‘Capitalist dominated agriculture system results in food crisis’

Bureau Report Ι 19 Oct 2020

Quoting Pakistan Economic Survey 2019-20, they said the Covid-19 pandemic had a severe negative impact on Pakistani economy and at least another 10 million people were feared to be pushed below the poverty line in the country.

These activists belong to different civil society organisations including Roots for Equity and Pakistan Kisan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT), which in collaboration with People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty, Pesticide Action Network Asia and Pacific and Asian Peasant Coalition marked the World Food Day as “World Hunger Day” on Oct 16 by holding protests and a webinar attended by participants from different cities.

This year’s global campaign focuses on the plight of rural populations during the pandemic and their demands for change in the food and agriculture systems.

Another leader of PKMT from Sahiwal, Mohammad Zaman, stated that according to Pakistan Economic Survey 2019-20, because of the Corona virus around 10 million people were feared to be pushed to living below the poverty line in the country.

He said that in the Global Hunger Index, Pakistan ranked 106 out of 119 countries where consumption of meat, poultry, fish, milk, vegetables and fruits was six to 10 times lower than that of developed countries.

Roots for Equity’s chairperson Dr. Azra Sayeed stated that according to National Nutrition Survey 2018, 53% of children and 44.3% of women in the country are suffering from anemia.

She said that the livestock and dairy sector accounted for 56% of the total agricultural production and majority of the farmers involved in milk and meat production were small scale.

“It consisted of cattle breeders, especially women, who make it possible to produce 60 billion liter of milk annually in the country, but these same rural populations are starving themselves as a result of monopoly of capitalist companies in the food and agriculture sector,” she added.

Another representative of Roots for Equity, Wali Haider, said the domination of imperialist powers over global food and agriculture system had linked the rural economy in the third world countries like Pakistan to the global agriculture market.

“This has resulted in the most important resources like our agriculture produce, our land and water have become a source of surplus profit for multinational corporations,” he said adding that there was an urgent need to change the system where farmers were forced to depend on seeds, chemicals and toxic inputs of multinational companies.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2020

https://www.dawn.com/news/1585819

World Food Day marked as world hunger day

Our Correspondent, October 18, 2020
SUKKUR: Roots for Equity and Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) in collaboration with People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty (PCFS), Pesticide Action Network, Asia and Pacific (PAN AP) and Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) marked the World Food Day as World Hunger Day.

The Struggle of Rural Communities for Food System Change!

Press Release

October 16, 2020

Roots for Equity and the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) in collaboration with  People’s Coalition for Food Security (PCFS), Pesticide Action Network, Asia and  Pacific (PAN AP) and Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) is marking the World Food Day as World Hunger Day on October 16, 2020. A webinar and protest has been organized in this regard in which small and landless peasants including PKMT members participated from different districts.

This event is part of a campaign, launched on the occasion of World Hunger Day, and titled “Rural People are Hungry for Food System Change”. It aims to promote a strategy for highlighting the toxic impacts of industrial chemical agriculture production systems and the acute need for food sovereignty and agro-ecology based food production systems. This year’s global campaign focuses on the plight of rural populations during the pandemic, and their demands for changes in the food and agricultural systems.

Tariq Mehmood, a member of PKMT, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, spoke on the situation of hunger, poverty and unemployment during the Covid19 pandemic, He said that the transnational mega agro-chemical corporations’ domination in the food and agriculture system around the world, their exploitation and destruction of biodiversity and natural habitats is a catalyst for Corona pandemic.

According to a report by the United Nations FAO (The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World), the epidemic could lead another 83 to 132 million people suffering from hunger by 2020, and if the current situation continues by 2030, 841.4 million people in the world will be hungry.

According to a member of PKMT Mohammad Zaman from Sahiwal, it is reported in the Pakistan Economic Survey 2019-20, the corona virus had a severe negative impact on the Pakistani economy and at least another 10 million people are feared to be pushed to living below the poverty line in Pakistan. The number could increase from 50 million presently to 60 million.

In the Global Hunger Index, Pakistan ranks 106th out of 119 countries where consumption of meat, poultry, fish, milk, vegetables and fruits is six to 10 times lower than that of developed countries. The worsening situation of hunger and poverty can be gauged from the statement of Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Poverty and Social Protection, that “almost half of the country’s population will be covered by the Ehsas Program.” The statement indicates that in Pakistan, where almost half of the population is employed in the agricultural sector, the current epidemic of rising hunger, poverty and unemployment has exacerbated the pervasive exploitation and brutality of this rotten food and agriculture system that is based extracting super-profits from the poorest segments of society.

