the harms part and want to "be positive" and focus on the gains, here's a 30-year side by side growing study by Rodale Institute (they incorporated GM when it became mainstream). Tested conventional non-gm, GM, organic.
Farming Systems trial: 30 year report

Result? Organic won hands down. Greater yield per unit area, lower costs, lower inputs, lower CO2 emissions, negative damage to soil (ie, soil health improved year on year). Everything that the world's  scientists and our governments have been desiring from a technology to grow food, delivered without the pesky patents or high input costs. And what's more, it's an industry alternative that while lowering the bottom line, actually creates more jobs (with zero work related illnesses) at the same time! Organic technology has much higher job creation opportunities, while simultaneously having much lower costs than GM technology! Now you'd object that this organization might have had some bias (but apparently Monsanto conducting its own tests has no bias). May I point you to the scientific method : The best way to prove a research study wrong is by repeating the experiment as defined and publishing your results.

Note: There are presently heavy government subsidies given to the competitors, and the market dominance combined with lack of market mechanisms for decentralized organic technology are hampering these cost benefits from making their way to the retail end. That changes when more people join in and market share increases, and this sector is witnessing exponential growth right now, with the first adopters being everyone from politicians' families to movie stars to industry leaders to well-educated people. Like in any other technology's life cycle, early adopters pay higher but this funds the technology and enables it to come into its own.

What makes things difficult here for those who love technology and internally bracket everything natural as non-technological and backward, is having to eat humble pie and admit that nature might be technologically more advanced than present human attempts in at least ONE sector (saala ek ko jaane do, kya jaata hai tumhaara?), and might have a solution that is still far better than what our best scientists and mega-corporations have come up with so far. Given the fact that she has had a multi-billion year head start and access to a planet-full of resources to tap into for her research, we shouldn't be so surprised and definitely not so jealous of her. On our end, more research should happen of course, but it should happen safely, without treating you and me and our children like lab rats. Defective products shouldn't be pushed to market for the sake of recouping investments made so far. If you know your closest competitor is so far ahead of you, then you should either invest in researching something like GMOs for the long, long run (I'm talking multiple human lifetimes here), or not invest at all and simply go for the best alternative solution available that delivers better, even if you can't earn royalties off it. But it's wrong to get impatient or greedy and push defective products to market just for the sake of showing a profit this year, and it's wrong to use massive government subsidies, IPR and friends in high places as a crutch to conceal your product's defectiveness.

And that's pretty much what all your "anti-technology" friends are trying to tell you. Nobody's being anti-technology. They're just warning about defective products that can cause irreversible harm. That is all. On the other hand, they are also actively supporting organic technology which seems much more promising, so it would be nice if we didn't have anti-technology and anti-science people and mega corporations unnecessarily harming progress.

March 2, 2015

Declaration of the Organic Farmers community of India at the 5th National Organic Farmers’ Convention, 2015, Chandigarh, India

The organic farming community of this country, represented in strength by over 2500 participants at this fifth National Organic Farming Convention, pledges to carry forward with renewed strength our endeavour to mainstream agro-ecological farming practices across the country. The gathering, comprising practicing farmers, including women, tribal and adivasi people, seed savers, ecologists, scientists, non-governmental and community organizations, is supported in this effort by the international organic farming community spread across 130 countries and represented by IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

We reiterate our conviction that agro-ecological farming practices are the only way forward for meeting the nutritional, livelihood, socio-cultural and spiritual needs of our people, including those of future generations. This conviction is strengthened by the experiences of our farmer friends in Punjab and Haryana who have paid a high price and sacrificed their environment and the health of their people. We pledge to stand by them in their journey to recovery and restoration.

We, the participants representing the organic farming community of India, declare:

