Sudan famine, food crises in 3 countries deserve urgent action

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) is united with the United Nations and the farmers and peoples of the world in raising the alarm over the famine in South Sudan and the grave food insecurity in Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria.

These food crises deserve the urgent response of governments and their organizations all over the world. After UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres announced the famine and the grave food insecurity in these countries on February 22, the Somali government has announced that 110 people have died of hunger in just two days. Thousands of Somali are travelling to the country’s capital Mogadishu in search of food and water.

Knowledge of the severity of the food crises needs to be spread all over the world. The drive for humanitarian assistance for the said countries needs to be hastened, as no less than actual lives are at stake.

Even as we contribute to these efforts, the farmers and peoples of the world are called upon to examine and act upon the systemic causes of these food crises.

(1) These food crises further highlight the destruction of food systems because of climate change brought about by global warming. Bold and coordinated efforts by various countries led by the most developed ones is needed, especially towards reducing carbon emissions. US President Donald Trump’s statements denying climate change definitely bodes ill for such efforts.

(2) These food crises further highlight the need for governments to take on a leading role in advancing their countries’ food sovereignty. Big foreign corporations’ plunder of developing countries’ natural resources must stop, and so does national elites’ plunder of their countries’ national coffers. The situation where the latter passes on the task of bringing “development” into their countries into the former is most untenable and must end. Centuries of colonial and neocolonial plunder, the latter pursued through neoliberal economic policies in the past decades, should end.

(3) These food crises further highlight the need to end US militarism in Africa and the Middle East. US militarism has worsened these food crises by undermining countries’ sovereignty and wittingly or unwittingly worsening conflict in the region. It has buttressed colonial, neocolonial and neoliberal plunder and has therefore worsened the material conditions for poverty and conflict in these countries. The election of Trump as US president means worsening US militarism the world over.

Towards attaining these ends, we are calling on the farmers, indigenous peoples, small-scale food producers and peoples of the world, especially of countries facing food crises, as well as their advocates to unite and strengthen their movements for national sovereignty and development, of which food sovereignty is a crucial component.

We have to strengthen the demand for solutions to climate change, for food sovereignty, and against US militarism. We have to force governments to heed our calls and we have to bring about national and international governance that truly serves the interests of the farmers, indigenous peoples, small-scale food producers and all the hungry peoples of the world.###

PKMT’s Struggle Against Patriarchy and Neoliberal Onslaught!

Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT), International Women’s Alliance (IWA) and Roots for Equity, Pakistan celebrated International Women’s Day in a village named Busti Gharibabad, Lar, Multan. The event was attended by PKMT women members as well others from Tando Mohammad Khan, and Ghotki districts of Sindh and Multan, Punjab.

The event was started with women greeting each other and celebrating their struggle and victories across the many years of struggle. The thrust of the day’s event was to highlight the need for further organizing of agriculture women workers and landless farmers, and working women across all classes in the ongoing struggle against imperialist agriculture policies, as well as the strangle hold of feudal structures, customs that go hand in hand with patriarchy that are devastating women’s lives.

Rural women spoke out against the curtailing of economic rights especially against landlessness of women farmers, forcing them to work at very low wages. An especial focus was on lack of access to education that women, especially young girls had to face due to patriarchal norms. Women also stressed the lack of political rights, especially in decision making in any aspect of their lives. A young woman Nadia from Lar highlighted the constant vigilance that young women faced at the hands of their families and communities, allowing them the ‘freedom’ to go to work but otherwise forcing them to live a ‘prisoner-like’ life where their mobility was severely curtailed. Pathani a young small farmer, spoke on the critical role of access to education for girls and young women, as well as organizing women to resist patriarchy, feudalism and industrial agriculture.

Faiza Shahid, Roots for Equity spoke against neoliberalism – she highlighted “that on one hand modern technology was being used for farming practices but on the other hand women were being forced to carry out back-breaking work on pittance.” Based on Roots for Equity’s ongoing research on agriculture women workers, she elaborated that women have to not only work many extra hours, but were also travelling to far-off sites in search for work. They were exposed to toxic chemicals and pesticides with being provided any occupational health and safety measures. There is no doubt that these pesticides not only impact the health of women and children, including pregnant women but also have extremely adverse environmental impacts.Women farmers stressed their role as seed savers. It was pointed that though women have traditional knowledge of maintaining and preserving nature and the environment but now capitalist science claims their knowledge and technology supersedes centuries old traditional knowledge held by women. It is tragic and extremely hazardous that capitalist science is providing hybrid and genetically-engineered seed that cannot even be used in the next season – and a major cause of not only pauperizing farmers but also environmental pollution.

