Sunday, March 05, 2006

The High Price Of India's Nukes

If anyone thinks that George W Bush's stunning agreement with India to provide US nuclear technology was offered without exacting a high price, give it more thought. Bush did a deal with India. Given the nature of the Bush administration, that means India probably got the short end of the stick.

Bush would only be doing what is expected of a country's chief executive if his dealings were intended to conclusively provide an advantage for the United States. However, some five years into this administration, it should be obvious to everyone that Bush does not operate in the best interests of America as a whole. Bush serves a very limited constituency: corporate America.

India has a unique Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) law called Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act (PPVFR). It is the only such law in the world which complies with the WTO Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) but still grants all legal rights to newly developed seed to the individual farmer. Add this to the fact that India has remarkable bio-diversity and a huge bank of genetic germ plasm resources in a public system. Seed development is crucial to India's food sovereignty and critical to ensure the economic viability of Indian farmers. An important focus of India's is that agricultural development is science led and coordinated by the government while providing incentive to the individual farmer.

Last summer India and the United States entered into the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture Research and Education, (KIARE) intended as an effort in collaborative farm research and the expansion of agricultural education. While the Indians did not expect complete parity on the board of KIARE, they expected US representation would come from the US Dept. of Agriculture, and some US agricultural universities. Imagine their shock when they showed up for the first meeting in December 2005 and found that the Bush administration had appointed two US-based corporations to the board: Monsanto and Wal-Mart.

It didn't take long for Indian representatives to realize they were being steam-rollered. What had been planned as a collaborative research agreement was quickly turned around by the corporate interests into a trade exchange - Monsanto and Wal-Mart want into India's bio-tech vault.

Not surprisingly, the discussions turned to the IPR regarding seed development. The US and agricorps, like Monsanto, have been applying pressure to have India introduce patents which would eliminate the rights of individual farmers. Indian farmers, who currently have access to the Indian university sector as a field extension to assist in the development of new crop strains and agricultural techniques, would be forced to purchase seed under patent at greatly increased prices.

India countered with a proposal for joint patents which would continue to protect farmers but could not reach an agreement. Indian scientists, who are enraged with the arrangement, were told that corporations fund university agricultural research and those corporations then hold the patents on technology.

Scientists were also told that Ph.d, post-doctoral and fellowship exchanges would require that India pay "tuitions" for those scientists engaged in research at US institutions. In all, India is expected to contribute close to $1 billion over three years to the initiative compared to the US government's "zero". For that, India is in jeopardy of shutting out its market farmers, losing control of its domestic bio-tech wealth and becoming a dumping ground for genetically modified seed.

Monsanto has already been playing with India's crops. In 2004, Monsanto somehow skirted Indian law and introduced genetically engineered Bt Cotton, (which is supposedly bollworm resistant), into India's farms. Despite promises of dramatically improved output, Bt cotton crops failed all over India. Farmers were required to pay US prices for seed which meant an increase from $19 per bag in 2002 to $72 per bag in 2004. Farmers soon learned that Monsanto's genetically engineered cotton controlled only one kind of bollworm but had no effect on whitefly, aphids, jassids and pink bollworm. Farmers had to employ expensive pesticides which still failed to save their crops. In the district of Andhra Pradesh, after chemicals failed to save the high-cost crops, thousands of farmers, facing ruin, committed suicide.

Indian farmers can expect more of the same if Bush's current initiative is allowed to proceed. Instead of a technological exchange to advance India's food security the Indian farmer has been sold out to advance India's nuclear arsenal.

A good deal? I suppose you'd have to ask Monsanto or Wal-Mart.

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