Speaking on the global food and employment crisis, Wali Haider, of Roots for Equity said that rural populations around the world are already aware of these facts and now the food and employment crisis and growing hunger during the Corona virus pandemic has proved that the current system of food and agriculture, which is dominated by the big capitalist countries and their for profit companies, has failed.

This domination of the imperialist powers over the global food and agriculture system has linked the local rural economy, in third world countries like Pakistan, to the global agricultural market. This has resulted in the most important resources like our agricultural produce, our land and water have become a source of surplus profits for multinational corporations.  A clear example of this is the increasing production of sugarcane and other cash crops for the production and export of agro-fuels like ethanol, while the production of the most important food crops such as wheat is declining.

This is one of the reasons for the rise in food prices and the consequent increase in hunger. There is an urgent need to change the system where farmers are forced to depend on seeds, chemicals and toxic inputs of companies. These chemicals also pollute the entire food and agricultural system and destruction of the ecosystems and biodiversity.

In contrast, a sustainable food production system, agro-ecology, provides farmers with a strategy that protects not only their rights but also of other small food producers. Farmers’ right to land under agro ecology guarantees the establishment of collective and individual seed banks and their exchange. It also protects and promotes safe and natural systems of food and agriculture production ensuring food security of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities as well as safe nutritious food and environment for all.

Speaking on the women farmers’ rights Azra Sayeed of Roots for Equity said that the livestock and dairy sector accounts for 56% of the total agricultural production and the majority of farmers involved in milk and meat production are small scale. It consists of cattle breeders, especially women, who make it possible to produce 60 billion liters of milk annually in the country, but these same rural populations are starving themselves as a result of the monopoly of capitalist companies in the food and agriculture sector.

In the name of achieving so called standardization of milk, meat and other foods, corporations are paving a clear path to monopolizing the dairy and meat sector. This will only lead to further exacerbation of hunger and malnutrition in the country. It is important to note that according to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, 53% of children and 44.3% of women in the country are suffering from anemia.

Raja Mujeeb, a member of PKMT Sindh, referring to the small and landless peasants are most affected by the Covid19 epidemic, said that food producers have been forced to depend on poor quality seeds where the companies have established a monopoly and at the same time land is in the hands of feudal lords and increasing encroachment of capitalist systems of production and marketing.

If the farmers have control over all the productive resources including land and seeds, then our farmers, laborers, fishermen and the rural population can get food even in the face of the current pandemic or any kind of emergency. That is why PKMT believes that food sovereignty and self-sufficiency in food and agriculture based an end to feudalism through just and equitable land distribution among farmers and imperialist food policies is critical for a peaceful democratic sovereign state!

Released by: Roots for Equity & Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT)

Press Release in Urdu (PDF)

Inspiration to create a farmers market

Introduction:

This is a summary of an interview of Ms Maheen Zia conducted by Naveed Ahmed, Seed Sovereignty Program Coordinator from Roots for Equity. The context of the interview is on Maheen Zia’s work with Karachi Farmer’s Market-based in Karachi, Pakistan.

Ms Zia is one of the key founders of the Karachi Farmer’s Market. She is working to highlight the work of farmers and give importance to their work. She is promoting the work of farmers while sitting in the city and has the passion and ability to work for farmers. We are grateful to her that she has given her time for this interview.

Question: What attracted you to create a farmers market?

Answer: The news keeps coming that our food has become contaminated, and pesticides, fertilizers and GMOs are being used for it. We are cut off from nature and at the same time, the way disease is growing, it is in front of us too. We are six people who decided to start the farmers’ market. In all of our (six founders) families someone has been sick. It has made us realize that what we were eating makes us sick, so what could be its alternative? Personally, my father had cancer. At that point we started looking for organic flour and milled flour (chaki ka atta) and started thinking about what we were eating. Now cancer has become very common – in every household, in our close friends’ families – someone has been through this disease.

We were searching for pure food items, someone tried to find desi eggs or milks – but we wanted to have a single market where we could buy what we needed for our households. We wanted to have a system that for those who were selling here we could check what they were saying was actually being practiced and it was correct. This is why we started the market; it was started in August 2015 – it will now be five years. It is a small market but in the past five years about 30% of the people regularly buy things from here. They know that products have been checked and are of quality.