Azra Talat Sayeed, Chairperson IWA spoke on the rights and responsibilities faced by rural women, especially landless farmers and agricultural women workers to spearhead the struggle against patriarchy, feudalism and neoliberal policies that are encroaching into the political and economic and social domain of women’s lives. The ongoing wars of capitalist aggression have had immense impact on the lives of women, and rural communities. She elaborated the cooperative role of women in Swat, Pakistan and other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KPK) in looking after families who were forced to migrate from the war zones. She highlighted the power of women that can be used to break the chain of patriarchal norms, values and practices that results in acute discrimination faced by girls and young women. Women’s rights include the right to life, the right to healthy nutritional food, the right to education and health, the right to decent livelihood, the right to land, the right to self-determination, the right to organize against oppressive conditions, and of course the right to collective resistance against triple-pronged forces of capitalism, feudalism and patriarchy. She elaborated that it is in women’s hand to challenge these practices at home and in the community – only then a strong chain of resistance against domestic and economic violence faced by women could be pushed back and dismantled.

PKMT Women presented a theater highlighting feudal exploitation and class and caste and religious discrimination faced by women, and the power of organized women groups to resist oppressive forces.A number of women presented cultural folk songs through out the event to celebrate International Women’s Day, and the role of women in their communities as survivors of oppression.After the event, an exposure visit was arranged for the rural women from Sindh to visit the Roots for Equity trial farm in Multan. Many of these women have also been saving seeds and maintaining in-situ seed banks as to rebut imperialist seed laws that have granted seed rights to commercial breeders. During the visit, women farmers provided their feedback in maintaining the vegetable and wheat seeds that were being grown on the trial farm. The provided their input on the traditional farming practices that were being carried out at the trial farm in managing weeds in wheat fields. Women were especially appreciative of vegetable seed bank as there is less and less practice of growing vegetables for household consumption, and there is an acute lack of local vegetable seeds.

Women farmers were explained the experiment being carried out to test the productivity of traditional wheat varieties under agro-chemical methods as well as traditional methods using green and animal manure. Women farmers commented that such experiments were very important to expose the agro-chemical corporate sector propaganda, which lays claims on very high yield per acre. The exposure visit ended with the women’s long journey back to their homes across the villages of Sindh.

Farmers asked to avoid corporate agriculture

M Haleem Asad

Speakers at a national conference named “Sustaining Lives and Livelihood: Fighting for Food Sovereignty and Climate Justice,” held at the Auditorium Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi asked farmers across the country to reject corporate agriculture which promotes intensive use of chemicals and pesticides, hybrid and genetic seeds that would damage the very foundations of the nation. The speakers strongly rejected the Amended Seed Act 2015 passed by the national assembly of Pakistan terming it a conspiracy against farmers. The conference was jointly organized by Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehrek (PKMT) and Roots for Equity. The PKMT core group members from the provinces of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab besides journalists, labour union leaders and social activists attended the conference. Farmer Rights activists Dr Azra Talat Sayeed, Dr Nausheen Ali, environmental expert advocate Rafay Alam, PKMT National Coordinator Altaf Hussain, Secretary Wali Haidar, Amjad Nazeer, Raja Mujeeb former National Coordinator, PKMT, Junaid Awan and others spoke on the occasion. A documentary “Vicious Circles” by ITV on malnutrition amongst infants in Pakistan, misuse of medications and bottle feeding by multinational corporations was also presented.

The speakers said that multinational companies had been exploiting small and landless farmers one way or the other, not only in Pakistan in all third world countries. The speakers said they were not against the use of modern technology and advanced science in the sector of agriculture but the monopoly of multinational companies in the seed sector, and commodification of natural resources, and the control over land by the corporate and the feudal landlords. Some of the speakers expressed a fear that land grabbing would increase the chaos in food production, intensifying malnutrition and hunger, leaving farmers destitute, without a livelihood not to mention further intensifying climate crisis and poverty.

