With 16 percent of its land dedicated to growing maize, Rajasthan is India’s largest maize-producing region. Over half the maize sown in Rajasthan is hybrid maize, currently provided for free by the biotech giant Monsanto. Monsanto is also providing GM cotton seeds to the region. What are the effects of Monsanto’s GM crops in India? Some herald the change as beneficial new technology. Others are questioning the effects of Monsanto’s GM crops on India’s environment, ecology, and local culture.
Farmers in severely drought-affected Rajasthan have seen their crop yields increase substantially with Monsanto’s hybrid seeds. This will serve to increase food security for the 200,000 farming families living in extreme poverty. The increase in cotton productivity has improved the economic outlook for local farmers, who in the past have had to migrate elsewhere to find work. The director of agriculture in Rajasthan advocates the introduction of Monsanto’s GM crops in India. Monsanto, of course, touts the popularity and advantages of its GM cotton.
However, some groups question the economic and agricultural viability of Monsanto’s GM crops in India. Most notably, the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) released a report on the effects of the Monsanto-Rajasthan joint effort to introduce hybrid maize seeds. Hybrid maize removes the most crucial agricultural input – seeds – from control of farmers. Thus, the question is raised whether farmers will be able to afford Monsanto’s seeds once they have to pay for them. ASHA also asked why Rajasthan was using tax dollars to fund research and distribution for Monsanto’s seeds, rather than assisting local and state seed banks in providing seeds for traditional maize varieties to farmers.
Monsanto and Rajasthani officials argue that hybrid maize is necessary in order to survive Rajasthan’s crippling droughts. But ASHA has questioned the sustainability of hybrid maize compared to traditional Indian maize varieties, which have been bred over generations to withstand heat and drought. In contrast to the more durable traditional desi maize, hybrid maize can be stored for just two months before turning to powder.
Monsanto’s hybrid maize requires the use of the chemical fertilizer diammonium phosphate, or DAP. Farmers have expressed concern over the use of DAP, which has been found to cause death and affect feeding behavior and biochemistry of aquatic organisms. More extensive, long term effects of the chemical fertilizer are unknown.
Rajasthan has been a testing ground, as well as a battlefield, for Monsanto’s GM crops in India. While Rajasthan state officials support the introduction of hybrid maize in India’s most productive maize-growing region, Indian NGOs, agricultural scientists, and local farmers express emotions ranging from uncertainty to dissatisfaction over the introduction of hybrid seeds.
The biggest problem with the introduction of Monsanto’s GM crops in India, especially hybrid maize, is the weakening of state seed corporations and traditional maize varieties in favor of private corporations such as Monsanto and their generic, laboratory-created seeds. A large-scale switch to corporate agricultural inputs will displace local, traditional farming practices that have been developing for thousands of years. Uncertainty surrounding the environmental effects of planting and cultivating GM crops is an area of concern for ecologists, who worry that thirst for profits is overtaking a commitment to sustainable, healthy agricultural practices.
Monsanto’s hybrid maize and other GM crops have benefitted Indian farmers so far. It remains to be seen whether those positive effects will continue into the future, and at what environmental and socio-economic costs.
– Kat Henrichs
Source: The Guardian
Photo: Digital Journal