Question: Artificial agriculture or chemical agriculture produces more. So why should farmers adopt agroecology?

Answer: If your income is good by giving poison to others, then this is not correct. First of all, it is wrong in principle to produce something of low quality just because you will get production and it will be sold. This is not being said for any particular farmer but making a point in general. For example, if you have land and you want to grow something that is harmful to health for others but grow pure food elsewhere for yourself, it is wrong. In this age, this is how the world has been set up, and it may be difficult to examine it in this manner. But the way you are growing now has a short time outlook. The way you are growing now, putting pesticides and fertilizers this will degrade your land in the next ten to twenty years – what will you do then? You will not even be able to exchange this land for another piece of land? This land will not be able to grow anymore. So for your present gain you are harming your future. The harm being inflicted on others by what you are growing is an other matter but you are destroying your future, as well.

Naveed: So in the beginning you pointed out the impacts on human health and now you are pointing out that farmers must practice agroecology as (chemical agriculture) impacts land and you will face other problems.

Maheen Zia: Land will be ruined; your health will be ruined. When you use pesticide, it will first affect your family, you will be impacted as well. I believe that there is acute poverty and hence people are helpless and their hands are tied, even when they understand, they don’t have an opportunity to do something else. There is a need to help them and understand their position (majbori).

Question: What benefit you get from farmer’s market?

Answer: It makes us happy! This is an opportunity for people, there are about 300-500 people that are buying from the Farmers’ Market. There is better food getting to their households; and through this small businesses have been set up and running – so a system has been initiated. But this is small, it’s just a handful of people– Karachi in itself is a very big city. A much bigger thing that has happened is the conversation that has been started – we need to eat organically grown food, or sustainable food, we need to consume pure food. Where can we get it? Why should we have pure food? Why is it so expensive? How can we increase its production so that prices can come down? So the discussion that has been started is very important and it has the potential to increase organic production.

Question: Will small and landless farmers benefit from agro ecology?

Answer: Absolutely. They will benefit as over time, their land’s soil quality will become better, production will be better. If we can connect them to the market whatever they grow will fetch a better price, there is also a market available. There is only benefit and no harm. Whoever goes toward chemical agriculture there is only harm; you may be getting money from it at the moment but there is no barkat in this money – this is what I believe.

Naveed: If you practice agroecology you can retrieve land fertility and get an environmentally friendly ecosystem. The way the environment has been impacted, there is disease and global warming, the natural environment has been lost, using poison all of this has died and we can now regain all this through promotion of agroecology.

Question: From where did you get the seed?

Answer: If someone is coming from outside (the country) – I research on heirloom seeds – ancient seeds. Some seed banks keep these seeds and the seeds are from different area, they may not of your area but if the seed adapts to your climate than I think its okay. These seed are generally not invasive but it is very important that where you are they are suited (to that environment), they should be pest resilient; they have more nutrition. So, I search for the seed, try it out and if it starts off, then use it the next year. This is the beauty of real seed; from one seed you can get a whole field because each seed will give you plentiful. This is what nature is; in nature if you work a little hard, respect it, it will give you plentiful benefits.  If you fight with nature than you will have to work hard every year, put poison every year, use chemical fertilizer and so in the end you have to work a lot and the result is still not favorable.

Question: You mentioned that you get seeds from the ancient seed bank.

Answer: There is a company in the USA called Rare Seeds. They explain the origin of the seed like I have an Iraqi plant and a Chinese beans plant. These companies provide a complete chain of information, where did this seed come from, in which year, which person cultivated it, for how many years they cultivated it, who brought this seed to us, they value the seed, and this is what their work is.

Question: Can we say that the indigenous people of those areas own these seeds?

Answer: No, because the indigenous people are in a very bad condition and they have also lost their seed, there should be an attempt to find those seeds as well; for example there is a particular bean seed Cherokee Tears. When the Cherokee people were driven out of their lands about 150 – 200 years ago, they brought seeds with them. So it’s not necessary that the indigenous people are preserving their seeds. There are some farming communities and there are some people who think like us that the real asset is your seed, it needs to be saved, especially at a time when hybrids are on the rise and GMOs are being promoted. So this is a very important work that they are doing. People are also buying from them. Small farmers buy from them and plant seeds. And then they save the seeds.

