Joining Hands Against Hunger

NEWSLETTER
Eleventh Edition, September 2009

Joining Hands Against Hunger

India

by Jane Pinckney, Sacramento Presbytery representative

Chethana, South India Partner Network of Joining Hands Against Hunger, organized a consultation meeting regarding genetically modified (GM) agriculture. The meeting was held on Aug. 19, 2009 in Bangalore, India and was attended by several agricultural scientists, professors, students, and staff from various community organizations.

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Thomas John's Mother Earth Blog Bhoomi Matha

The purpose of the all day consultation was to share information about the on-going development of community seed banks, community education on GM technology, and the possible devastating effects that GM technology could produce in the future.

Jane Pinckney visiting the Organic Farmers Resource Center in Aranarai


The Sacramento Presbytery has been a Joining Hands Partner with Chethana for several years. During that time, information has been shared between the members of Chethana and Joining Hands of Sacramento. Sending a representative to the GM consultation was a means of continuing the open line of communication.

And so, as a member of the Davis Community Church, I had the privilege of traveling to Bangalore, India.


A poster advocating freedom and equality for the Dalits

My trip was a total of ten days and during that time, Reverend Thomas John and Jacob graciously accommodated my visit into their busy schedules. Together we visited a dalit community, rural villages, groups of organic farmers (both male and female), and we experienced the various sights of Bangalore.

Dalits, also referred to as the untouchables, are the lowest of the Hindu caste system. They are striving for freedom, equality and methods of improving their current life styles. I attended a local gathering where the community united in a common vision.

Promotion of organic food production and responsible consumption

 


The farmers are working diligently to cultivate and retain their indigenous knowledge by preserving traditional seeds, by using organic farming practices, and by using resource centers where they openly share their knowledge with others. The farmers are working on developing marketing strategies as they, too, strive to improve their current living conditions.

 

I will be giving formal presentations to the Sacramento Presbyterian Church and the Davis Community Church during the month of Sept. I am so appreciative of the opportunity to travel to India and connect with the people on a personal level, and look forward to my continued involvement with Joining Hands.

by Thomas John, Companionship Facilitator

Focusing on the issue of GMO's, the consultation in Bangalore between Chethana and the delegation from its Joining Hands partners of Sacramento Presbytery mired the complexity of concerns the Indian network is dealing with.

Backdrop for the GMO issue

After the Second World War, many factories in the US that had been manufacturing war chemicals until then, were remodeled to produce chemical fertilizers. To make this production profitable, there had to be found ways for a large scale comercialization of the chemical fertilizers. Because India had no particular fertilizer manufacturing technology, the US found the Indian soils the best place to dump their surplus of chemical fertilizers. Thus began the so called green revolution, a combination of imported seeds (later crossed with native ones) and liberal use of imported chemical fertilizers. Similarly, rice seeds were imported from the international Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, controlled by the Ford Foundation.

More than four decades later, this green revolution, which initially produced large quantities of wheat and rice, has reached a dead end. Yields of rice and wheat are failing, and there have been creating soil-related problems. While India still is going through a serious agrarian crisis as fallout of this first Green Revolution, it is once again coming together with the US for a Second Green Revolution. This time it is driven by corporate interests in genetically modified crops and foods (GMs) as the cutting edge technology for their commercial design.

Poster speaking to women as preservers of seed

Current patents regimes allow foreign corporations from developed countries to claim ownership of genetic resources, and traditional knowledge and technologies of less developed nations such as India. This way they can "pirate" biological, scientific and cultural assets for their corporate gain at the expense of a nation's food sovereignty. The manipulation of the genetic characteristics of the seeds in fact calls up questions about health safety for the general public and the loss of biodiversity of its seeds. But profit-hungry corporations can hardly bring up the patience to go through biosafety tests.

Under pressure to keep in tune with international agreements and policy frameworks pushed by developed countries, domestic governments are forced to compromise the rights of their farmers and breeders, and the need to preserve their traditional seeds in favor of foreign interests. The legal instruments that are construed to dictate the rules, such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Free Trade Associations only serve to channel the agricultural policies framed by the governments of developed nations that are home to these corporations. These so-called neoliberal policies much reflect the incursions during colonial times, with the central and state governments orchestrating the corporate voice of the GM industry.

From the early days of the green revolution to date, the role played by the US government and its Department of Agriculture to influence the agricultural policies and systems in India has become widely established.

