“The “green economy” agenda… could well become the blueprint for the biggest resource grab in history, with corporations appropriating the planet’s green wealth and biodiversity.”
“Big oil, big pharma, big food, big seed companies are joining hands to appropriate biodiversity and biomass — the living carbon, thereby extending the age of fossil fuels and dead carbon…. The instruments for this new dispossession are technological tools of genetic engineering, synthetic biology and intellectual property rights (IPRs).” – Vandana Shiva
The world is faced not only with an economic meltdown but also an ecological one. Ecological limits and the universal values of human dignity and equality are being ruthlessly violated. Global financial institutions are asking troubled economies in the West to make adjustments in the face of the economic crisis. While adjustment is imperative, there are vital differences between the adjustment dictated by “one per cent”, that is the rich and the powerful, and the kind of adjustment demanded by the rest, the “99 per cent”. The rich would like to make the poor and working people pay for the adjustment. The populace, on the other hand, wants the rich to pay through higher taxes, like the Tobin tax on financial transactions, and through regulation aimed at stopping the robbery of natural resources and the commons.
The dominant economic model, based on limitless growth, is leading to an overshoot in the use of the earth’s resources and pushing us to the brink of an ecological catastrophe. The model prompts violent grab of the remaining resources of the earth by the rich from the poor. The resource grab is an adjustment by the rich and powerful to a shrinking resource base — land, water, biodiversity — without adjusting the old resource-intensive growth paradigm to the new reality. This has led to ecological scarcity for the poor, deepening poverty and deprivation. In the long run it means the extinction of our species, as climate catastrophies and extinction of other species are bound to make the planet uninhabitable.
The “green economy” agenda being pushed in the run-up to Rio+20, or the Earth Summit, to be held in June, could well become the blueprint for the biggest resource grab in history, with corporations appropriating the planet’s green wealth and biodiversity. These corporations will take our green wealth to make “green oil” for biofuels, energy, plastics, chemicals — everything that the petrochemical era based on fossil fuels gave us. Movements worldwide have started to say no to the “green economy” of the “one per cent”, because an ecological adjustment is possible and it is taking place. This adjustment involves seeing ourselves as part of the fragile ecological web, not outside and above it, and immune from the consequences of our actions.
Ecological adjustment also implies that we see ourselves as members of the earth’s community, sharing its resources equitably with all species and within the human community. Ecological adjustment requires an end to resource grab and privatisation of our land, biodiversity, seeds, water and atmosphere. It requires the recovery of the commons and the creation of “earth democracy”.
The dominant economic model based on resource monopolies and oligarchy is in conflict not just with ecological limits of the planet but also with the basic principles of democracy. The adjustment being dictated by the oligarchy will further strangle democracy and people’s freedom of choice. Sunil Bharti Mittal, one of India’s industry captains, recently said that “politics is hurting the economy and the country”. His observation reflects the mindset of the oligarchy, that democracy can be done away with.
Calls for a democratic, ecological adjustment are being heard worldwide in non-violent protests, from the Arab Spring to the American autumn of “Occupy Wall Street” and the Russian winter challenging the hijack of electoral democracy. These are the signposts for democratic adjustment in response to the austerity programmes imposed by the IMF, World Bank and other financial institutions that created the financial crisis.
The Third World had its structural adjustment and forced austerity through the ’80s and the ’90s, leading to the IMF riots. India’s structural adjustment of 1991 has given us the agrarian crisis with the result that a quarter million farmers have committed suicide so far and food crisis is pushing every fourth Indian to hunger and every second Indian child to malnutrition. The trade liberalisation reforms dismantled our food security system, which was based on universal public distribution system. It opened up the seed sector to multi-national companies, and now an attempt is being made through the Food Security Bill to make our public feeding programmes a market for food MNCs. The forced austerity continues through the imposition of so-called reforms, such as FDI in retail, which would rob millions of people of their livelihood and disrupt the production system.
Europe started its forced austerity in 2010. And everywhere — UK, Italy, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Iceland and Portugal — there are anti-austerity protests. The banks and financial institutions responsible for the economic crisis want society to adjust by going without jobs and livelihoods, pensions and social security, public services and the commons, whereas people want financial systems to adjust to the limits set by nature, social justice and democracy.
The precarious living conditions of the “99 per cent” has created a new class which Guy Standing, professor of economic security, University of Bath, calls “The Precariat”. If the Industrial Revolution gave us the working class, the proletariat, globalisation, which gave us the “free market”, created “the new dangerous class” of “The Precariat” —low-wage workers, both migrants and locals, living on the edge of our modern, global economy.
It is often said that with increasing growth, India and China are replicating the resource-intensive, wasteful lifestyles of the Western countries. The reality is that while a small group, three to four per cent of India, is joining the mad race for consuming the earth by acquiring more and more automobiles and air-conditioners, the large majority of India is being pushed into “de-consumption” — losing their basic entitlements like food, water and shelter because of resource grab, land grab and market grab.
From the throes of the 99 percentres’ movements a new paradigm is emerging, one that was practised and championed by Mahatma Gandhi. As opposed to the forced austerity of the World Bank and IMF, this is the paradigm of voluntary simplicity — of reducing one’s ecological footprint and ensuring the well-being of all.
While forced austerity that helps the rich become super rich, and the powerful become totalitarian, voluntary simplicity enables us all to adjust ecologically, to reduce over-consumption of the planet’s resources and create a path for economic adjustment based on justice and equity.