They said the corporate agriculture would intensify speculative agricultural commodity resulting in food shortage and price hikes. Paying tributes to peasants, workers and women the experts maintained they were responsible for producing grains but they were paid pittance. They said farmers and peasants worked for 10 to 12 hours daily but they got only on the average Rs 3000 per month. Women agricultural workers earned even less than men. In a panel on people’s resistance, speakers highlighted and condemned the role of NGOs and aid agencies, especially the USAID for depoliticizing communities. The speakers asked peasants, women and minorities to stand united for their rights and raise awareness against the corporate agriculture.

The conference ended in a mela celebrating PKMTs 10 years of struggle for Food Sovereignty. At the inaugural ceremony, PKMT leaders strongly advocated for independent mass-based political platforms for the small and landless farmers. The uniqueness of the mela was the display of indigenous and local seeds produced through sustainable methods by PKMT farmers, as well as nutritious traditional food served by the farmers from all corners of the country. Various district chapters of PKMT also played traditional musical instruments, performed folk dances, songs and theater.


Okara farms dispute nearing ‘amicable solution’

Dawn February 14th, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The military and the tenants of the Okara Military Farms have reached an agreement, which could lead to an amicable solution of the long-standing dispute, the Okara district administration has told the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR).

In a report, recently submitted to NCHR, the district administration has claimed that a new agreement has been reached between the two sides, whereby tenant farmers will give the army a share from their crop, rather than making lump sum cash payments.

Under the terms of this new agreement, the mazareen will remain tenants on the land, while a committee would be established to settle any other disputes.

The Okara Military Farms were developed under the British Raj. The land was owned by the British army and after 1947 it automatically stood transferred to the Pakistan Army. For decades, the army used to get share from the produce of the farms, but under the rule of retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, a contract system was introduced and farmers were made to pay rent in cash. It was also decided that the military could ask tenants to vacate the land at any time.

Consequently, the farmers established an Anjuman-i-Mazareen to protect their rights, while the military began demanding that the land be vacated. This led to protests against the military, while cases of terrorism, extortion and theft were frequently registered against those who allegedly refused to vacate the land.

In April 2016, the Anjuman-i-Mazareen held a protest in the federal capital, which received extraordinary coverage with prominent politicians visiting the protest. The issue was also taken up in the Senate, while Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also met representatives of the tenants at Zardari House in Islamabad.

Human Rights Commissioner Chaudhry Mohammad Shafique told Dawn that NCHR took suo motu of the issue notice in May 2016.

“Three members, including myself, visited Okara and after getting all the information, we submitted a report to the Senate and shared it with the federal and provincial governments. We also said that the issue could be addressed amicably,” he said.

“A broader agreement has been made, in which it has been decided that the tenants will pay the batai (share) from their crops instead of cash and in return they will not be displaced from the land. Moreover a committee, which will have the representation of the military, the district administration and the tenants, has been established to settle any other disputes,” he said.

When asked when he expected the issue would be resolved, Mr Shafique said he was hopeful that the matter would be settled by March this year.

According to an official statement, a three-member NCHR bench, headed by retired Justice Ali Nawaz Chohan and consisting of Chaudhry Shafique and minorities member Ishaq Masih Naz, held the hearings.

NCHR constituted a fact-finding committee, which visited the Okara farms and submitted a detailed report.

“In the hearing, the Okara deputy commissioner presented a written report that a peace agreement between military farms management and representatives of the protesting farmers has been made. The said agreement has been signed by the commandant Military Farms Group Okara and the representatives of the tenants. It was witnessed by the district administration and police,” the statement said.


Dawn, March 5th, 2017

Faisal Ali Ghumman

LAHORE: The Punjab government is finalising deal with Monsanto — a leading producer of genetically modified (GM) seed — to acquire advanced cotton seed technology and technical expertise for five years.

The provincial government is moving ahead with its plans despite reservations by farmers, research institutes and seed companies which say the technology would have negative impacts.

The Punjab Agriculture Department (PAD), which has been consulting stakeholders after the Punjab chief minister approved the acquisition of GM technology from Monsanto in August, decided in Feb 2017 to strike a conditional deal with Monsanto. It would be ensured that R&D institutes and seed companies get a level playing field.

“We are negotiating with Monsanto to bring down the cost from $70 million to $50m,” Dr Ghazanfar Ali, additional secretary agriculture department, told Dawn on Saturday.

