Corporate rule violates the principles of sovereignty and self-rule – Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva“Corporate rule violates the principles of swaraj, sovereignty and self-rule. In the name of removing hunger and poverty, it pushes us deeper into poverty. Today, an American biotechnology corporation like Monsanto would like to rule us by taking control of our seed supply….  Corporations like Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s and Nestlé would like to rule us through imposing … junk food by changing our food safety laws, … criminalising the diversity of our foods by making local indigenous, artisanal foods illegal. Corporations like Wal-Mart would like to rule us by destroying our retail democracy, which creates livelihood for 50 million people and brings fresh, diverse food to our doorstep…. Controlling what grows means seizing control of life, which in turn means that life is Monsanto’s invention, not nature’s.” – Dr Vandana Shiva

Narendra Modi's Ganga PujaSwaraj, freedom, was one of the most frequently used terms in the campaign for 2014 general elections. During his speech on the ghats of the Ganga, expressing gratitude to the people of Varanasi for his massive victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed himself to governance based on Mahatma Gandhi’s principles.

The five-year term of the newly elected government will end in 2019 — which will also be Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary year. So we have a compass and a time frame to undertake our national journey over the next five years guided by swaraj.

Swaraj defined our freedom movement — it encompassed not just political freedom, but also economic freedom. For me, Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj is the best book on real freedom and it has become even more relevant in the search for freedom in times of corporate rule (also referred to as corporate globalisation and neoliberal economic reform).

Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj in 1908, more than 100 years ago, on his way to South Africa from England. It was first published in the columns of Indian Opinion newspaper in South Africa. In the book’s 1921 edition, he added a word of explanation, and wrote: “In my opinion it is a book which can be put into the hands of a child…. It teaches the gospel of love in place of that of hate. It replaces violence with self-sacrifice. It puts soul force against brute force….”

For Gandhi, civilisation was “that mode of conduct which points out to humans the path of duty,” i.e. the right to livelihood. And it was on this concept of right to livelihood that Gandhi defined freedom: “It is swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves.”

I was happy to see that Mr Modi reminded us that our civilisation is founded on the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the earth as family) in contrast to the idea of man’s empire over the earth. This theory has dominated the colonising West and Western paradigms that solely consider gross domestic product as the measure of “growth”.

M. K. Gandhi in 1929Gandhi said: “India should develop by using its ethos, which is essentially spiritual and which perceives unity, reverence for nature and a prayer for the welfare of all mankind.”

Mr Modi also reminded us that “Swami Vivekananda had cautioned us a century ago that ‘if we give up our spirituality, leaving it aside to go after the materialising civilisation of the West, the foundation on which the national edifice has been built will be undermined.’”

Corporate rule violates the principles of swaraj, sovereignty and self-rule. In the name of removing hunger and poverty, it pushes us deeper into poverty. Today, American biotechnology corporation like Monsanto would like to rule us by taking control of our seed supply and imposing GMO seeds, chemical and industrial agriculture in the name of the second Green Revolution. Corporations like Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, etc. would like to rule us through imposing processed and junk food by changing our food safety laws, imposing the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), criminalising the diversity of our foods by making local indigenous, artisanal foods illegal. Corporations like Wal-Mart would like to rule us by destroying our retail democracy, which creates livelihood for 50 million people and brings fresh, diverse food to our doorstep. Monsanto’s empire is based on seed patents. Controlling what grows means seizing control of life, which in turn means that life is Monsanto’s invention, not nature’s.

Our farmers are paying the price for corporate greed through their very lives — debt for costly seeds and chemicals is the root cause of 284,000 farmers’ suicide in India since 1995. The solution to farmers’ suicide is to promote GMO free, patent free organic agriculture based on beej and anna swaraj (seed and food freedom). Mr Modi has also supported organic farming, which is GMO free, chemical free farming.

The problem with “materialist” development is not just that it ignores spiritual values, but that it fails to take into account the health of the planet and the wellbeing of people. As Gandhi said, “Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word ‘civilisation’. Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life.”

