Jul 2, 2009

Bt cotton game in Pakistan

A few days ago we had discussed how Bt cotton was being illegally pushed in Pakistan (The illegal way to promote Bt cotton in Pakistan: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com/2009/06/bt-cotton-seeds-smuggled-from-india.html). It was interesting to observe a number of similarities between the way Bt cotton was pushed in India, and almost the same strategy being now followed in Pakistan. In India, it was allowed to be illegally cultivated in Gujarat, and once the issue flared up the GEAC directed the State government to destroy the standing crop. The State government of course expressed its inability to do so.

In Pakistan, smuggling of seed from India is rampant, and the government looks the other side.

Meanwhile, Monsanto has been given a free hand in importing, testing and pricing its Bt cotton seeds. Shoaib Aziz has in response to my querry (through Najma Sadeque) sent me the following dispatch. One thing that emerges out clearly, and which many of you who have been following the way public sector institutes behave in India, is the way Monsanto lords over research institutes in Pakistan. In India too, Monsanto has taken a complete control over agricultural infrastructure -- and Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) is the second biggest public research infrastructure in the world -- and I find Indian agricultural scientists being dictated and bossed over by Monsanto/Mahyco officials.

In US/EU we are talking of the revolving door. In India and Pakistan, all doors have been opened for Monsanto/Mahyco/Syngenta/Du Pont and ISAAA officials. You can't imagine the level to which the ICAR system has degenerated. A large number of young scientists have been telling me how suffocating it is to work for ICAR now. The senior lot, and that includes the top administration of ICAR, Vice-Chancellors and Deans of the Agricultural Universities and the Directors of national institutes are merely pawns in the hands of the multinationals. There may be a few exceptions here and there but by and large the system rots.

I wonder when will the UPA-2 begin to disinvest the ICAR institutes. After all, if these institutes have to do exactly what the MNCs are doing, why should the tax-payers money go in supporting these research centres. I know there would a hue and cry if the government gives a thought on disinvestment, but let me assure you the country's food security is more under threat from a 'colonised' ICAR than without it.

Here is Shoaib Aziz's update from Pakistan:

Government has allowed Monsanto to begin its trials on Bt Cotton in Pakistan. Although companies are not allowed to bring foreign seed in Pakistan but Monsanto has been given special permission and exempted from these rules. They have brought 29 hybrid and Bt cotton varieties in Pakistan and have started trials.

Despite our hectic efforts we could not obtain the information of their trial fields. We have been told by officials of Ministry of Environment that Monsanto is conducting trials in four places. We do not know who is monitoring these trials and what mechanism has been adopted to protect neighbouring fields.

In 2010 Monsanto will start marketing their seed in Pakistan. No body knows including officials from Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) about the price of Bt cotton seeds that Monsanto will bring in the market. It is being said that Monsanto has been given free hand to arbitrarily set prices of its seed.

We are astonished to see the role the government officials play, who are behaving and giving gestures as if they are not employees of government but rather employees of Monsanto. MINFAL has set up Bt cotton promotion body in their department and including two hand-picked farmers from Punjab and Sind. Let me remind you both farmers are close associate of MINFAL and it is alleged that both farmers play role of brokers between MINFAL and agriculture companies to benefits both actors.

Last November, during ActionAid consultation forum on Bt, both government officials Dr. Tasawar from MINFAL and Dr. Yousaf from NARC over-vehemently supported Bt cotton for Pakistan. Civil Society and farmers present in the forum were shocked to hear their point of view.

I have been told that Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) has imported two ton Bt seed from China and distributing among farmers freely in Punjab and Monsanto is perturbed over import of Bt cotton seed. We are trying to acquire more information in this regard and as soon as we get the information, I will let you know. Moreover, we have put this issue on SAAG agenda and we will further discuss it on SAAG retreat.

Best regards
Shoaib Aziz


Aziz said...

Thank you Devinder for highlighting this grave issue in your blog entry, It is horrifying that the mainstream media in Pakistan has completely evaded this topic. Monsanto is out on a crusade of trying to acquire the license to own food and hence control whole populations that are going to become eventually dependent on their GM seed varieties, not to talk of the spill-off effects of their poison herbicide RoundUp. No wonder they are the creators of agent orange too. The concerned officials in the Pakistan's MINFAL are just mites or worker bees trying to serve the larger goal of their whoever their queen bee is.

Gunja Farishta said...

Mr. Aziz,

Is there an action group against the introduction of these seeds? Is something being done by the civil society?

I am shocked to learn about this and even more shocked to find that there has not been much uproar in the media or internet blogs.

What can we do about this?

Aziz said...

Mr Farishta, I happened to revisit this blog just now and saw your response to my comment. You see the dilemma in Pakistan is the the the hapless populace is to caught, or rather has been subjugated to energy, terrorism and socioeconomic woes that it is more or less detached from the close-door deals of the govt and multinational entities. Yes there have been voices that have been raised in certain posts such as those part of Defence.pk. Other than that, the mainstream media is silent on this issue, and in fact extol the virtues of Bt cotton as being a panacea for Pakistan's ailing cotton industry rather than a stranglehold.

Off late, I have come across a locally developed cotton that is capable of resisting cotton pests on a better footing than Bt II cotton. It has been created by scientists working in a public agri-research institute who intent to disseminate it freely amongst cotton farmers. They actually filed a patent for this in 2007 but before it can be released, the government has already gone ahead and signed a letter of intent with Monsanto in 2008 whereby consenting to the company propagating its various products at hefty royalty fees to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. I have documented the development of the locally developed cotton as a case-study and further intend to promote its awareness to the people through my newspaper articles.

Anonymous said...

Introduction of Bt cotton in Pakistan has been advocated mainly by pro-Monsanto scientists like Dr. Yusuf Zafar and Dr. Kauser Malik. Back in late 90s they wanted Monsanto's terminator technology introduced in Pakistan. And subsequently worked to promote their material in Pakistan, the so-called CLCV resistant Bt cotton. Later they changed their approach and started working on resistance against worms rather than white fly and were able to release some IR varieties. But certainly they paved the way for Monsanto in Pakistan. It is right that they helped Monsanto monopolize agriculture production in Pakistan. Now, it is the turn of genetically rice and wheat, that may be the most severe threat to food security in Pakistan.