Seed is an important input for agricultural production. However, seed was not a transactable commodity. It was not at all a product that could be seen in the markets. It was a legacy to be shared, without profit. It was a common property. It was nature in itself. It was the source of continuation and improvement. Seed was the strength. Ownership of seed and knowledge of seed multiplication were skills that were cherished. It was an asset, even a mere handful – more so, in times of drought and famine. Eating seeds was an extreme act of desperation. Long back, and even now, many types of seeds are saved, reused, multiplied and shared by the farmers, among themselves.
Over a period, this has changed. Seeds became hybrid, as quality became mere numbers. Hybrid seeds brought in the race to produce more and more. Productivity, per acre, became the parameter. With hybridization came the twin problem of subsidization. Government said we will give you hybrid seeds, and you give us higher production. Government set up a huge system of seed research, multiplication and distribution mechanism, in a few food crops. This extended to other non-food crops as well. Every year, new hybrid varieties were released, with higher claims of yield. There was competition too. Meanwhile, farmers found it easier to access these seeds, than depend on their own knowledge, skills and seeds. This attitude of ‘dependence’ consolidated, which led to the decimation of farmers knowledge.
Today, you eat the seeds, and you will drop dead in minutes. Commercial seeds are now toxic materials, without such labeling. One cannot save, use and reuse the seeds – if not the law, ‘modern science’ says so.
Meanwhile, scientists and their establishment found out that they cannot cheat everyone for all times. Hybrid seeds are not giving the yields they kept claiming, even though they blamed the farmers for not following the practices recommended by them. Science and agricultural scientists have always been holy – it is the farmers who should be blamed. Eventually, government also found out that there is a limit to the ‘hybrid’ science and façade that is being continued in the name of ‘hybridisation’ of agriculture.
This situation brought a new player – merchants of genetic modification of seeds. Scientists found a new principle to continue with the façade of higher and higher yields. This new scientific principle would help in continuing their suzerainty over seed markets and unlimited profits. Because, by now, seeds have become commodities. They are the source of enrichment of various bank accounts. Seed is now a transactable commodity. But, then the vehicle has become old – seed research, multiplication and distribution has become old and redundant. Using the same would be questioned, and the product itself may not be acceptable. Thus, the National Seed Policy 2002 asked for more private participation. Private companies, with SMART objectives and efficient market mechanisms, were found to be better vehicles to push for a new breed of seeds, called GM seeds.
Within 8 years, seed companies have registered a phenomenal growth, riding on government support, negligence of its own seed research, multiplication and distribution system, marketing and lobbying methods. The number of companies has increased and decreased, depending on the complicity of the government, atmosphere for agriculture and civil society. This was a cause of celebration, akin to the results of reforms in telecom sector – money and profits, everywhere.
Today, seeds of agricultural products, which have high value, such as fruits, vegetables and some commercial crops such as cotton, are distributed by private seed companies. Government is smugly satisfied with such an ‘achievement’. They would like to see the same result in major food crops as well, rice, wheat, maize, etc.. Seed sector has now a Rs.9,000 crore turnover – a growth rate of more than 8%. It is entirely another issue that agricultural growth is less than 2%.
However, we need to understand that these companies cannot produce seeds in factories, but do have contracts with seed farmers. They pay less, and extract more. If child labour is employed, farmers are threatened, while government officials would discuss with the seed company officials (in five star hotels) on ‘how to address this problem’. Both the companies and government officials would brief the media on an ‘agreement’, camouflaging the fact that they are the cause of such a problem.
In 2011, government came up with a policy to allow foreign direct investment in seed companies as well. This according to them will help Indian agriculture to reach world standards, by accessing better quality seeds and world class research outputs. What this would mean is that the numerous small companies, already controlled by one big multi-national through a private licensing system, would be reduced to mere departments for this or other major global seed company. Global seed markets are controlled by only three or four companies. India was outside this. With this latest change, India would become a major destiny and source for seeds. India would be a destiny for all experimental GM seeds and would be the source for seeds required in Africa and European markets.
Like in pharmaceuticals, Indian farmers would pay for these experiments and get damned by our ‘desi’ scientists for being unscientific. Our ‘desi’ companies would show the way for the ‘videshi’ companies to reach the farmers. Our ‘desi’ farmer leaders, after visiting a few places abroad, would come back and cry hoarse for GM seeds, by travelling all over the country. They would organize huge conclaves in New Delhi, browbeat any honesty in officials and scientists, populate various decision-making companies and would coordinate the actual profiteering process of the multi-national companies. All this mechanism is ‘oiled’ by money made out of the poor farmers.
In this whole conundrum of science, growth and profits, in seed sector, seed producing farmers and seed sowing farmers are being squeezed, of their little wealth and meager assets. Consumers are in the danger of losing their appetite, health and wealth (over hospitalization). And, nature is expected to be ‘modified’ beyond any possibility of remediation and recouping. Global seed companies, monsters as they are, are likely to gorge the biggest market that is India and increase their size and strength.