  1. Organic farming practices CAN meet all the food and nutritional needs of our nation, and it is the only sustainable way to safeguard the food security of present and future generations. The growing number of organic farmers and rising demand for organic produce is evidence of its rapid spread.
  2. The IAASTD World Agriculture Report, authored by 400 international experts, including UN representatives, and endorsed by 58 nations, including India, recommends agro-ecological practices and small family farms, suitably adapted to local needs and conditions. It adds that GM crops are no solution to hunger, poverty, climate change as well as ecological, energy and economic challenges.
  3. We categorically reject Genetically Modified Organisms as an unnecessary technology with numerous potential hazards. It is also an example of bad science. We also object to open field trials of GM crops, since they pose a threat to our food, farming and environment, while blatantly disregarding recommendations of several Government, Parliament and Supreme Court appointed committees.
  4. We pledge to safeguard the integrity of our eco-systems and work towards the conservation, protection and re-generation of soil health, water resources, forests, biodiversity and seed sovereignty.
  5. Land, water and other natural resources must be prioritized for sustainably meeting basic needs and nutritional security. Land under food cultivation must not be allowed to be diverted for other purposes through forced land acquisition. Similarly, water resources for irrigation must be directed to essential food needs rather than water guzzling monocultures of sugarcane or other industrial non-priority uses.
  6. Forest habitats and traditional access rights of forest dependent communities must not be undermined, as uncultivated forest foods and medicinal plants have played a critical role in the lives of those residing in the country’s tribal forested regions.
  7. The current form of chemical agriculture is completely dependent on steadily depleting resources and leaves farmers vulnerable to foreign/corporate dependence. This must not and cannot continue.
  8. All agri-chemicals should be progressively phased out; and the money thus saved used to propagate and support ecologically safe food growing practices. Suitable budgetary allocations must be made for mainstreaming agro-ecological practices.
  9. The educational curriculum and calendar in rural India needs to be sensitive to local agricultural practices, needs and rhythms. A land-based pedagogy must become an integral part of education in rural India, with suitable adaptations for urban India.
  10. Agriculture departments and universities need to reorient their attention to agro-ecological systems and practices, including reviewing their curricula, evaluating hidden costs of technologies they recommend, and aligning research activity to the needs and challenges of the local community.
  11. The role of women, the mainstay of a self-reliant agricultural system in India, needs to be recognized, acknowledged and supported, in terms of land rights as well as support from the government.
  12. The Organic Farming Community appreciates the Haryana government’s efforts to revive indigenous breeds of cattle. Since this is crucial in facilitating self-reliant agriculture, we seek such policy initiatives from other state governments as well as the central government.
  13. The public distribution system must source food from the local/ bio-regional neighbourhood in which it is consumed. The convention suggests a grid of several localized markets as one of the ways forward.
  14. We demand better marketing support from government agencies so that the organic producers have assured demand and fair prices for their produce.
  15. Govt schemes such as MGNREGS, NRLM and SLRM should support agro-ecological practices as they supplement economic needs of farming families, landless labourers as well as people in distress.
  16. India has a great wealth of crop diversity with unique features like nutritional/medicinal qualities, drought tolerance, salinity tolerance, pest resistance, and flood tolerance. This diversity has been conserved and shared by farmers as an open source collective heritage belonging to all. The concept of private property rights over such traditional heritage is alien and unethical in this land.

The largest organic farming confluence in the world – over 2,500 participants from 22 states of India – gathered at the National Organic Convention in Chandigarh from Feb 28 to March 2, 2015. The flood of registrations had to be stopped a month in advance. Such zeal surely signals the growing recognition of agro-ecology as a burning imperative of our times, reflecting the Convention aim to ‘Mainstream Organic Farming!’

At the concluding session, Shri Prakash Singh Badal, Chief Minister of the frontline state of India’s ‘Green Revolution’, ironically hailed organic agriculture as “the need of the hour,” marking the full turn of a circle. He mourned the heavy burden of chemical poisons that the land, farmers and people of Punjab have had to bear, admitting sadly that “Mother Earth, Father Water, and Guru Air” have all been desecrated. Toxic pesticides have devastated the health of Punjab. “You people,” said Badal – addressing a packed auditorium of organic farmers, seed savers, ecologists, scientists and activists – “are the heroes of this new struggle to save the nation!”

The CM called for making Punjab the leading organic farming state of India, with diversification in place of present extensive monocultures. Announcing a 50% state subsidy for rearing indigenous cattle breeds, he also offered to provide retail/distribution shops and facilities for selling organic produce. Declaring the setting up of an Organic Farming Board, he promised panchayati land to set up a demonstration organic farm in every block of the State.

Earlier, at the Convention, Shri Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana, accompanied by his Agriculture Minister, pledged state support to turn at least 10% of its total cultivable land to organic farming. Smt Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister of Women and Child Welfare, rang out a grim warning against the highly dangerous neo-nicotinoid pesticides (used for treating Bt Cotton seeds) that were slaughtering the pollinating creatures like bees, an estimated 70% of which have already been wiped out. This would severely harm agriculture, unless banned, as in the European Union. “The owners of Bt cotton lied to us,” declared the Minister. “They told us that it doesn’t require pesticides… but now, we find that Bt cotton cannot grow without the most dangerous pesticides in the world.”

A few years ago, the beacon IAASTD World Agriculture Report bluntly stated: “Business as usual is not an option!” Prepared over 4 years by 400 international agricultural scientists/experts and 1,000 multi-disciplinary reviewers, this Report was endorsed by 58 nations, including India, as also representatives of FAO, World Bank, World Health Organization, UNEP, UNDP. Its recommendations stressed the urgency to adopt bio-diverse agro-ecological farming, and to support small family farms – to overcome the many serious problems confronting world agriculture. GM crops, it added, are not an answer to hunger, poverty and climate change, or to ecological, energy and economic challenges.