MonsantoFood and agriculture is an area where we can clearly see the failure of industrial agriculture models imposed by the West in providing “bodily comforts”. The so-called “modern” food and agriculture system, based on chemicals and GMOs pushed by global corporations, is a toxic food system — from the seed to our stomachs. While it is promoted as a solution to hunger, it is responsible for 75 per cent of all ecological and health problems globally. Hunger, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, allergies, cancers and neurological problems are built into this greed driven, toxic food system. While it destroys the real economy of nature and people’s healths and livelihoods, the GDP grows. The more Monsanto sells GMO-patented seeds, the more the economy grows. With the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds, seed costs Coca Cola in Indiajumped 8,000 per cent. Every year royalty worth thousands of crores of rupees leaves the country for seeds, something in which we should be sovereign. This sort of economic growth does not take into account the drain due to royalty payments for GMO seeds, farmers’ suicides and the death of pollinators and soil organisms. The more people are affected by cancer and kidney failure because of poison in our food, the more the economy grows. The inappropriateness of GDP as a measure of wellbeing of people became evident when recently Britain said it would include prostitution and illegal drugs in its official national accounts for the first time. Prostitutes and drug dealers are set to give Britain a £10bn boost as the country revamps the way it measures its economy.

The manipulation of life through genetic engineering, and of the economy through GDP is not serving the higher purpose of living on the principles of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and swaraj. It is time to evolve a development model according to our ethos, for the wellbeing of all life and all people. – The Asian Age, 25 June 2014

» Dr Vandana Shiva’s website is here.  She is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

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The Himalayas and the Sacredness of Nature – Swati Chopra

Ganga Devi

Swati-ChopraWatching the horrific devastation in Uttarakhand, I was reminded of my visit to Badrinath and Kedarnath some 25 or so years ago. There was nowhere the kind and scale of construction that seemed to have sprung up of late, and the numbers of pilgrims were in hundreds, not thousands.

An understanding of the man-made aspect of the tragedy is growing, of how rampant destruction of forests and the Himalayan ecosystem in and around the pilgrimage spots might have magnified the impact of the natural disaster.

That this should happen at sacred sites associated with a religion and a way of life that has an eco-spiritual perspective inbuilt in so many of its traditions is cause for concern. It is a warning that in following the form of ritualised religion, we might have forgotten its spirit. That we might still worship a river or a mountain with flowers and incense, but have become blind to the impact our presence there is having on those very objects of our veneration. That we might chant mantras extolling the elements, but think nothing of polluting them with waste, plastic and toxic fumes. That we might be relating with religion as another consumable material, without bothering to understand its deeper underpinnings.

Ganga's Descent: Image from "Myths of the Hindus & Buddhists" by Sister Nivedita & Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1914). Click image for book.When we lived closer to nature, and not in the urban concrete jungles of today, perhaps it was easier to evoke and feel a respectful awe for natural phenomena. A river was not just a river. She was a mega-mother, a goddess, who nurtured centuries of civilisation along her banks. She not only fed us but also received our ashes when we died, as a portal of transmigration. She was not to be messed with but propitiated. Most importantly, she was not an object to be consumed for our comfort.

In the hills of Uttarakhand, for centuries people have worshipped mountains, trees, boulders, glades and knolls as abodes of spirits, some benevolent, others malevolent. Some kinds of trees would never be cut, and if they needed to, the act would be preceded by days of pujas to ask its permission. When I see the mindless destruction of forests and nature that the age of science and reason has brought with it, I wonder if in this regard we weren’t better off with superstitions that declared some acts of natural destruction taboo. Even if it played on people’s fears of vengeful spirits, at least it helped preserve the fragile Himalayan ecosystem.

Perhaps, this monumental tragedy will inspire us to consider a re-sacralisation of our connection with nature. To consider the Ganga, the Himalayas, their flora and fauna, and our surroundings wherever we are, as sacred and alive entities, not just myths or idols to be worshipped in temples, or consumables to be exploited for our needs. Perhaps this will be the call to return to our natural selves, and re-visualise the ecological divinity that exists all around us. — The Asian Age, 28 June 2013

Shivling Mountain & Gangotri Glacier in Uttarakhand

Source of Ganga: Gangotri glacier & Shivling mountain in Garhwal, Himalayas

Mining in the Himalayas

Deforestation and mining in the Himalayas is the cause of landslides and flooding. 

Ganga in spate at Uttarkashi

The Ganga in spate at Uttarkashi, June 2013

Pilgrim offering lamp to Ganga Devi at the Kumbha Mela 2013

Pilgrim offering a lamp to Ganga at Prayag, Kumbha Mela 2013

Walmart vs the Indian farmer – Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva“Land reforms in India got rid of zamindari and put land in the hands of the tiller. Land ceiling was introduced to ensure there would be no concentration of ownership over land. What the government is calling “reforms” are, in effect, anti-reform reforms, aimed at undoing every policy and law that we have put in place in independent and democratic India to ensure the rozi-roti of the last person. Walmart will harm and wipe out small farmers and businesses in India the way it has harmed farmers and retailers in the US. And because the density of small farmers and small retailers is higher in India than anywhere else in the world, the destructive impact will be magnified manifold.” — Vandana Shiva

Punjab wheat farmerIndia is a land of small farmers. According to the United Nations, the smaller the farm, the higher the productivity.

