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Poverty Exacerbated by GM Seeds
Arun Shrivastava

UN Committee censures Indian Government's support for GM seeds    
*Case was presented on behalf of small farmers at a UN Committee in April 2008. The Committee has urged the Indian Government to provide subsidized generic seeds which farmers can save.*

In its 40th session, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated that genetically modified seeds produced by Trans-national corporations are exacerbating extreme poverty of small-hold farmers. The full paragraph is quoted below:

"The Committee is deeply concerned that the extreme hardship being experienced by farmers has led to an increasing incidence of suicides by farmers over the past decade. The Committee is particularly concerned that the extreme poverty among small-hold farmers caused by the lack of land, access to credit and adequate rural infrastructures, has been exacerbated by the introduction of genetically modified seeds by multinational corporations and the ensuing escalation of prices of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, particularly in the cotton industry."

It may be noted that many civil society organizations had made their presentation to the Committee during the consultative phase in April-May 2008. In one of the presentations, the representative of Delhi-based Navdanya had linked the steps taken by the Government of India to release genetically modified organisms to violation of human rights.

The introduction of GMOs (particularly seeds) and the escalation in price of other agriculture inputs like fertilizers and pesticides has been adversely impacting the operations of small and marginal farmers. Needless to say, the worst hit are cotton farmers who have reported repeated crop losses, lower yield, more expenditure on pesticide, despite claims by trans-national corporations that their seeds are pest resistant and enhance yield. These claims have been proved to be incorrect.

In its direction to State Party (in this case India) the Committee has urged that state subsidy be given to farmers to purchase generic seeds which would allow them the re-use of saved seeds. The Committee feels that this strategy would eliminate farmers’ dependence on trans-national seeds companies who only sell patented seeds and also prohibit replanting from saved seeds. 

Readers should also note that the Indian Government has approved many food crops for trials without proper bio-safety assessment.