He said that comparison between the use of technology between the Centre for Excellence and Molecular Biology (CEMB), a local seed provider, and Monsanto suggested to go for the latter.

According to a report of the Ministry of Textile Industry published in the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) of the United States, Pakistan had adopted transgenic cotton (Bollgard II, or BG-II) over the area of about 86 per cent.

In a 2012 report, the Agriculture Biotechnology Research Institute (ABRI) confirmed that both the genes — BG-II and RoundUp Ready Flex (RRF) — were already present in GM cotton crops in Punjab and Sindh.

Documents of Monsanto and US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) available with Dawn show that the patents for both GM cotton genes will expire in 2021.

“Even if Pakistan makes a deal with Monsanto to introgress BG-II and RRF genes, it will be available for commercialisation after 2021,” said an informed source in the PAD.

He said Monsanto would provide access to its pipeline cotton technologies like BG-III and others in separate model and financial terms, subject to successful roll-out and satisfactory execution of BG-II and RRF technologies.

Punjab Agriculture Secretary Muhammad Mahmood said that a local research institute claimed that they have doubled Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and the glyphosate-resistance genes ready for commercialisation, whereas double Bt–vegetative insecticidal protein-3 (vip3)–glyphosate-resistance genes were in the pipeline and would be available in 2019.

A visit to research institutes revealed that the NIBGE had nothing to offer immediately whereas the technology available with the CEMB still needed to be improved and was far behind in commercialisation.

“Therefore, Punjab has only one window available, ie Monsanto, to get latest proven seed technology,” he said.

To safeguard interest of the industry, R&D institutes and farmers he floated a 6+1 formula (seed companies plus the Punjab Seed Corporation) to work with Monsanto to get better results.

Mr Mahmood added that the provincial government would provide all kind of resources to help research institutes and invited proposals for their capacity-building.

The additional secretary (planning) informed that a workshop titled “Prospects of GM Cotton in Punjab: Opportunities and Challenges’ was held on Aug 31, 2016, in which three working groups were constituted. The first recommendation of a working group, duly approved by the Punjab chief minister, was introduction of GM cotton technology at the earliest.

Former director of the Central Cotton Research Institute (CCRI), Multan, Dr Zahoor Ahmad was of the view that BG-II technology has failed in Australia and India, so Pakistan should go for triple genes.

“We need to be cautious as the US government has a law under which Monsanto may be stopped to implement the agreement,” he added.

Dr Kausar Abdullah Malik said Monsanto’s first entry into the market would be in 2021, but Pakistan’s institutes can introduce triple genes cotton much earlier.

He advised to keeping all options open and developing a mechanism for public private partnership in the field.

He said that in the past new varieties could not be approved due to non-functioning of National Bio-safety Committee. “Now we should develop heat-tolerant and weather-resistant varieties with the local germ plasm and should provide $10m to the local research institutes besides $50-70m dollars to Monsanto for the purpose.”

Seed Association of Pakistan’s Moshin Raza said the provincial government should not spend a large amount of $70m for acquiring this technology and instead support local institutes who could provide three-gene cotton in 2019 free of cost.

Human rights defender Tep Vanny was convicted

Phnom Penh,Cambodia:

On 23 February 2017, human rights defender Tep Vanny was convicted and sentenced to two and a half years in prison by Phnom Penh Municipal Court for ‘intentional violence with aggravating circumstances’.

Tep Vanny is a land rights activist and human rights defender who works to combat corruption in Cambodia. She played a prominent role in mobilising communities in Boeung Kak Lake to fight against an eviction order agreed between the Government and a private corporation to carry out development plans which would include filling 90% of the lake for domestic and foreign tourists. Tep Vanny is one of the 13 women human rights defenders (the Boeng Kak 13) who were charged and sentenced to 2.5 years imprisonment on 24 May 2012 as a result of their work resisting these development plans.

