Indian farmers in the Lek flood plain
A special meeting took place in the sun-drenched flood plain of the river Lek -the Alblasserwaard- last Saturday. Thirty-five farmers from Karnataka region in southern India met with Dutch farmers, WAU students and others interested in exchanging ideas about the effects of world trade liberalisation for farmers worldwide
The Indian farmers are making a tour through Europe to protest against trade liberalisation that enables multinational companies to introduce genetically modified crop varieties in India. By doing so, gen-tech company Monsanto and seed trade giant Cargill are destroying the backbone of Indian farming, say the Indian farmers
The farming household Kalasannavar from Karnataka region, southern India, grows vegetables, paddy, coconut, cotton, and spices such as coriander. Now they are part of the Inter Continental Caravan (ICC) as the tour of the Indians through Europe is called. In total five hundred Indian farmers are in Europe at the moment. Veeranna Kalasannavar explains why only 35 were in the Alblasserwaard, while originally all of them were scheduled to be in the Netherlands. It is difficult to organise such a group, especially because visas are not easily given. My husband and I were among the people who burned Monsanto test plots in Karnataka to protest against the company. We were therefore refused a visa for the UK because this country supports Monsanto. People from other states did get a visa for England, so our group split up.
One of the farmers, Lokesha Gowda, explains the point the farmers want to make: In India we have been growing our own crops for hundreds of thousands of years. We reproduce these crops ourselves by saving some of the seed at the end of the season to sow it next year. These crops produce tasty and healthy food, and we have never used pesticides or fertilisers. Now Monsanto is introducing new crops in Karnataka region that need special pesticides and fertilisers. Many farmers bought these seeds because they were promised that yields would increase. Also, banks only give loans if you use the modern seeds. But now fifty percent of our traditional crops have been lost due to the introduction of new varieties. We need a new system to preserve our traditional crops.
According to Monsanto, the farmers are confusing two different technologies. The first, the use of the Bt bacteria in cotton seed, is indeed used in Karnataka region, says Monsanto. The other, the terminator technology, which is designed to make seeds infertile to stop the spread of diseases, has not yet been introduced. Critics say Monsanto developed the terminator technology to force farmers to buy new seeds every year, guaranteeing the company a continuing market. But the technical issue doesn't seem to be the key issue for the farmers. Gowda: Our crops and the way we grow them is the result of our history, our culture. That culture should not be disturbed. If somebody introduces new crops, which make our own crops vanish, and makes us dependent on the new crops, he is destroying our culture and our life in the quickest and most effective way.
The farmers belong to the Karnataka Region Farmers Union (KRRS), an organisation with ten million members. The farmers are making the tour now because they want to influence the coming round of negotiations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in November 1999 on a new world trade treaty. Gowda explains that the main aim of the tour is to create awareness of the problems of Indian farmers in Europe. In India we did that with non-violent protests according to the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. We organised hunger strikes, bus boycotts and filled the jails. Now we want the Europeans to know what is happening to us.