Small farms grow biodiversity. They are falsely described as unproductive because productivity in agriculture has been manipulated to exclude diversity and exclude costs of high chemical and capital inputs in chemical industrial agriculture. When biodiversity is taken into account, small farms produce more food and higher incomes.

In the heated debate on FDI in retail, those promoting it repeatedly claim that the entry of corporations like Walmart will benefit the Indian farmer. Reference is made to getting rid of the middleman.

Any trader who mediates in the distribution of goods between producers and consumers is a middleman. Walmart is neither a producer nor a consumer. Therefore, it is also a middleman; it is a giant middleman with global muscle. That is how it has become the world’s biggest retailer, carrying out business of nearly $480 billion. So the issue is not getting rid of the middleman but replacing the small arthi with a giant one. The Walton Family is the global arthi located in the US, not in the local community. And this new kind of arthi combines the functions of all small traders everywhere from wholesale to retail. Instead of millions of small traders taking a two per cent commission at different levels, Walmart gets all profits. If three small traders mediate at two per cent between the producer and consumer, the difference between the farm price and consumer price is just six per cent. When Walmart enters the picture, the difference jumps with the farmer getting only two per cent of the consumer price and Walmart and its supply chain harvesting the 98 per cent. So the issue is not the number of middlemen but their size and their share of profits. It was to avoid this concentration of power over the agricultural produce market that India created the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act. Our mandis are governed by cooperatives, which include farmers. No trader can buy more than a certain amount. This prevents monopolies. It creates a decentralised, democratic distribution system from wholesale to retail.

Farmers market Karauli, Rajasthan, India.The government, especially the Planning Commission, has been trying very hard to dismantle the APMCs and mandis to facilitate the entry of big business in agriculture. The announcement of FDI in retail will radically change Indian agriculture. It threatens the survival of the small Indian farmer and the diversity of our farming systems.

Given the size of Walmart, it creates a monopsony through its buying power. It does not go to each small farmer and buys the five sacks of extra produce. It works through giant supply chains and giant suppliers which have no place for the small. Walmart and the small, independent farmer cannot coexist. When Walmart dominates, agribusiness dominates. Industry and corporations start to control agriculture.

We can already see early attempts at the industry takeover of agriculture to match centralised and giant production systems with centralised and giant retail. On March 5 this year, the government announced a new policy for the corporate control of agriculture called Public-Private Partnership for Integrated Agricultural Development (PPP-IAD) — a scheme for facilitating large-scale integrated projects, led by private-sector players in the agriculture and allied sectors, with a view to aggregating farmers, creating critical rural infrastructure, introducing new technologies, adding value and integrating the agricultural supply chain.

The department of agriculture and cooperation has launched the PPP-IAD, which is proposed to cover 10 lakh farmers across India during the period 2012-17. Each of the integrated agricultural projects would involve engaging a minimum of 10,000 farmers. The scheme would accept proposals from private corporate entities on integrated agricultural development projects with the proviso that intervention must cover all aspects from production to marketing.

Subsidies will now go to corporations, not the farmers. In effect, 10,000 farmers will no longer be independent producers, but bonded to the corporation. These corporations will be Walmart’s partners, not the small farmer.

WalmartThis scheme, and the policy framework of which it is a part, is in effect a subversion of both land reforms and our food security. Land reforms in India got rid of zamindari and put land in the hands of the tiller. Land ceiling was introduced to ensure there would be no concentration of ownership over land. What the government is calling “reforms” are, in effect, anti-reform reforms, aimed at undoing every policy and law that we have put in place in independent and democratic India to ensure the rozi roti of the last person. Walmart will harm and wipe out small farmers and businesses in India the way it has harmed farmers and retailers in the US. And because the density of small farmers and small retailers is higher in India than anywhere else in the world, the destructive impact will be magnified manifold.

The argument that we need FDI in retail was made when the government allowed Walmart to enter wholesale business in 2007. No infrastructure has been built, even though five years have passed. In any case, the government has given away crores in subsidies for warehouses and cold storages since it introduced “reforms”. We need a black paper to assess all the public money that has already been spent on what the government says only Walmart can do.

