Policy Engagement

This section highlights the importance for GREEN Foundation to focus on policies on variety of issues, the Foundation’s stand on each of those policy areas with reasons, and the work undertaken during the year under this component.

GREEN Foundation has been engaging at the policy level to create an enabling environment for ensuring local agro bio-diversity, farmers’ resilience and their control over resources and inputs. The Foundation has been working across various levels to contribute to this cause, and has been actively involved in several policy areas such as Seed Act, GMO, Hybrid Seeds, Non-Pesticide Management, Organic Agriculture and sustainable agriculture. The Foundation believes strongly in ensuring people’s control over resources and promotes local production of seeds, inputs and other key services.

The Foundation also looks at policy from many stakeholders’ angles, i.e. public policy, policies of the civil societies, producer organisation, scientific organisations, business and CSR, and general public. During the year, the Foundation has undertaken a number of activities in building perspectives of these stakeholders through field visits, meetings, workshops, sharing materials and experiences and personal meetings.

GMO Seeds:

Green Foundation has always taken a stand that genetic engineering is unsafe. As has been said by eminent scientists to quote – “You can stop splitting the atom; you can stop visiting the moon; you can stop using aerosals; you may even decide not to kill entire populations by the use of a few bombs. But you cannot recall a new form of life. Once you have constructed a viable E. coli cell carry a plasmid DNA into which a piece of eukaryotic DNA has been spliced, it will survive you and your children and your children’s children. An irreversible attack on the biosphere is something so unheard-of, so unthinkable to previous generations cannot be reversed”. Secondly. genetic engineering has demonstrated that it can be harmful to health. Scientists like Arpud Pustai have clearly shown in their laboratory experiments that animals with which they worked had damaged liver. Thirdly, GREEN Foundation has worked towards conserving biodiversity in agriculture and release of GM crops can be detrimental to the vast biodiversity as has been demonstrated by the GM cotton. Now it is very difficult to find native seeds of cotton since the GM cotton has spread itself and farmers have not maintained the indigenous varieties. GF has taken an active part in protesting against the release of Bt brinjal. Therefore, Green Foundation’s Policy is not to support the promotion of GM crops. Towards this, the Foundation has been working with farmers, farmer producer companies, individual seed savers and seed savers groups to identify, conserve and multiplication of the local varieties. It works with variety of stakeholders from the grassroot level to policy in building perspectives, capacities and sharing our experiences.

Hybrid Seeds:

As for hybrid seeds hitherto the understanding was that it is a biological patent and hence farmers have to keep buying the seeds and they cannot realise the yields they expect in the second generation. But after interaction with Dr. Salvatore, adviser to the Foundation, the understanding is that even if hybrid seeds are mixed with the local varieties, the next generation of crops can have better yields, “The breeding philosophy on which the green revolution was based caused five major problems. Firstly, the heavy use of chemicals soon began impacting the environment. Secondly, the poorest farmers and particularly those living in marginal environments were bypassed because they could not afford to purchase the chemicals needed to create the right environments for the new varieties – not all scientists agree on this, but most of the poor farmers do. Despite the successes of the Green Revolution, about two billion people still lack reliable access to safe, nutritious food, and 800 million of them are chronically malnourished. Thirdly, there was a dramatic decline in agricultural biodiversity (FAO 2010) because on the one hand, hundreds of genetically diverse landraces selected by farmers over millennia for specific adaptation to their own environment and uses were displaced, and on the other hand, the new varieties were all very similar in their genetic constitution despite having different names. Fourthly, seed production, which up to that point was in the hands of the farmers, became more and more centralized, and in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations (Fuglie et al. 2011)

Fifty, many scientists particularly in developing countries, are still following the wide adaptation philosophy (Baranski 2015) trying to fit one common solution to the problems of as many people in as many places as possible.” Dr. Salvatore has demonstrated the success in using hybrid seeds in vegetables and farmers have been able to realise good yields and varieties that were welcomed by consumers. Following these suggestions and experiences, the Foundation has been working in evolving new varieties through evolutionary plant breeding at one location, with a mix of local and hybrid varieties. The experiences will be shared with stakeholders in the coming seasons. Organic Farming vs Sustainable Agriculture: The issue of whether organic farming is compatible with human needs and population growth is, however, a controversial one and has been recently the subject of four meta-analyses (de Ponti, et al. 2012; Bennett and Franzel 2013; Seufert, et al. 2012; Ponisio et al. 2014). The first (de Ponti, et al. 2012) showed that organic yields of individual crops are on an average 80% of conventional yields, butvariation is substantial (standard deviation 21%). The second (Bennett and Franzel 2013) estimated the average yield ratio (organic: non-organic) of different food categories for the developed and the developing world. For most food categories, the average yield ratio was slightly <1.0 for studies in the developed world, and >1.0 for studies in the developing world.

