Friday, March 11, 2005

Seeds of disaster, seeds of hope

March 2nd:

This day was spent in Delhi, the center of power, the land of movers and shakers etc. etc. I was to meet Devinder Sharma, a well-known expert on GATT, WTO and agricultural issues. Due to a delayed train, I landed up in his house at an earthly time (unfortunately, my brother-in-law and his wife couldn't have gotten much sleep in Babina). Devinder-ji and his wife, Meeta-ji provided hospitality in true Punjabi style. We discussed various issues he is involved in, WTO policies and the newly passed Seed Act etc. The Seed Act was passed as an Ordinance along with TRIPS and is, to put it mildly, atrocious. According to it, anyone in possession of seeds not registered with the Government is in violation of the Law. The main implication of this Act is that farmers will no longer be able to legally save seeds from their last harvest or barter among themselves. They will be forced to buy seeds from the market, incurring not only high costs but also the risk of ending up with spurious seeds.

In the meantime, a conference on Food security organized by Navdanya was in progress. I decided to go and attend the second day's session. Revathi and Nammalvar-ji were also going to be present. The conference was in the Constitution Club near Connaught Place. About 150 people seemed to be present. Among other talks, there was one by a Greenpeace activist, a brief speech by an anti-Coke village activist from Plachimada, Kerala and an impassioned diatribe against those who are destroying fishermen's livelioods by Fr. Thomas Kocherry from NFF (National Fishworkers Forum). Later, I talked with and was talked to by a number of people from various groups in and around Delhi. I also met Nammalvar-ji, an old bearded gentleman who could easily be mistaken for a 'sadhu'. The display at the conference included a list of farmers who have committed suicide in the last few years – a grim reminder of the tough times Indian farmers are going through.

In the afternoon, I met Mr. John and Pallavi of CEC (Center for Education and Co-ordination) along with Devinder Sharma. CEC is a networking group that advocates for Labor rights. They are fighting to include a social clause in the WTO and to have labor rights determined individually during Trade Agreements. They also study various trade documents to understand the ramifications for Labor groups. They have been co-ordinating with NFF and working with tea and bamboo workers. They have also been working on the issue of occupational health for sewage workers and studying the effectiveness of child labor laws

The meeting was to plan activities during the Global Week of Action, a week-long series of events to focus attention on the WTO and International trade and its effects on India. 19 states and 20 sectors (areas of work) had been mobilized at this point. Separate activities were being planned for Farmers' groups. Another effort was to organize a debate with G-20 members before their meeting in New Delhi on March 18th. Overall, the idea seemed to be to keep government and media attention on these issues.

Finally, in the evening, I met Dr. Ramoo, director of CSA. He had presented a report on the failure of Bt cotton in Andhra during the Food Security Conference. He mentioned some amazing statistics – the total pesticide use in Warangal and Guntur dts. in Andhra is equal or more than that in Punjab and Haryana combined! Thus, he said, fighting against pesticide use in these areas is a burning need. The Bt cotton report had also brought out something interesting – records had been manipulated to show success for the crop in outright contrast to the evidence of the fields. A 1 had been converted into a 7, 2 into a 4 and so on. Greenpeace had managed to document this evidence and had come out with a film that was being released the next day. All this evidence was also being presented to GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee). “This is the way we have to work,” commented Devinder-ji. “ Evidence from the field has to brought forward, systematically documented and shown to as many people as possible.”

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