On 23 February 2017, Tep Vanny was convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for ‘intentional violence with aggravating circumstances’  under Article 218 of the Cambodian Criminal Code and sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment. She was found guilty of assaulting security guards during a protest outside the house of Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2013. Her sentence also includes a fine of five million riels (approximately €1,178), and compensation payments to two members of the Daun Penh para-police; four million riels (approximately €942) to the first plaintiff and five million riels (approximately €1,178) to the second plaintiff. During the trial, no credible evidence was presented to justify the charges brought against Tep Vanny. At 8:30 a.m., around sixty supporters of Tep Vanny gathered outside the court. At 9:30 a.m., seven Makara district para-police violently dispersed about thirty-five women and children who were sitting peacefully outside the court. The women and children were forcibly dragged from the area, resulting in three of the women sustaining injuries, two of whom are from the Boeung Kak Lake community.

Tep Vanny had been in pre-trial detention in Prey Sar prison, Phnom Penh since August 2016. On 22 August 2016, she was charged with ‘intentional violence with aggravating circumstances”, regarding her role in a protest outside the house of Prime Minister Hun Sen where she demanded the release of human rights defender Yorm Bopha in 2013.

Front Line Defenders condemns the conviction of Tep Vanny, and the violent dispersal of the peaceful protestors. Front Line Defenders urges the Cambodian authorities to drop all charges against her as it is believed they are solely motivated by her peaceful and legitimate work in defense of human rights in Cambodia, in particular her struggle against forced eviction in Boeng Kak Lake.


Dawn, January 17th, 2017

KARACHI: The Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) welcomed the new policy for home-based workers approved by the Sindh government.

Speaking at the Karachi Press Club, general secretary of the HBWWF Zehra Khan, said the policy would ensure equal wages for women. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah approved the policy on home-based workers in Nov 2016 while the law and justice department gave permission to pass the official notification on Jan 13. The approval of the policy makes Sindh the first province in the country to legally recognise home-based workers. She said that the policy was made keeping in mind international rules and regulations.

“This policy, which will eventually become a law, recognises the women workers as well as register them under the social security framework,” said Khan.

Accompanied by women workers, Zehra said that the policy remained on the back burner for three years until the CM took notice of it. She said that there is an estimated 1,20,00,000 home-based workers in Pakistan adding that the number may vary.

LHC issues notices to federal govt over unconstitutional legislature

The Lahore High Court on Tuesday issued notices to the federal and Punjab governments in writ petitions challenging the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015 and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016.

The petitions, filed by a Multan-based NGO Sojhla for Social Change through environmental lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam, were presented before Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah.

The petitions contend that the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015, and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016, are unconstitutional, violate fundamental rights, and completely ignore farmers’ rights recognised by Pakistan under various international agreements.

The petitioners contend that Pakistan is a signatory to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the Convention on Biological Diversity, both of which recognise and protect farmers’ rights.

Farmers’ rights are traditional rights farmers have on the seeds or the propagating material of plant varieties. This right arises out of the important role farmers around the world have been playing for thousands of years by selecting and conserving varieties of different crop plants that are cultivated for food and/or as cash-crops. During the process of selection, conservation and cultivation, farmers have gained extensive knowledge of each variety and provided the world with invaluable genetic resources which are the foundation of all hybrid and genetically modified varieties being introduced in the market under stringent intellectual property rights held by agrochemical corporations.

In addition, this knowledge base of each variety available with farmers is highly valuable to modern scientific improvement. It makes the contribution of farmers to plant genetic diversity as important as the contribution scientists make by developing modern plant varieties.

Farmers’ rights are therefore recognised and protected under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015, and Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016, prohibit the handling of seed or registered varieties without licences obtained by the federal government and criminalise contraventions thereof.

The petitions filed by Sojlha for Social Change contend such provisions violate the principles of farmer’s rights and that parliament could not legislate on the subject of seeds or plant breeders’ rights as these were provincial subjects after the 18th Amendment, meaning thereby that only provincial assemblies could legislate on the subject.

“When the first opportunity to protect farmer’s rights recognised under an international treaty presented itself, the parliament chose to make a law totally ignoring farmers in preference for seed companies”, said Ahmad Rafay Alam, counsel for Sojlha for Social Change.

A major force behind this petition is the activism undertaken by the leadership of a national small and landless farmers’ platform, the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT).

Only a few weeks ago, the Lahore High Court issued notices on similar writ petitions filed by Advocate Sheraz Zaka challenging the same two acts.

The court will now hear the connected petitions together on November 17, 2017.