And the more the government pushes policies towards monopolies and monocultures, the more committed I become to defend our economic democracy and diversity as a saner, more sustainable, more just alternative to the disease of giganticism. – The Asian Age, 10 Oct. 2012

» Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

The valiant fight against GM crops – K.P. Prabhakaran Nair

K.P. Prabhakaran Nair“India must now ban all GM crops. A group of powerful unscrupulous scientists with the help of New Delhi is trying to pilot the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill (BRA). As per the provisions of this Bill, anyone opposing it can be fined, as much as Rs 50,000/-, and even imprisoned. This is draconian! It is a ruse to bring GM crops through the back door and must be opposed at any cost.” – Prof. K.P. Prabhakaran Nair

MonsantoOn 9 August, when a 31-member Parliamentary Committee (including nine from Congress, six from BJP) unanimously decided to put a ban on field trials of genetically modified crops in India, the decision had both historic significance and scientific significance. It was on this day in 1942 that Gandhi gave the clarion call “Quit India” to the British in an open letter to the Viceroy and nudged Indians to “Do or Die”. The next day the British arrested Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and his personal secretary Mahadev Desai; the latter two died in prison.

By coincidence, it was exactly on 9 August 2002 that this author first wrote an article entitled “Bt Cotton – Bane or Boon”, which was published in a leading English daily of India. The article warned that genetically modified cotton would destroy Indian cotton farmers, and is not suited for Indian conditions. This was immediately taken up by the Berlin based “Coalition for the South”, translated into German, and published widely all over the world. Knowledgeable scientists across the world endorsed this view.

However, here in free India, a coterie of agricultural scientists with vested interests in the crop biotechnology sector, ganged up to gag this author. A media war (print and electronic) broke out, with one Rajya Sabha MP openly clamouring for Bt cotton; he openly ridiculed the author and totally marginalized him.

MahycoIt is important to note that the ban recommended by the Parliamentary Committee came exactly a day after the Maharashtra Government cancelled Mahyco’s (Indian arm of Monsanto, the US-based agri business giant) licence to sell its Bt cotton seeds. Behind this lies the valiant fight of this author and a few other committed scientists and social activists, who have focused on the maximum number of suicides in Vidarbha district of Maharashtra, where farmers after switching to Bt cotton from hybrids and desi varieties, found themselves bankrupt. They had no option but to take their lives to escape the Shylockian clutches of money lenders.

In 2002, when Monsanto-Mahyco sold a packet of 450 grams of Bt cotton seed to Indian cotton farmers for an unheard of price of Rs 1950/packet, this author on a visit to China found that Monsanto was selling the same quantity of Bt cotton seed for just US $2/packet. Translated to Indian Rupee, the equivalence at the time worked out to less than Rs 100. The company made more than Rs 600 crores in one cotton crop season in 2002.

MangalsutraTragically, no other agricultural scientist in India questioned this unheard of fleecing of Indian cotton farmers. Matters came to a head when in September 2006 Monsanto with its Indian subsidiary Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company) thrust the unscientifically tested Bt brinjal on poor, illiterate and unsuspecting farmers of Andhra, in Warangal district.

This author and a band of committed scientists and social activists moved the Supreme Court against this. The then Chief Justice Mr Sabharval, just before his retirement, observed that “The entire question of genetically modified crops should be examined by competent, knowledgeable scientists, who are also patriotic,” and following this observation by the CJI, an Independent Expert Committee was formed of which the author was unanimously elected Chairman. The committee consisted of some eminent and independent experts, agronomists, entomologists, economists, plant physiologists and farmers’ representatives.

The committee submitted its report to the Supreme Court on 15 October 2006, clearly indicting Monsanto and Mahyco for unscientifically conducted field trials, putting not only Indian agriculture to crisis, but poor and illiterate farmers to great risk and the unsuspecting Indian population to health risks. Justice Sabharval was succeeded by Justice Balakrishnan as the Chief Justice of India. There followed endless foot-dragging, until Jairam Ramesh, the then Environment and Forest Minister, took a pro-active role in inviting many stake holders on Bt brinjal to give their opinions.

In an open letter to the minister published in The New Indian Express on 9 February 2010, this author pleaded for a moratorium on Bt brinjal. On 10 February, the very next day, the minister put a moratorium on Bt brinjal.