Organic Farming vs Sustainable Agriculture :

The same paper modeled the global food supply that could be grown organically on the current agricultural land base and concluded that organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base. The third (Seufert et al. 2012) showed that, overall, organic yields are typically lower than conventional yields. But these yield differences are highly contextual, depending on system and site characteristics, and range from 5% lower organic yields (rainfed legumes and perennials on weak acidic to weak-alkaline soils), 13% lower yields (when best organic practices are used), to 34% lower yields (when the conventional and organic systems are most comparable). Under certain conditions – that is, with good management practices, particular crop types and growing conditions—organic systems can thus nearly match conventional yields, whereas under others at present cannot. Eventually, Ponisio et al. (2014) showed organic yields which were on average 19.2% lower, and with optimal crop rotations 8% lower than in conventional production, hence with a gap between the two systems lower than previously estimated.

On the other hand, a study examining sustainable agriculture initiatives in developing countries comprised the analysis of 286 projects covering 37 million hectares in 57 countries found that when sustainable agricultural practices were adopted, average crop yields increased by 79% per cent (Pretty et al. 2009) with significant increases of organic matter accumulation in the soil, carbon sequestration and reduced pesticides use.

A United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) study reanalyzed the database on agricultural sustainability to produce a summary of the impact of organic and near-organic projects on agricultural productivity in Africa: the average crop yield increases were 116% per cent for all African projects and 128% per cent for the projects in East Africa (UNCTAD 2008). Organic agriculture has the merit of representing a model of sustainable agriculture and the demerit of lower yields. Recently, the feasibility of New Breeding Techniques for rewilding, a process involving the reintroduction of properties from the wild relatives of crops, has been discussed as a way to close the gap between organic and conventional agriculture (Andersen et al. 2015). GM crops are not the solution to the lower yields in organic systems because 1) they do not consistently increase yields even in conventional agriculture (Fernandez-Cornejo, et al. 2014) and 2) as indicated earlier, they provide an unstable protection against pests, and therefore, when the protection fails, farmers have no other alternatives than either losing the crop or using chemicals. The solution to the problem of the lower yields in organic agriculture is to select varieties specifically adapted to organic systems by organizing breeding programs based on direct selection within organic systems (Murphy et al. 2005; 2007, Lammerts van Bueren and Myers 2012; Campanelli et al. 2015). This solution is, however, hampered by the limited number of public and private plant breeding programs addressing the specific needs of organic agriculture. This also suggests a flaw in those four metaanalysis quoted earlier, because most of the varieties currently used by organic farmers were not actually bred for organic systems.

Therefore, GREEN Foundation’s policy would tilt for sustainable agriculture since organic farming is a way of life and has to be adopted both by the farmers and consumers and treated as a niche product . The important point is crops have to be bred for organic systems which is the critical aspect of farmers ability to breed for organic systems As for NPM the GREEN Foundation’s policy is based on the understanding that farmers have on pests and predators, Pests and pesticides have seriously affected the farm based livelihoods in rural areas. The last three years experience shows that moving towards local resource based sustainable agriculture as the only way to sustain the livelihoods of small and marginal farmers and community based organizations like federations of women self help groups form an excellent institutional platform for scaling up such models. To sustain agriculture and agriculture based livelihoods, this calls for a complete paradigm shift in the way agricultural practices are understood, developed, promoted and supported. The new paradigm is based on the local resource based technologies and a community managed extension systems.

Some of the understanding is based on relevance of small experiences for a wider application, availability of resources locally, farmers willingness to adopt these practices, lack of institutional and support systems, supplementing farmers’ knowledge and enhancing the skills, reducing the time of transformation, reaching to larger areas with minimal expenditure, and establishing extension system which give community the center stage.

Organic Farming vs Sustainable Agriculture :

If we are able to work with farmers on these aspects then NPM would be a success .

In the long chain of changing hues of Indian agriculture the new seed bill is being introduced as a restitution of the deficiencies in the 1966 seeds act. The proposed changes sought through the 2010 bill pledges to make the best planting material available to Indian farmers for increasing productivity, encourage export of seeds and ensure food production and food security.