LHC issues notices to federal govt over unconstitutional legislature



The News December 28, 2016

LAHORE: Chief Justice-designate Justice Saqib Nisar on Tuesday, while referring to the prevalent adulteration of chemicals, urea and cane juice in milk, remarked if they could not give pure milk to children, they do not have any right to work.

The Supreme Court bench remarked that it would take up the issue of distribution of contaminated milk and water to its logical end. The bench, headed by Chief Justice-designate Saqib Nisar, also formed a local commission to inspect different milk and water companies and asked the Punjab Food Authority head to ensure completion of reports on samples taken from these companies.

Going through the reports proving contaminated material in milk produced and distributed by some companies, the court snubbed officials of these companies saying that no one would be allowed to play with the lives of innocent citizens.

Appearing before the court, the petitioner, Barrister Zafarullah Khan, submitted that according to the laboratory report of Pakistan Council of Scientific Industrial Research, there is detergent powder and dangerous chemical particles in not only loose but also packed milk of some companies. He said authorities had failed to take action against the responsible for providing contaminated milk in the market.

PFA Director General Noorul Amin Mengal, appearing before the court, submitted that they were taking action against the responsible companies. He said they had imposed hefty fines on some companies and issued orders of closure of some milk outlets. He said every person who was responsible was being dealt with in accordance with the law. He said the PFA had sent 300 samples of water and 30 samples of packed and loose milk for laboratory test. At this, Justice Nisar remarked the court was well aware of the capacity of the laboratory test of PFA, which only had a scale and some other irrelevant items. He said the PFA laboratory had no modern machine to conduct the tests.

The court directed the PFA to present sample reports of milk and water on next date of hearing. The court also directed the local commission to submit a comprehensive report after inspecting these companies. The court adjourned the hearing.

Uncertified transgenic seeds being sold without any check

By Shahzad Anwar

Published: December 14, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Transgenic seeds are increasingly being marketed in Pakistan without any assessment of their impact on environment, human health and animals required under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity as regulations remain weak and infrastructure does not exist in the country.

Most of the genetically modified (GM) seed varieties are available in the domestic market beyond the knowledge of relevant government departments and in connivance with some scientists, bureaucrats, politicians, big farmers and seed suppliers.

“GM seeds could be used as a biological weapon against Pakistan’s strategic cash crops,” a former director of Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) told The Express Tribune.

“The introduction of uncertified GM seeds is aimed at saying goodbye to our indigenous varieties that cope well with the effects of environmental degradation and climate change,” he said.

“The local market is being flooded with uncertified transgenic seeds of cauliflower, cabbage, tomato and other vegetables mainly from India and China under the Truth and Labelling Rules 1991, which does not require declaration of the seed trail,” Dr Shahida Wizarat, Head of Economics Department, Institute of Business Management, said.

During a visit to Quetta last year, she found an NGO distributing saplings of GM apple plants among locals without their knowledge.

“At present, there is no national biosafety centre, prompting the need to build capacity of institutions and regulatory bodies for proper inspection of GM seeds,” former Pak-EPA director general Asif Shuja Khan said.

He insisted that seeds had a great link with the economy, public health and environment of any region and Pakistan was a signatory of the Cartagena Protocol, a legal document that ensured the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity.

Unfortunately, he said, people working in regulatory bodies had connections with multinational seed companies or they had their own GM seed business.

“The government should pick neutral experts for the regulatory bodies who have no financial concern or stake in the seed business,” Khan suggested and said labelling was another important factor that was missing on imported seed varieties.

He feared that mis-declaration and unregulated flow of GM organisms (GMOs) would destroy biodiversity and could hamper Pakistan’s exports.

He recalled that Pak-EPA had started a biosafety project in 2005, which continued till 2014. After the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the subject was devolved to provinces and since then there had been no institution to regulate the sale of GMOs at federal or provincial levels.

However, he decried that laws were hastily passed to protect the interest of multinational seed companies and cited the example of recently passed Plant Breeders’ Rights Bill 2016 in the Senate.

The National Biosafety Committee admitted in its meeting that some foreign aid agencies were providing different seed varieties in universities and research institutes in Pakistan without the committee’s approval.

“The country lacks expertise in the testing of transgenic seeds and it also does not have seed testing labs even in the seed certification department,” Dr Faheem, a professor of Peshawar University’s biotechnology department, said.

In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, he said, many GM seeds were being imported for corn and other varieties without any field trial.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2016.