Seeds of Injustice by Vandana Shiva
There is an intense scramble for the earth’s resources and ownership of nature. Big oil, big pharma, big food, big seed companies are joining hands to appropriate biodiversity and biomass — the living carbon, thereby extending the age of fossil fuels and dead carbon. Corporations view the 75 per cent biomass used by nature and local communities as “wasted”. They would like to appropriate the living wealth of the planet for making biofuels, chemicals and plastics. This will dispossess the poor of the very sources of their lives and livelihoods.
The instruments for this new dispossession are technological tools of genetic engineering, synthetic biology and intellectual property rights (IPRs). A patent is supposed to be granted to an invention. But patents and IPRs are being used to own seeds, life forms and traditional knowledge. Piracy of traditional knowledge is not an invention; it is theft — we call it biopiracy.
Patents are at the heart of Monsanto’s seed monopoly. After the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights agreement was signed in 1994, a representative of the world’s biggest seed corporation said that Monsanto had been the “patient, diagnostician and physician” in drafting the agreement which forced countries to introduce patents on life and seeds.
Monsanto, which began with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is now patenting non-GM crops. On May 21, 2003, Monsanto was assigned a patent on the Indian variety of wheat, Nap Hal, by the European Patent Office (EPO), Munich, under the simple title “plants”. On January 27, 2004, Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology, along with Greenpeace and Bharat Krishak Samaj, filed a petition at EPO, challenging the patent rights given to Monsanto. The patent was revoked in October 2004. This was the third consecutive victory on the IPR front after neem and basmati, and it once again established that patents on biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and resources are based on biopiracy.
Monsanto has used nine local brinjal (eggplant) varieties to develop its Bt. brinjal. Since the Biological Diversity Act of India, 2002, requires approval for accessing indigenous biodiversity, the Karnataka Biodiversity Board complained to the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA). According to the minutes of the NBA’s meeting on June 20, 2011, “NBA may proceed legally against Mahyco/Monsanto, and all others concerned to take the issue to its logical conclusion.”
Monsanto is also accessing native onion varieties to develop its proprietary hybrids. The company is going to pay `10 lakh to the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research for 25 gms each of Male Sterile (A line) and Maintener (B line) of MS 48 and MS 65 as a one-time licence fee. Is this a just price?
In May 2011, Monsanto got a patent on conventionally-bred melons from the EPO. Monsanto has used the natural resistance in Indian melons to certain plant viruses such as the “yellow stunting disorder virus”. Using conventional breeding, this resistance was introduced into other melons. While this is biopiracy of a trait evolved by Indian farmers, Monsanto has patented the plant, all parts of the plant (including the seed) and the melon fruit as its “invention”.
There is an urgent need to ban all patents on life and living organisms, including biodiversity, genes and cell lines. The coalition “No Patents on Seeds” has started a campaign to exclude breeding material, plants and animals, and foods derived thereof from patentability.
Industrial globalised agriculture is heavily implicated in climate change. It contributes to the three major greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels, nitrogen oxide from the use of chemical fertilisers and methane from factory farming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global atmospheric concentration of N2O, largely as a result of the use of chemical fertilisers in agriculture, increased from about 270 parts per billion to 319 parts per billion in 2005.
Industrial agriculture is also more vulnerable to climate change, which is intensifying droughts and floods. Monocultures lead to more frequent crop failure when rainfall does not come in time, or is too much or too little. Chemically fertilised soils have no capacity to withstand a drought.
Genetic engineering is embedded in the industrial model of agriculture based on fossil fuels. It is falsely being offered as a magic bullet for dealing with climate change.
Monsanto claims that GMOs are a cure for both, food insecurity and climate change, and has been putting out the following advertisement across the world:
“9 billion people to feed.
A changing climate
Improving farmers lives
And that’s what Monsanto is all about.”
All the claims this advertisement makes are false. Monsanto claims its GMO Bt. cotton gives 1,500 kg/acre, while the average is 300-400 kg/acre. The claim to increased yield is false because yield, like climate resilience, is a multi-genetic trait. Introducing toxins into a plant through herbicide resistance or Bt. toxin increases the “yield” of toxins, not of food or nutrition.
Climate resilient traits are not “inventions” of corporations. They have been evolved by nature and farmers.
Farmers in India have been breeding crops for millennia to come up with crops that are resistant to climate extremes. Using farmers’ varieties as “genetic material”, the biotechnology industry is playing genetic roulette — gambling on which gene complexes are responsible for which
trait. Breeding is being replaced by gambling, innovation is giving way to biopiracy, and science is being substituted by propaganda and resource-grab. This cannot be the basis of food security in times of climate vulnerability.
Over the past 20 years, we at Navdanya, India’s biodiversity and organic farming movement, have realised that biodiverse, local, organic systems produce more food and higher farm incomes while reducing water use and risks of crop failure due to climate change.
Turning the living wealth of the planet into the property of corporations through patents is a recipe for deepening the poverty and ecological crisis. Biodiversity is the basis of life; it is our living commons. We are a part of nature, not her masters and owners. IPRs on life forms, living resources and living processes are an ethical, ecological and economic perversion. We need to recognise the sovereignty of diverse knowledge systems, including traditional knowledge. And we need to reclaim our biological and intellectual commons for both ecological sustainability and economic justice.