The seed bill aims at making registration of varieties obligatory which was previously voluntary, creating a national register of seeds, facilitate import and export of seeds, accommodate new ( lenient) regulations on GM crops and increase the space for private companies. The underlying intentions are to harmonize the seed law in India with other seed laws around the world.

However, what is in it for farmers? What are the main features of the new bill?
The proposed seed law introduces mandatory registration of all seeds. This has been observed to be a significant departure from the 1966 act which sought to regulate only a limited number of varieties that were notified. Now the registration is for creating a national register of seeds.

However the law also says that nothing in this act shall restrict the rights of the farmers to save, use, exchange , share or sell the farm saved seeds and planting material except that they shall not sell the seeds under a brand name which does not conform to the minimum limit of germination , physical and genetic purity .

The new law is also being promoted under the garb of consumer protection act for farmers with little assurance of protection while the seed lobby is pushing for removal of seeds from consumer protection. Unfortunately even if the government recognizes the need for compensating the farmers the companies look for loop holes to skirt around the payment . In the state of Andhra Pradesh when farmers suffered losses from cultivating Monsanto’s Bt cotton Monsanto was only willing to pay for failure to germinate and for absence of genetic purity and not for yield losses. With easing of government regulations and implementation of the new seed policy in 1988, private sector seed companies started increasing their share of seed production. The companies concentrated on hybrids and cash crops involving low volume and high margins . There are more than 500 hybrids of field crops and vegetables marketed as Truthfully labelled seeds. The impact of privatization/liberalization of seed sector influenced the changes in the agricultural sector in India.

It lead to changes in cropping patterns of farmer’s varieties and induced dependence on mono crops and high external inputs. The major shift was from one of farmer controlled farming system to one controlled by agrichemical and seed corporations. The Indian seed market is estimated at US $ 1.5 billion and the fifth largest in the world. It is foreseen that its growth will be 12 -15 percent annually and projected to be 3rd by 2015.

Other factors like co-operation between private seed sector and public research institutes like the ICAR, State Agricultural universities and ICRISAT funded by the CGIAR system is on the increase. The fruits of Public sector research is available free of charge to private seed companies is on the increase.. Some of the examples of the public private partnership using the state agricultural universities to test their products are:

  • Dow agri science for Bt cotton at Coimbatore, Bangalore and Davanagere
  • Pioneer’s Bt and herbicide tolerant corn at Bangalore, Dharwad, Udaipur and Hyderabad
  • Monsanto’s Bt and herbicide corn at Karnal, Ludhiana, Udaipur, Coimbatore, Dharwad and Jabalpur.

As a result, the price of seeds have increased with a major setback on farming communities. The prices of seeds from indigenous companies:

  • Tomato Rs 400/Kg Rs. 50,000/ Kg
  • Corainder Rs. 600/Kg Rs. 18,000/Kg
  • Pappaya Rs. 2000/Kg Rs 2. 60,000 lakhs /kg
  • Cabbage Rs.1000/Kg Rs. 24,000/Kg

With this huge difference in price there is no mention in the law of regulating the Seed price while the emphasis is on regulating the seed production and marketing alone. However well-meaning the seed bill may appear in regulating the seed market it is inevitable to remember that the beginning of the seed system has existed for centuries. Despite the growth in the private seed sector the farm and farmer saved seed caters to over two thirds of seed requirement in agriculture in India. It is therefore essential to remember that while seed regulation is essential at one level it is important to save the farm saved seeds an incomparable contribution by the farming community. To ensure that this aspect of our seed system continues the twin objective of producing quality seeds is dependant on building capacity of farmers and creating the awareness of conserving farm seeds . This is the underlying policy of Green foundation in establishing community seed banks There is scope and opportunity to improve seed selection methods, harvesting, drying practices to ensure good germination, seed health and maintain purity. At the farmer level it is essential to spread the concept of local community owned seed banks with basic capacity for seed processing and funding mechanisms to support the same. This concept has been initiated in the early 2000 by GREEN Foundation and the the concept has spread as a movement. The lessons learnt bank upon combining the social aspects of development goals with profitability of Seed Supply systems to sustain farming and the farmers.

Dr. Vanaja Ramprasad, Trustee of GREEN Foundation is a member of National Biodiversity Board. She interacts with decision-makers and scientists on issues related to agrobiodiversity conservation and the future of seed in the context of small and marginal farmers.