Jardhari along with several other activists from Jardhargaon and nearby areas in Tehri district of Uttarakhand formed Beej Bachao Andolan (Save the Seeds Movement) in eighties. The drive not only revived traditional farming methods and rejuvenated agricultural diversity but also created awareness about sustainable indigenous seeds. The movement has become a success without any grants from any quarters. Suresh Nautiyal spoke to Vijay Jardhari on his movement and current controversy surrounding the debate on GM food
What is your stand on the current debate on Bt brinjal and genetically modified (GM) food controversy?
The opposition to GM foods, and Bt brinjal particularly, is getting momentum among farmers across the country. At stake is not only the interest of farmers but the future of all other living beings that will be negatively affected by the genetic engineering (GE) technology. Going against nature or meddling with its manifestations is dangerous with irreversible consequences. It is a sad commentary that a section of ‘differently motivated’ scientists are not responsible towards society. The multinational companies with the vested interests support and guide these scientists to extract scientific results that suit their profits. I am sorry to say that a section of experts is anti-people. Seed companies are also manipulating science to promote their business interests without any concern for the land, farmers and environment. The governments are under pressure from these corporates and some ministers have become their spokespersons. The solution to these problems lies in not letting the GM technology take roots in India.
What if Bt brinjal is allowed after the so-called moratorium?
If Bt brinjal crop is allowed at some point of time, the whole agricultural scenario will undergo a drastic change. In fact, the proponents of transgenic crops want to bring GM technology in several foodgrains. We have not learnt lessons from the Bt cotton experience. The introduction of Bt brinjal will destroy the indigenous agricultural knowledge system. We must not forget that unlike in the west, agriculture is a way of life in our country. The farmers sow their seeds even if there is no possibility of rains or water as it is part of their life and ethos. I fail to understand why certain people want to introduce Bt in brinjal even as we have no shortage of the vegetable in any part of the country with more than 2,500 varieties already in place. Besides, in a region like Uttarakhand we have varieties that give brinjal for three-four years, which means we need not grow fresh plants for that period.
Do you favour a regulatory body to monitor GM technology and its implementation?
I have no faith in such institutions. In the first place, there is no need for GM and Bt technology. I fail to understand why we need such bodies at all? Secondly, these bodies cannot be reliable. You have seen what Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has done. It has cheated on the farmers and the people.
There are talks of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, 2009 that will curtail any expression against GM.
I have heard and read about it in some media reports. I think it is a dangerous move that will curtail the freedom of people. The bill is to terrorise people. It is very unfortunate that the government is trying to implement what the companies like Monsanto aim for. If the Bt technology is safe and good for health, let us try this on these very people first.
How do you see the decision taken by the environment minister Jairam Ramesh in connection with the Bt brinjal?
I understand that he was under tremendous pressure from several quarters as he was not in a mood to favour the big business. However, the decision did not show a sense of strong determination. It was half-hearted. Despite people on his side, he put a moratorium on the Bt crop and not a ban. The minister should have shown bit more courage and put a ban forever on the production of the Bt crops. I do not know why the minister took this middle path and to please whom? Ministers like Sharad Pawar and Prithviraj Chavan are openly advocating the cause of the multinational companies. They have shamelessly tried to protect the interests of Monsanto. Can they tell us when did the people of this country ask for Bt brinjal? I do not know why these people are bent upon destroying the traditional knowledge system and Indian agriculture.
Do you feel the intelligentsia and the civil society movement played a positive role on the Bt issue?
Except a few organisations, the overall role of the intelligentsia and civil society has been positive. I do not know why farmers’ leaders like Sharad Joshi are with Monsanto. Also, the whole discourse was brought in the public domain, thus educating and making the people aware. Media also played a very important role by bringing to the fore the core issues related to the Bt technology. Previously, not a very large number of people knew about the GM crops or the Bt brinjal debate.
Any comment on Monsanto, the company infamous for dragging the farmers to the courts and monopolising the seeds?
I have no courteous words for this company. Monsanto is a group that plunders from the farmers as well as from the people. It is an anti-people company that is deeply into profiteering only. Monsanto has mostly targeted poor and developing countries and has already finished marginal farmers in several countries. Not only this, the company drags innocent farmers to the courts. This company must go.
What role do you envisage for
the farmers in such a depressing
Awareness and knowledge about the issues is very important. They will consolidate their movement only when they have proper knowledge of the ground reality. In any case, they need to come together and consolidate. We need a farmers’ movement at the national level to oppose the GM crops.
What about the talk of the second Green Revolution?
I would like to emphasise that the talk about the second Green Revolution is rubbish. The Green Revolution itself had played a negative role and created markets only. The movement earlier did not create any support system for the farmers. Scores of them died due to the wrong policies of the Green Revolution. So, how can we expect anything from the second one? In fact, we do not have a clear-cut blueprint for the second Green Revolution.
Tell us about the achievements of Beej Bachao Andolan.
Nobody should have any copyright on the knowledge as it transcends generations and percolates down the line. Whatever we have achieved, we have learnt from the farmers. We do not claim that we have done something very new and innovative. In fact, we have only tried to conserve what was being lost. So, we have no patent on anything. If we claim copyright over this, then we are no better than those companies that have monopolised seeds for their business. We are also opposed to those who on the one side claim to be working for the people and fighting for their cause but on the other side get more and more money for their projects and sometimes from the foundations and charities run by these companies directly or indirectly.
Now, going back to the history, please tell us something about the genesis of the Beej Bachao Andolan or the Save the Seeds Movement that got started in the eighties?
It was a well thought decision to start the Beej Bachao Andolan after the success of the Chipko movement and our collective participation in it. Our group was against the hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers. Basically, the movement was against the new trends in agriculture like the high yielding varieties and cash crops. We knew that the chemicals in the form of fertilisers would make the soil accustomed to the intoxicants in the fertilisers, thus making it addictive and ruin agriculture in the end. Also, the seeds become infertile after two-three sowings. All this resulted in the Beej Bachao Andolan.
Can a larger movement like the one you have been pursuing makes a significant change in the lives of the toiling farmers the country over?
Yes. I have full faith in our traditional farming system. We can get very good results if we interweave the traditional knowledge systems with modern science. The point is that we have to use science in a way that it is people-friendly and in the larger interest of humanity. We cannot accept the science that does not care for the human values. Another issue is as to how can we save our traditional seeds. The role of science should be to enhance and improve the seeds, not destroy them. For sure, GM and Bt are not going to provide any long-term solutions and this fact has been accepted even by those companies which have been monopolising seeds. This is very important to understand.