Question: Have you ever tried to get seeds from areas of Pakistan or the suburbs of Karachi?

Answer: Once I was filming in Sindh – near Badin – there was a project where they were reviving Indigo which is an ancient seed of this area and it was a plant that died out in the British era. I took the seed from there but its plant did not grow, I thought I would bring the seed again when I go back to Badin. I try that if I get a real seed I grow it. When I went to Hunza two years ago, I also brought seeds from there, but it did not grow. But maybe its climate was different, only a small sprout came out; it still is good to try things out. We need to build a network within our climate zone so that we can save the real seeds among us. Make many seed banks so that if one seed bank fails there are still other seed banks. Like once I had a beautiful sunflower seed, it had a beautiful flower; I distributed this seed to friends so it could be continued. We have a network of people who try to spread seeds in this manner. I also take seeds from the pansar. For example there is a taramera seed– these are still pure seeds – it’s a local variety; there is also kolongi, there is gaozaban but it did not germinate. I have now brought this seed from abroad and have saved seeds from it and will try it again this year. It’s a very useful plant – you can make tea from its leaves and use it for colds or flu. So this is what I do but a systematic system needs to be set up. This is a science and there are different types of seeds, some are self-seeding and you don’t need to keep them away from other plants. But other variety mix with each other for instant maize, it has to be kept a mile away from other varieties so that they do not cross-pollinate. If we are working on seed preservation, it is important to follow the procedure.

Question: Pakistani farmers are facing financial loss – how can we address this issue??

Answer: I have met only few farmers who came to the market and do not have a very good understanding of Pakistani farmers; I have met a few farmers but have not studied the issue deeply as yet and need to understand it as well. I think our economic situation is dependent on a cash economy and it drives everything. Before we used to have a barter system as well it may not have been so difficult for farmers. There are now so many barriers for farmers. Maybe I need to ask you this question why farmers are facing so many losses?

Green Revolution began under General Ayub. The whole world has been suffering the consequences of the fifty years of Green Revolution, of chemical agriculture. One third of the land is damaged which was arable and we could grow on it; if there is decreasing production and farmers are suffering losses– a big reason has to be that their land and water has been spoiled.

Question: If farmers adopt agroecology they will suffer financial loss. How can we compensate for this financial loss?

Answer: We need to think on ways forward. There needs to be a diversity of income. For example may be also including handicrafts.  Also be involved in value added production so that they can have better value. All of us need basic education. It’s not a simple sum game. You will not get to know about everything from instructions on a packet. When we are growing things – it’s a natural process and we need to deepen our learning of nature, of soil. Why is soil so important, it’s not just dirt– it’s like our heart? All that we eat is based on this layer of soil. If we increase the quality of soil we will eat better. If we loose this soil then we will all face starvation. The quality of our soil is critical. We don’t understand the importance of water. These are Allah’s systems; they have been there for thousands of years. These systems were there before us and will be there after us. We are the ones who have destroyed these systems. We have used advanced technologies and believe that by using them we can make it better. But we need to go back to nature and study how systems are managed in nature.

A renowned geneticist and agronomist cautions against the adoption of GMO crops

 
A renowned Ethiopian geneticist and agronomist has cautioned against the adoption of a genetically modified (GM) variety, saying that it could pose a serious threat to the tremendous genetic and biological diversity of the country. Dr. Melaku Worede, a plant geneticist and former Director of the Ethiopian Plant Genetic Resources Centre, said that any move to improve the agricultural inputs of the country should take into account the interests and desires of local farmers who have been maintaining and adapting their indigenous crop resources for centuries, and should not be imposed in a top-down fashion, he said in an interview with TechTalk With Solomon, a weekly technology TV show on Ethiopian Broadcasting Service (EBS).

Melaku, 84, said that the preservation of indigenous seed varieties which he said are not only cost-effective for farmers but was the most sustainable way to develop agriculture should be an utmost priority. “Attempts to improve agricultural outputs should be done in collaboration with farmers, not by imposing it upon them. Let us explore the genes that we have on the ground first and make good use of it. Knowledge system and the material go hand in hand, he said.

