Interview :: Civil and Human Rights : Economy and Trade : Environment

CONFLUENCE: India and the Battle Against Biotechnology: Anuradha Mittal Interview

Anuradha Mittal is the director of the Oakland Institute, a California-based research and education institution. She is an expert on trade, agriculture and development in India (her native country) and globally. Confluence had a chance to talk to her at the Reclaim the Commons events last April.
Anuradha Mittal
Confluence([search]): What's happening in India with the commons? I know they've been trying to privatize the seeds, especially cotton.
Anuradha Mittal: There's been a real push to promote biotechnology in India. You find all kinds of advertising campaigns, you find these agricultural institutes getting funding and support from companies such as Monsanto([search]), you see Bt Cotton being illegally planted in India… With its billion people, India is seen as a huge market, with two-thirds of the population involved in agriculture. [Biotechnology corporations] can sell these patented seeds and then sell the Roundup herbicide [produced by Monsanto] as well…We have seen the lies that have been spread, especially among the younger generation of farmers: That [the GMO seeds] are going to have great benefits and produce higher yields. At the same time, there has been a very active opposition movement: farmers are saying no to it.

Are most farmers in India wary of the GMO seeds?
Most farmers in India are too poor to be able to think of buying it. These are farmers that are growing organically because they don't have the money to invest in chemical fertilizers and pesticides… [The promotion of GMO seeds] is an attempt to take away their land and convert if from subsistence agriculture where millions of farmers are involved to huge farms and agribusiness.

Is it true that most farmers in India are still subsistence farmers?
They are subsistence farmers, but at the same time they do not have the resources… After all these years of the Green Revolution they can see that all it does is put them in debt. They have basically taken loans to be able to buy fertilizers and pesticides, then they have gone into debt and there is no market for their crops. After the "free trade agreements", India would rather buy crop from Australia or United States rather than domestic farms. [These subsidized crops are cheaper than what Indian farmers charge.] So there is no incentive to get on this bandwagon for GMO's and chemical agriculture. They want to focus on regional markets where they don't need all this stuff.

It sounds like what's happening in Mexico, where farmers can't sell their corn because it's cheaper to buy subsidized corn grown in the US.
It's the same story in every Third World country. You'll find, on the one hand, these lies about the wonders of chemical-based agriculture. It puts farmers in debt, and then they have no market….People say no one has died from GM crops, but I tell you, it's a symptom of industrial agriculture —more than 40,000 farmers [world-wide] are estimated to have taken their lives between 1970 and 2000. So I would say GMOs and industrial agriculture do kill farmers.
Agriculture is the largest employer in India. You have to look at what has converted the positive agricultural economy into a negative one there: it is trade liberalization and industrial agriculture!

What about industry claims that GMO foods are going to feed the world?
It's one of the biggest lies that genetically modified foods can solve world hunger. Even the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that right now we have enough food to provide over 2720 kilo-calories per person per day around the world. That's enough to make each one of us fat. If it was just a shortage of food production, you would not have the United States Department of Agriculture identifying over 37 million Americans to be food insecure. In my country, the third largest food producer in the world, would not be home to over 350 million people who are food insecure. The reason for hunger is not the shortage of production but the shortage of purchasing power. There is not a technological fix that can solve the problem of hunger. What you need is living wage jobs, you need land reform, you need traditional seeds and water and land. That will solve the problem of hunger in the world.

This story appears in the current print issue of Confluence Newspaper. If you would like to contact the author or the Confluence editors about this story, please use any of the following:

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