Protect and develop India’s traditional knowledge, genetic resources, seeds and medicines

As the latest news of the applications to plant GM mustard in India is published, Winin Pereira’s writings were scanned for his views on the subject of genetically modified crops. Far more attention was given to genetic screening of embryos and research into genetic manipulation of human beings.

As an ethically motivated scientist, he would certainly have denounced this money/profit-centred exhortation – tempered by a sop to bee lovers – issued by Bhagirath Choudhary, Founder Director at South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), New Delhi Area, India. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/allow-high-yielding-gm-mustard-now-bhagirath-choudhary?trk=mp-reader-card 

The following extracts from his writings have an indirect bearing on the subject.

  • The traditional agricultural systems, not dependent on these factors, survived for millennia till they were displaced by this transitory “modernisation”. A change in the climate and the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer could cause major reductions in food production, since the extremely narrow genetic base from which high-yielding varieties are derived could result in widespread crop losses.
  • The high susceptibility of the new varieties to pest attacks is another factor contributing to insecurity. At the same time, the creativity which produced the tens of thousands of different traditional crop varieties adapted to numerous ecological niches is being destroyed by TNC producers of special seeds.
  • While the West claims that the available land and other resources will be inadequate to provide food for rising populations, it encourages the use of food in a most inefficient manner: many grains directly edible by humans are now being redirected to cattle, pigs and poultry to obtain expensive milk, meat and eggs.
  • India at present grows sufficient food to provide all its people with adequate basic nourishment, yet about one third of the population living below the poverty line do not get sufficient to eat.
  • The godowns are overflowing, but the people cannot afford to buy the stored food. The grain merely goes to maintain a population of rats and other pests, including the population of synthetic pesticide manufacturers.

Correct and full information, for instance, about food products, their real nutritional value in relation to their cost, the nature of the additives used, genetic modifications, if any), about pesticides (their health and environmental effects), about medicines (side-effects, alternatives) and so on, has to be wrung out of the system, instead of being given as a matter of right. But if people were fully informed, the sales of most such products would certainly drop drastically.

The ancestral rights of the indigenous peoples to control over their lands and other resources are being viciously destroyed for Western hamburgers, toilet paper and paperbacks. The exercise of such rights often involves the commercialising of these activities and the co-option of indigenous peoples into the mainstream.

The Western predators need to be reminded about the rights of the indigenes. They have the right to special measures to control, develop and protect their sciences, technologies and cultural manifestations, including human and other genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs and visual and performing arts.

Next: relevant to the fourth bullet point, a summary of ‘A Risky Solution for the Wrong Problem: Why GMOs won’t Feed the Hungry of the World’ – William G. Moseley,  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gere.12259/full: Copyright © 2017 by the American Geographical Society of New York. First published: 3 July 2017Full publication historyDOI: 10.1111/gere.12259  View/save citation

The Warli tribals of Maharashtra: a progressive culture to be emulated – 1

Noting the number of visitors to the website who read Devinder Sharma’s account of a visit to the Kadar tribe in Kerala prompted a re-reading of some books and papers written by Winin Pereira, co-founder of the Centre for Holistic Studies in Bandra, Bombay.

Winin Pereira

In 1996 he recorded memories of his first stay near tribal people (adivasis) in Alonde. Over time he grew to realise the extent of their knowledge of plants, trees and farming.

He drew on this and other experiences of traditional sustainable agriculture in India collected and analysed over 25 years to write ‘Tending the Earth’.

Over time he had noticed that the Warlis’ agricultural land was in better condition than that of farmers who had practised ‘Green Revolution’-style agriculture from the 60s, using chemical pesticides and fertilizers which, over time degraded the soil.

One of Winin Pereira’s colleagues wrote about the contemporary practice of barter and included incidental information about Warli tribals, with whom he also had spent time. He wrote that they are thought to be descended from the original inhabitants of Thane in the Western Bombay suburbs. Their lands have been ‘developed’ and some now have a hard but healthier life in the Borivli National Park (below) while the tribal communities who still have some land live on the margins in the polluted Bombay suburbs.