Jairam RameshMeanwhile, another drama was being enacted in the Supreme Court to subvert the efforts of committed scientists and social activists. The Government of India nominated two scientists to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), later rechristened the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee. The first was the reigning agricultural scientist of the country, with tremendous political clout, who was pulling strings behind the stage to promote GM crops; the second a person with absolutely no background in agriculture.

It was clearly a clever move to gag this author, as GEAC was vested with the supreme power for approval of all GM crops for field trials in India. The case for the author and his co-activists on GM crops was superbly and forcefully argued by noted Supreme Court Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan. Anyway, the proceedings went on without a definite conclusion, until Jairam Ramesh took the decision on moratorium on Bt brinjal.

But truth always prevails, and now the Parliamentary Committee, after three years of looking into all relevant documents, has concluded that the field trials of GM crops should be totally banned, thus vindicating the stand taken by this author and his associates in the Supreme Court, and outside of it. We demanded a “thorough probe” into how permission was given to commercialise Bt brinjal seed when all evaluation tests were not properly carried out, as pointed in the Independent Expert Committee’s Report submitted to the Supreme Court in October 2006.

The Independent Expert Committee criticised the role of the GEAC and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation. It is worth noting that at the height of the controversy surrounding Bt brinjal, the Minister of Science and Technology in the Government of India was putting pressure on GEAC, along with the biotechnology industry. It is also surprising that the minister of food, from Kerala, wrote an article in the leading regional daily Mathrubhumi, two years ago, openly pleading for Bt brinjal, and fully supporting GM crops!

Manmohan Singh & George BushIt is for citizens to conclude from all this that the Government of India is clearly for GM crops. Clearly American pressure is operating intensely to promote GM crops in India, as it thinks it can capture the vast Indian market. The “Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture” (KIA) signed by Manmohan Singh and George Bush in November 2005, rolling out the red carpet for American crop biotechnologists on Indian soil (where during the official discussions representatives of Monsanto were present) is a clear pointer which way Government of India wants to go on GM technology, inasmuch as agriculture is concerned. In a subsequent visit, Hillary Clinton made an open plea in this regard in India. Even the Prime Minister’s statement on GM crops last year reflects this mindset. It is a shame on free India that the largest number of suicides of farmers occurred from areas where Bt cotton was used. The Parliamentary Committee report clearly noted “The farmers had no option but to use Bt cotton”.

To rectify its mistakes, India must now ban all GM crops. A group of powerful unscrupulous scientists with the help of New Delhi is trying to pilot the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill (BRA). As per the provisions of this Bill, anyone opposing it can be fined, as much as Rs 50,000/-, and even imprisoned. This is draconian! It is a ruse to bring GM crops through the back door and must be opposed at any cost.

Monsanto!Indian agriculture is not similar to American or European agriculture. Our agriculture, where more than 70 per cent poor and marginal farmers are involved, is a “way of living”. Do we want to destroy this culture and bring in agri-business? The oft-repeated claim that “biotechnology is the panacea” for Indian agriculture, is rubbish. The idea is to control the seed industry and once the seed industry is controlled, the food supply chain is controlled. Even in the US, where Bt cotton originated, there is not a single instance where Bt cotton grew without the use of pesticides; this effectively negates all claims made by Monsanto. – Vijayvaani, 16 August 2012

» Dr. K.P. Prabhakaran Nair was Chairman, Independent Expert Committee, appointed to examine the role of Bt brinjal in India.

UPA must fight MNC bio-piracy – Sandhya Jain

Sandhya Jain“Indian environmentalists and grassroots activists need to urgently master the utility of the Biodiversity Convention in the fight for justice and fair play. It is important as it also covers access to the traditional knowledge of communities – another area of plunder. It also encompasses transfer of technology, including bio-technology, to governments or local communities that provide traditional knowledge or biodiversity resources.” – Sandhya Jain

Convention on Biological DiversityNew Delhi must invoke the UN Convention on Biodiversity to fight the growing piracy of India’s biodiversity by multinational companies, rather than leave this vital task to well meaning activists and NGOs that could be out-manoeuvred by powerful corporates backed by the clout of the Western capitals in which they are embedded.

The Indian melon is the latest instance of Western multinationals steadily and surreptitiously chipping away at the sovereign rights of nations and communities over their indigenous food wealth, as part of a grand design to bring the planet’s entire food chain under their control.

This is a test case for the UN and its declaration of 2011 to 2020 as the UN Decade on Biodiversity, and other major world capitals would do well to take an interest in the matter. In May 2011, the European Patent Office in Munich, Germany, quietly granted Monsanto a patent [EP 1 962 578] on conventionally-bred Indian melons with a natural resistance to certain plant diseases!