Exposition of traditional seeds

The US-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative (AKI) was signed by the heads of both governments in 2005. On the US side the Advisory Board of the AKI is represented by three private corporate entities: Monsanto as the largest seller of GM seeds in the world; Archer Daniels Midland, as US grain purchaser and trader which is along with Cargill one of the companies that maintains “oligopolistic control of the American food-manufacturing and food-processing markets”; and Wal-Mart as the world’s largest retailer.The AKI stipulates that agricultural scientists, who are in fact public servants and receive Indian tax payers' money for their research projects, have to serve the private interests of corporations like Monsanto and Wal-Mart in the US. This way, the US government and US Department of Agriculture facilitate the interests of the private multinational corporations as members of AKI by helping them to relate to India's Agricultural educators and researchers. In turn, the research priorities of the Indian scientific community are going to be determined by these private corporations who have their own vested interests and not that of India's farming community.

As they see the AKI as part of a larger design that monopolizes the markets at the expense of their livelihood, the farming communities want to see the integrity of this agency and the US government as key player questioned. Read more about the AKI on the Mother Earth Blog Bhoomi Matha.


"Privileging American multinational corporations such as Monsanto and Wall-Mart with membership in the Advisory board of AKI at the exclusion of other non-corporate entities to relate to Indian Agricultural researchers and scientists, who are public servants, must be challenged and its implications for farming communities must be brought out by the US partners."

-Chethana Statement

Consultation

During the Chethana-Sacramento consultation this mingling of corporate interests and the national politics of sovereign governments has been lifted up as a concern that would require careful study by Chethana Joining Hands partners in the US.

The participants in the consultation affirmed the observation that the policies of the Government of India are designed to marginalize the small subsistence farmers, to significantly bring back the number of those who make a living from agricultural activities, and to hand over the agricultural sector as a whole to a few large corporations.

During the consultation a plate of traditional seeds was passed around for appreciation.

They agreed that India's agricultural policies are in fact aimed at the corporatization of agriculture and the retail industry, and to open up the country for exploitation by foreign entities. They stated that this would introduce a new form of colonization, where India's resources are transferred abroad and its people forced to live at the mercy of these colonial forces. Last but not least it was concluded that in the process the policies compromise India's food sovereignty and national sovereignty.

With cotton as case study, the delegations looked at the impact of GM seeds to the environment, farming practices, bio-diversity, and health of the people. The experience of Bt cotton in India have brought several ecological problems into forefront. In Bt cotton, a foreign bacterial gene obtained from bacillus thuringiensis was introduced into the cotton seeds to protect the plants from bollworm.

Cattle grazing on residual Bt cotton crop in Talamadugu village, Adilabad district, Andhra Pradesh.

Photo: The Hindu Photo Library

While farmers complain about decreasing soil fertility, agricultural scientists report a decrease of beneficial soil organisms. Whereas farmers and laborers working in Bt cotton fields are developing skin allergies, doctors have confirmed the allerginicities in MP and Punjab. Shepherds from Andhra Pradesh, a state in India, where Bt cotton was introduced, have reported sheep mortality after feeding on Bt cotton. This led the AP Animal Husbandry department to ask the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee) to re-examine the safety of Bt cotton particularly under open grazing conditions.

Monsanto seeds have become widely promulgated

 

Even though these issues still remain unresolved, corporations producing GM seeds and food crops are knocking for kitchen doors. Altogether the Bt cotton experience shows how farmers and public institutions have lost their control over seeds.

While the present scenario seems to provide no promise or hope, it was affirmed during the consultation that together, Chethana and Sacramento should make use of all democratic space to fight on the one side against the promulgation of GM seeds and foods by agricultural corporations, and on the other side against agricultural and trade policies followed by the Indian and US governments at the behest of corporations in the US and other developed nations by means of the WTO, Free Trade Agreements and other international treaties. The consultation concluded in the development of a strategy that outlined a set of campaign activities .