“It is too risky to rely on seeds that have no local adaptation and built-in genetic diversity. Farmers should rather be helped to improve the genetic performance of crops than to be dictated to buy costly GM seeds.  In the context it is being developed and used, GMOs has a danger. It is a double-edged sword. “Let us be careful not to be a basket case,” he told the interviewer. “From the farmer’s point view, the yield was not the only criterion, farmers place also importance to diversity in seasons, topography, taste, specific harvest that could be used for specific cultural activities, and a number of things. For farmers, sustainability is an important criterion. They have developed the strategy to spread the risk between factors of season, location, and diversity.  So their varieties will have enough plasticity to allow them to grow in diverse conditions.” he said.

Though many are voicing their concern about the risk of smallholder’s loss of sovereign control of their seeds as western companies push to enhance their access to Ethiopian markets, the Ethiopian government is showing a willingness to accept the uptake of GM seeds. In a recent meeting, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) Director, Tadesse Daba said that Bt-cotton was permitted for a confined field trial in 2016 and licensed in 2018, the first for the country. GM maize is also currently under confined field trial to check whether it really prevents diseases or not, he said.

Continue reading

Feeding our “Swarming Millions”

Azra Talat Sayeed

The question of “feeding the stomach of our swarming millions’ keeps getting raised over and over again. It seems that there is no other way to reach this objective without accepting genetically modified seeds. But such a myopic viewpoint can only be termed nonsensical. Hunger can easily be assuqged without GMO crops, if only our government would not allow wheat to rot in godams, and instead give it to the people facing acute hunger and malnutrition. With surplus wheat production in the country, the constant harping on the hunger of the people seems a bit silly. GM seeds have been used in cotton which is not a food crop, but has ultimately resulted in further impoverishment of our masses, especially rural women. The cotton harvest has been destroyed systematically. From cotton to maize seems the next corporate driven agenda. We know very well, that GM maize is not meant as food but for ethanol.

In Pakistan, we have shifted to sugarcane from cotton: driven by the profit driven market for ethanol. Now, maize follows the same ‘logic’. Do we know that hybrid and GM variety of maize seeds, apart from producing ethanol are also being developed purely to produce fodder that would increase the quantity of animal manure which would then be used for producing bio-diesel? We are turning agriculture into an ‘assembly line production system’ to meet the unquenchable thirst of capitalism on oil? Can we forget the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq? Was it WMD or oil? So, it goes on – oil of course remains top priority – but so is ethanol. Do we recall the food crisis of 2008? It was driven by corn production in the US to produce ethanol. Fuel is life blood of capitalism – its industrialised economy cannot run without energy. And capitalism is blood thirsty: history has shown this over and over again. We would be fools to forget what the search for profits has resulted in the short history of capitalism.

Talking about alienating hunger through modern agriculture is really nothing new. I would like to quote a US senator. In 1957, Senator Hubert Humphrey said:

“I have heard . . . that people may become dependent on us for food. I know that was not supposed to be good news. To me, that was good news, because before people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific.” (Global Rift, Third World Comes of Age, L. S. Stavrianos, p 443)

And in wake of such an imperialist vision came the Green Revolution. Today Pakistan is totally dependent for its seed on mega agro-chemical corporations, with nearly all of them based in North America and Europe with China recently jumping in. So let us be clear: GM technology is furthering the imperialist agenda of controlling our agriculture sector, ensuring a trade deficit, keeping us drowned in debt. It is not about ‘feeding our swarming populations.”

It is unfortunate that these debates are no longer only about getting our people out of debt and hunger, this is now about saving our world; saving ourselves from global warming. I would remind us that the ‘swarming millions’ right now are suffering from unbearable heat across the nation. Our biodiversity across the globe is on the verge of collapse. Science is no more independent and corporations are coming up with short-term profit seeking destructive technologies.

Humans and all living things on this planet are suffering, which seems such a mild statement for the unbearable misery and impoverishment of the masses across the globe. We really need to read history, and learn and go forward. Colonization may be dead but it seems to have given birth to an unnatural monster: Neo-colonization which is now a grotesque reality. We need to stop saying, believing and fighting for what are colonial and Neo-colonial masters and mistresses dictate. If we really want a peaceful, prosperous world, free from hunger and poverty, there is no other way but to fight for our liberation.

Peoples’ Voice at UNEA-4

Statement of the Farmers Major Group at the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly

Delivered by Mr. Wali Haider

FARMER MAJOR GROUP STATEMENT AT UNEA-4

Thank you chair.

