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NGO warns against biopiracy of climate-resilient crops

Gargi Parsai

Says multi-national companies are out to make profits

NEW DELHI: Navdanya, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), has sought government intervention to stop biopiracy of climate-resilient crops by global gene giants who are reported to have applied for patents on farmers’ innovation of seeds that are resistant to drought, floods and salinity. By attempting to patent farmers’ innovations, the multi-national gene companies are not only out to make profits but also want to position themselves as saviours of the world against climate change said Vandana Shiva, the founder of Navdanya.

Dr. Shiva released her report on Saturday entitled ‘Biopiracy of Climate Resilient Crops; Gene Giants Steal Farmers’ Innovation of Drought Resistant, Flood Resistant, and Salt Resistant Varieties.’ The report lists both the climate-resilient crops that “Navdanya communities” had been saving in the country and the patents on such crops sought by the gene giants.

“This is a form of biopiracy since the traits that the corporations are patenting have been evolved through centuries of farmers’ breeding. On the basis of this biopiracy, the biotech industry is positioning itself as the “climate saviour,” making governments and the public believe that without them there will be no seeds of climate resilience. By making broad claims on all crops and all traits, the industry is in fact closing future options for adaptation in climate change,” she told journalists.

The report says that the world’s largest seed and agrochemical corporations were stockpiling hundreds of monopoly patents on genes in plants that the companies will market as crops genetically engineered to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, heat, cold, floods, saline soils and more. BASE, Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont and biotech partners have filed 532 patent documents (a total of 55 patent families) on “climate ready” genes at patent offices around the world. In the face of climate chaos, the Gene Giants are gearing for a PR offensive to re-brand themselves as climate saviours.

India’s National Action Plan on Climatic Change has a mission dedicated to sustainable agriculture. However, its focus is not on sustainable farming and organic agriculture but on the “use of biotechnology.” Farmers’ innovations and participatory breeding options did not find any reference in the corporate/official response to climate change, Dr. Shiva pointed out.

The future of climate adaptation did not lie only in genetically engineered patented seeds in the hands of a few companies. It lay in the hands of millions of farmers conserving, improving and breeding hundreds of thousands of varieties of climate-resilient crops specifically adapted to local conditions and changing environment, she said.

The report includes a declaration of people’s response to climate change which says that farmers’ breeding and nature’s evaluation maintains biodiversity which is the only safeguard against climate change. Industrial (chemical-based) agriculture lowers biodiversity and increases vulnerability. Climate change requires farmers’ breeding and local adaptive strategies. Biopiracy is a threat to farmers, society and the earth.

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