The melon has a natural resistance to many diseases; the Indian melon is naturally resistant to the Cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus (CYSDV), which in recent years has caused havoc in North America, Europe and North Africa. It is registered in international seed banks as PI 313970. The world knows it is native to India.

Originally, the Netherland seed company DeRuiter developed disease-resistant melons using conventional breeding methods introduced from a non-sweet melon from India. Monsanto acquired the seed company in 2008.

Then, without notice to India, Monsanto was granted the patent in 2011, thus acquiring monopoly power over an Indian natural resource, with no benefit to India as envisaged under the Biodiversity Convention. Monsanto now has the power to block access to all breeding material inheriting the resistance derived from the Indian melon. This will inhibit scientists from developing new melon varieties through conventional breeding methods, though such breeding is necessary if affected countries are to produce melons protected against CYSDV.

Indian melonEnvironmental activists argue that the Monsanto patent is an abuse of patent law because it contravenes European law that excludes patents on conventional breeding. (In December 2010, the European Patent Office had decided that conventional breeding could not be patented (G2/07 and G1/08). Monsanto’s is not a real invention, and is in fact a case of bio-piracy as the original and most relevant plants come from India and are registered in international seed banks. Such patents block access to the genetic resources necessary for further breeding, and subordinate the basic resources needed for daily life to monopoly control of multinationals.

Shockingly however, in the Monsanto patent case, the Patent Office simply excluded the process for melon breeding and allowed the plants and all parts of the plant, such as seeds and melon fruit, to be patented as an ‘invention’. This is blatantly illegal as plants and seeds are not man-made, and cannot legitimately be subjected to the monopoly control of multinational corporations. That is why activists are demanding an explicit ban on the patenting of breeding material, plants, genes, and animals and food derived thereof.

The patenting of traits taken from India’s indigenous melon varieties needs to be addressed on war footing, and government cannot be negligent of its duties in this respect. This is where the Convention on Bio Diversity comes in. Though this international legally binding treaty has not been ratified by Washington – the US never ratifies treaties with which it seeks to bind other nations – it can be invoked against Monsanto as it is a multinational corporation with offices and operations in countries across the globe, which are party to the Convention.

Dr. S. FaiziDr. S. Faizi, chairman, Indian Biodiversity Forum, and key negotiator in the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee that formulated the Biodiversity Convention, explains that the latter has three major objectives – conservation of biodiversity; sustainable use of its components; and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources. Its goal is the development of national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and hence, sustainable development.

The Biodiversity Convention came into force as long back as 29 Dec 1993, but its importance is still little understood, Faizi laments. The Convention is significant because, under Article 15.1, it explicitly recognizes the sovereign rights of States over their natural resources, and declares that the authority to determine access to genetic resources rests with the national governments and is subject to national legislation. Article 15.4 states that access, where granted, shall be on mutually agreed terms and subject to the provisions of this Article.

Article 15.5 states that access to genetic resources shall be subject to prior informed consent of the Contracting Party providing such resources, unless otherwise determined by that Party. And Article 15.7 asserts that each Contracting Party shall take legislative, administrative or policy measures, as appropriate, and in accordance with Articles 16 and 19 and, where necessary, through the financial mechanism established by Articles 20 and 21, with the aim of sharing in a fair and equitable way the results of research and development and the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources with the Contracting Party providing such resources. Such sharing shall be upon mutually agreed terms.

MonsantoBoth the letter and spirit of this international convention have clearly been violated in the case of the patent on the Indian melon. A sovereign national resource has been misappropriated by a multinational entity, and needs to be redressed. Dr Faizi feels that a case pursued in a civil court under the Biodiversity Convention has a higher chance of success than an issue of patent law.

Indian environmentalists and grassroots activists need to urgently master the utility of the Biodiversity Convention in the fight for justice and fair play. It is important as it also covers access to the traditional knowledge of communities – another area of plunder. It also encompasses transfer of technology, including bio-technology, to governments or local communities that provide traditional knowledge or biodiversity resources.

Overall, the Convention is comprehensive and recognizes for the first time in international law, that conservation of biological diversity is “a common concern of humankind” and an integral part of the development process. It covers all ecosystems, species, and genetic resources, and is explicit about fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, especially those intended for commercial use.

Sandhya Jain is the Editor of www.vijayvaani.com