A riot of colours, costumes, cultures and cuisines greeted visitors at the ‘Nature and Kisan Mela’ and its ‘Organic Food Festival’ and ‘Biodiversity Festival’ that continued alongside the deliberations of the National Organic Convention. The Organic Food Festival, with ethnic organic fare from several Indian states, was a big hit. The Biodiversity Festival presented a dazzling display of over 2,000 distinct seed varieties of crops, brought by 270 seed conservator-farmers from all over India. Half a dozen new publications were released. Several book stalls, film screenings and cultural programmes of song, music and dance enhanced the charm of the memorable Organic Mela, dampened a bit midway by rain and wind.

The Convention was jointly organized by the Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI), Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), and Kheti Virasat Mission, in collaboration with the local host organization, the National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research (NITTTR). The deliberations were bilingual, with communications in Hindi translated into English for the participants from the south, and vice versa. Parallel translations into other regional languages – for those who understood neither Hindi nor English – were self-organised by the various state delegations.

The National Organic Convention simultaneously hosted meetings of the Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch (India Seed Sovereignty Alliance). This pledged to regenerate and widely share the enormously rich diversity of traditional crops and crop varieties in India as a collective open-source heritage belonging to all, free of any private/corporate Intellectual Property Rights. The Alliance also sought to reclaim the many thousands of native crop varieties collected from farmers all over India by national and international germplasm banks. It was suggested that every farmer or family should adopt at least one crop variety for decentralized on-farm seed conservation and open-source propagation.

In sharp contrast, Mr Swapan Dutta, Dy Director General, ICAR, declared a few years ago in an interview to the Wall Street Journal, that India had over 4,00,000 varieties of plant germplasm (both cultivated and uncultivated). These included crops with unique features like nutritional/medicinal qualities, drought tolerance, flood tolerance, salinity tolerance, and pest resistance, all of which it was willing to offer corporates for a small share of profits!

GM crops were categorically rejected as an unnecessary technology with numerous potential hazards. The serious contamination risk by recently sanctioned open field trials of GM crops – disregarding the recommendations of several Government, Parliament and Supreme Court appointed Committees – was warned.

Also part of the National Organic Convention was a scientific conference organized by the Society of Agro-Ecology, and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. This saw scientists from prime research institutions discussing with farmers and farmer-scientists their observations and research on soil health, plant nutrition, plant protection, water management, and Iivestock development, especially indigenous breeds.

With so many outstanding farmers around, and multiple parallel sessions on offer, participants felt they could barely whet their appetite. But they carried back a collective energy and renewed confidence, knowing they had a growing fellow community of organic pilgrims and path-finders they could call upon when needed.

Missing the vibrant presence of veterans like Nammalwar, who passed away last year, and of ailing Bhaskar Save, who completed 93 years in January 2015, the 5th National Biennial Organic Convention paid tribute to these towering, dedicated stalwarts, noting that they have inspired innumerable others on the natural, organic path. Tribute was also paid to Sir Albert Howard, considered ‘the father of sustainable agriculture’ in the west, who confessed more than a century ago that he learnt it all from humble peasants in India.

In 2016, the international community will return to draw fresh inspiration from India. It was announced that the ‘International Organic Farming Convention’ organized by the ‘International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements’ (IFOAM) will be held that year in India.

The final 16 point declaration from the convention pledged to safeguard and regenerate our soil, water, forests, biodiversity and seed sovereignty; and to work towards mainstreaming ecological farming in the country as “the only way forward for meeting the nutritional, livelihood, socio-cultural and spiritual needs of our people, including those of future generations.”

The Convention further declared that land under food cultivation must not be diverted for other purposes through forced land acquisition.

PM Narendra Modi called for the North-eastern and hilly states to become an organic hub. But ‘achhe din’ (good organic days) must include all of India! What we need to ‘Make in India’ is an agro-ecological paradise that gratifies all basic biological, aesthetic and spiritual needs, not a global factory for a growing array of resource-hogging and pollution-spewing, non-essential industrial and consumerist goods.

The overarching eco-spiritual tradition of this land is the unity of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the earth is one family in one home. Mother Earth, the only known cosmic body with a living biosphere, must not now become a spew-chamber of chemical-industrial toxins, her inner vitals vandalized for short-sighted economic growth. The organic community is waking to the enormous challenges ahead.

Related reading: Declaration of the Organic Farmers community of India at the 5th National Organic Farmers’ Convention, 2015, Chandigarh, India

Guest post by Bharat Mansata