Honorable excellences, distinguished delegates and colleagues:

I am Wali Haider from Roots for Equity, Pakistan and I’m speaking on behalf of the Farmers Major Group.

The dominant paradigm of unsustainable consumption and production continue to devastate and worsen the situation of the environment and the people along with promotion of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights which force GMOs and commodification of seeds and water. This crisis is further compounded by unabted land grabs by the transnational corporations. This is manifest in the crises in food, climate, environmental degradation, reduced biodiversity, depleted natural resources, and increasing violation of people’s rights and exacerbating inequality.

The industrial model of agricultural production and perverse subsidies in the agricultural sector are destroying the sources of livelihoods of small-scale food producers and their communities, resulting in hunger and forced migration.

To tackle the challenges we are facing in nourishing a growing global population and ensuring food sovereignty require innovations. People-centred and community solutions are innovations and appropriate technologies that protect the environment, promote sustainability, community ownership, social solidarity and mutuality and based on development justice. Innovative solutions that make a difference in people’s lives are often not technological but social innovations, linked with traditional practices and based on indigenous and local knowledge systems. Dimensions of environment, economy and society, the three pillars of sustainable development, are all taken into account in people’s solutions and community innovations towards sustainable consumption and production.

It is proven that in food production, agroecology as a practice based on constant innovation of farmers, a science and a social movement, is known to improve soils, protect health and the environment, improve livelihoods, and increase household income. Agroecology also harnesses traditional and indigenous knowledge systems supported by people’s science and builds community unity. Continue reading

SAY NO TO GM MAIZE

March 01, 2019

Zubeida Mustafa

THERE is bad news and there is good news for our environmentalists, agriculturalists, healthcare givers and all those who care for the welfare of Pakistan. First, the bad news.

In January, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Cargill, the global food and agricultural producer with an annual revenue of $114.6 billion (2018), will be investing $200 million in Pakistan in the next two to five years. This announcement came after two top-ranking executives of Cargill met Prime Minister Imran Khan. It seemed innocuous, at least to people who know little about biotechnology giants.

One of them, Monsanto (now merged with Bayer), fathered the genetically modified organism (GMO) in 1983 which did terrible damage to numerous crops and farmers all over the world. As a result, we saw a spate of high-profile lawsuits in which the company admitted to having bribed officials abroad. At least 35 countries have now banned GMOs.

Obviously our political leadership is not well informed on such matters, nor is transparency its forte. Hence the Cargill heads’ meeting with the prime minister and their offer to create a huge number of jobs in Pakistan raised no scepticism in government circles.

Our experience with GM cotton has been disastrous.

But mercifully the Ministry of National Food Security & Research still has men of integrity and knowledge at its helm. It appears they have resisted this move. That has now prompted the American Business Council of Pakistan (representing 64 companies), a leading foreign investors’ group, to seek the prime minister’s help “to allow commercial cultivation of GM maize”. These American companies want the “obstacles” removed that are preventing them from implementing their controversial plans.

The good news is that the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek has issued a press release titled ‘Peasants Declare “NO TO GM MAIZE!”’ The party has categorically supported the ministry’s refusal to grant approval to genetically modified maize in Pakistan. The PKMT’s own position on GMOs and the seed companies has been clear for over a decade: they violate farmers’ collective rights to seed and will pauperise the small and landless tillers of the soil.

The Seed Association of Pakistan has also “sternly opposed” any commercialisation of GM maize in Pakistan. Civil society is also gearing up to resist any such move which will have a devastating effect on food security as well as agriculture. BT cotton should come as a lesson — that is, if we are willing to learn. Introducing BT cotton proved to be easy sailing in 2010. There was hardly any resistance from those in authority.

The Seed Law was changed by the National Assembly in 2015 to accommodate the seed multinationals. This was done at the behest of the US in spite of the fact that the 18th Amendment was in place and a courageous lawyer, Ahmad Rafay Alam, went to court on behalf of the Kissan Board to challenge its legality as well as the safety of BT cotton. The case has still to be decided.

BT cotton — Monsanto’s GM pet project — has proved to be a disaster for the country. Since its debut in Pakistan — by virtue of seeds smuggled from India in 2005 and later sanctioned by the government in 2010, cotton production has been falling. The figures cited have varied from source to source. It has of late been in the range of 10.5m and 11.5m bales. In 2004, cotton production stood at a record high of 14.1m bales (of 170kg each). Contrary to the government’s claim, the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association says the weight of the bales is now 160kg each.