  • CHETHANA leaders visiting organic market of Thanal, a group affiliated with the network

    We should strive to create and encourage alternative models of farming that preserve and use traditional seeds and practice organic and sustainable means of agriculture
  • Awareness building efforts must be undertaken about the dangerous consequences of adopting flawed technology such as the Genetic Modification of seeds to solve the increasing demand for food. A variety of communication strategies should be developed to reach various sections of our society such as farmers, students, doctors, religious organizations and other civil society groups
  • Wider level networking among NGOs and other People’s Organizations must be actively pursued against GM seeds and foods. A strategy planning meeting of various organizations should be held at the earliest possible convenience.
  • Persons in positions of power in the government, bureaucracy and legislature who will give a sympathetic hearing must be identified, and efforts must be made to influence them with adequate information on the impact of GM seeds on agriculture, environment and health of the people.
  • Discussions focusing on the US-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative must be facilitated at various levels. The International Partners in the US must take up the challenge of learning and responding to this initiative as it plays out in the US.
  • We must challenge the fact that the Advisory board of AKI reserves seats for American multinational corporations such as Monsanto and Wall-Mart but exclude non-corporate entities that relate to Indian Agricultural researchers and scientists as public servants. US Joining Hands partners should raise awareness about this inequality, and question the integrity of this agency and the US government as key player.
  • We should consider the possibility of JH partners in Sacramento facilitating a visit of an agricultural specialist or an informed activist from one of our organizations to the US. The visit could include talks and interactions with various groups, such as farmers, academic community, and religious groups as a way of giving the campaign a broader international base. An effort should be made to also get the Indian community in the US involved in this issue.
  • Sacramento partners could strive to influence the PCUSA to come out with a statement on how GM technology impacts the livelihood of Indian farmers, the health of people, the environment, and the very life on this planet as a whole. The statement should also include ethical implications of patenting of life forms and its wider applications. The WCC statement on Bio-technology and Genetic Engineering was referred to as a model exercise to draw out ethical implications of these technologies.
  • Further study and investigation of this issue is necessary on topics such as:
    • Impact of Bt cotton on the soil microorganisms: a microbial profile study of root zone of different crops in organic and chemical growing conditions to bring out the impacts of Bt cotton;
    • Impact of Bt cotton on the gut flora in small and large ruminants
  • Overseas universities should be invited to participate in research and mobilized for campaigns at an international level

 

In an effort to expand their businesses multinational companies like Nestle' or Coca Cola often establish their plants in small local communities at the expense of the local people and their environment.

Prestine stream that replenishes Sacramento river, which was to be sold to Nestle

 

This is a water issue and affects people all over the world but in particular the poor and disenfranchised. For a while our Chethana partners in South India have been looking at the impact of Coca Cola's presence in India, and in a parallel effort the Joining Hands team in Sacramento Presbytery has been working on theNestle' Corp and the McCloud water shed issue in California.

 

 

Even though our Joining Hands partnership is going to take a different focus, I am thrilled to share with you here below a report from Corporate Accountability International on these earlier efforts.

- Namaste' Wilma White, Sacramento Joining Hands

Another community slated for bottling is breathing a sigh of relief.

Just months ago our team was in McCloud, California discussing with residents how to prevent the construction of the largest water bottling plant in the country. Nestlé had already spent millions of dollars on its public relations, lobbying and legal efforts to push through approval for their proposed one million square-foot bottling plant -- an operation that would have likely had untold consequences for the water supply and the local environment.

But today, we're celebrating a victory -- Nestlé is abandoning its plans and leaving McCloud, without having pumped a single drop of water for bottling.

This retreat marks the third instance this summer in which Nestlé has been successfully challenged by communities across the country:

  • In Mecosta County, Michigan, the grassroots Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation secured a historic court settlement limiting Nestlé's pumping in their community (and Corporate Accountability International members raised nearly $10,000 to help them do it).
  • In Shapleigh, Maine, our allies forced Nestlé to remove 23 test wells and blocked Nestlé's efforts to set up a permanent pumping site.

Nestlé is cutting its losses and getting out of McCloud -- and we've demonstrated once again that local grassroots efforts, partnered with highly visible national campaigns like Think Outside the Bottle, can effectively challenge the abuses of the world's largest corporations and restore community control over water.

The victory is a credit to local leaders like our friend Debra Anderson, who tirelessly organized in her community for six years, and to the national pressure on Nestlé generated by tens of thousands of Think Outside the Bottle activists like you.

Click here to read the rest of the story about how the McCloud community organized to prevent Nestlé bottling.

If your church or group would like to learn more about the work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program in India please contact Joining Hands Sacramento. You can mail either John Wallace as the current chair of the Mission Committee at the Sacramento Presbytery at John.Wallace@cdph.ca.gov, or Garry Cox at garrylcox@sbcglobal.net . They will be happy to arrange a slide presentation and discussion on this important mission project.

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