For years cotton production has failed to meet the target set by the government. This has adversely affected the national economy as cotton is the major element in the textile sector, the mainstay of Pakistan’s exports. BT cotton has also introduced new bugs in the cotton fields requiring greater use of pesticides, produced as can be expected by the biotech companies themselves. With Monsanto monopolising the seed market, nearly 88pc of the area under cotton cultivation is BT. The yield per acre has also fallen. All this adds to the cost of the inputs, causing farmers to switch to other crops.

It is horrifying to think of what the impact would be if maize, which is a thriving crop at present, is handed over to producers of GM maize. Has GM maize been thoroughly tested in our soil and climatic conditions? Without extensive research we cannot assess its impact on human health. We cannot afford to risk a rise in the prevalence of deadly diseases; the pesticide Roundup, which is required to be used, has been declared carcinogenic by WHO. This should be reason enough for the government to resist pressures from the biotech multinationals which are out to destroy our economy.

Let us learn from our own sordid experience of GMO cotton. Let sanity prevail. Besides, we cannot allow our peasantry to be destroyed. It is the backbone of our agriculture.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2019

https://www.dawn.com/news/1466871

Petitioner’s arguments concluded in Farmer’s Rights case

Press Release

Lahore, 21 February 2019: A Full Bench of the Lahore High Court heard arguments by Petitioners challenging the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015 and the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, 2016.

Advocate Sheraz Zaka, appearing on behalf of the NGO One-World, submitted that these laws were passed at the behest of multinational seed and GMO companies and were against the interests of farmers in Pakistan. He pointed out how these law prohibit the storage and sharing of seeds, which has been a fundamental feature of agriculture since the dawn of civilization.  The new laws would require farmers and seed companies to register new verities with the Intellectual Property Organization in Islamabad.

Advocate Ahmad Rafay Alam appearing for NGO Sojhla for Social Change argued the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, 2016 could not have been passed by Parliament as it was a provincial subject. He pointed out the province of Punjab had taken measures to draft the Punjab Seed (Amendment) Bill and Punjab Farmer’s Rights Bill, and that the laws passed by Parliament usurped the powers of the provinces.  The laws passed by Parliament, it was submitted, failed to recognize Pakistan’s international obligations to protect Farmers’ Rights and also usurped provincial jurisdiction.  The petition filed by Sojhla for Social Change is supported by the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek.

A representative appearing on behalf of the Federation of Pakistan submitted the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015 and Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, 2016 were passed keeping in view advancements in technology and the needs of seed dealers.

After hearing arguments, the Full Bench adjourned the hearing of the matter to 26 February 2019 for arguments by the Federation of Pakistan.

Full Bench hears petition challenging Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, 2016 and Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015

Press Release

Lahore, 18 February:  A Full Bench of the Lahore High Court led by Mr. Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and comprising Justices Shahid Bilal Hassan and Muhammad Waheed Khan heard petitions challenging the vires of the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, 2016 and the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015.

Separate petitions had been filed by Sojhla for Social Change and Human-Voice, both civil society and farmers’ organizations, seeking to declare both laws in violation of farmers’ rights.  It is alleged these laws were passed at the behest of multinational seed companies and not with the interest of Pakistani farmers in mind.

Ahmad Rafay Alam, counsel for Sojhla for Social Change, argued Parliament could not have passed legislation amending the Seed Act, 1976 as the Constitution envisages such legislation to be made by Provincial Assemblies.  Similarly, Parliament exceeded its legislative jurisdiction in passing the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, 1906 as this subject was not enumerated in the Federal Legislative List.  He argued there was a democratic deficit in the legislation as they had been passed without hearing the voices of farmers.  The petition by Sojhla for Social Change is supported by the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek.

Sheraz Zaka, counsel for Human Voice, submitted that farmers’ rights could not be sacrificed in the interest of multinational seed and food companies.

Pakistan is signatory to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which recognizes the enormous contribution of farmers in the conservation and development of plant genetic resources that constitute the basis of food and agriculture around the world.  The Treaty requires contracting parties to take measures to protect and promote farmer’s rights.  The petitioners argue the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, 2016 ignores farmers’ rights and gives preference to multinational seed companies and corporate farming.

After hearing arguments, the Full Bench directed notice be issued to the Attorney General and adjourned the case for hearing this Thursday.