The writer saw a hut like the one above which had the faint outlines of the traditional painting (below) on the walls carried out for celebrations and ceremonial occasions but in the 1970s. Government of India officials who were sent to document Warli art, were amazed by the drawings of Jivya Soma Mashe from Dahanu, who shows an immense understanding of the Warli culture.

A description of their content is quoted in Wikipedia: “Their drawings revolve around the traditions of their communities, the tools they use and their association with nature. Themes include community dances, the harvest as well as fields swaying with healthy crops, birds flying in the sky, group dancing around a person playing the music, dancing peacocks, women cooking or busy in their other house chores and children playing”.

The Warli forest community survives by gathering minor forest produce and selling firewood to the encroachers in the plains, then earning Rs25 for every pile of firewood they sell. Once every three months they enter into barter trade with the fishing community living 5-6kms away along the sea coast. The Warlis start with the piles on their heads at 3 am and manage to cover the distance by foot in 3 to 4 hours time. In return for every pile of wood that they sell they receive dry fish worth at least Rs75 to Rs100 in the local market from the fishing community. The benefit to both is two or three times what they would get in a monetary transaction. Exchange of dry fish for firewood takes place in the Western suburbs from Malad right into Thane district.

Dahanu taluka, 136 km from Mumbai by road, has a 66% Warli tribal population who own 33% of the agricultural land in Dahanu. When their rice growing season ends, the Warlis find employment on the chicoo farms. Two colleagues who have lived there wrote:

“We have so much to learn from the Warlis who take so little from the earth. They are the true environmentalists without even realising it”.

“We are all fighting to protect what we and Winin Pereira love so much. In the future – providing that the adivasi culture is allowed to survive – others will be able to continue his work in recording adivasi lore etc. His work and the knowledge he shares will provide an inspiration for many (as it did to me). It will be used in many ways for the Warlis, ‘selling’ to the rest of the world the idea that theirs is a progressive culture, not ‘backward’ and should not only be allowed to survive but be emulated”.

Part 2 follows.

 

 

 

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The Warli tribals of Maharashtra: a progressive culture to be emulated – 2

In ‘Celebrating People’s Knowledge, Winin Pereira and co-author Subhash Sule, quote Gandhi’s words: “Every man must be his own scientist and every village a science academy” Anyone has the right – and everyone needs to exercise the right – to be a “scientist” or “technologist”, to question the origin of phenomena, to develop new theories and technologies or to modify old ones”.

Synthetic fertilisers

In the rice paddies

Warli farmers tried out synthetic fertilisers but soon abandoned them They said that the fertilisers damaged the soil and that larger amounts were required each year. In consequence, they use very little, and then not every year.

Careful use of material resources 

Adivasis see no value in the possession of an increasing quantity of material products or in a lifestyle that stresses comfort even at the cost of the environment and justice. Those possessing more wealth than others are expected to distribute their excess among the rest of their community.The awareness of their interdependence on other forms of life makes their approach to solutions eco-friendly; resources are used with restraint, pollution is minimised. Basically this is an acknowledgement of their awareness of the need to be frugal and sparing in their use of materials and resources which are necessary for their survival. 

Traditional technologies

The development of traditional technologies is limited to those which do not produce unemployment or pollute the environment. There is no unnecessary processing of raw materials; the minimum quantity is used and in processing there is no waste, or if there are remnants unused for the basic need, they are used for other essential purposes. A few of the examples given:

  • Wood resistant to termites, such as teak, is used for house construction, thus eliminating the need to use dangerous pesticides.
  • Timber resistant to the attacks of teredos (shipworms) is used for constructing boats, avoiding the need for coating the wood with highly poisonous chemicals like tributyltin, with the boat also having a longer life.
  • The use of banana leaves as dinner plates, making washing up unnecessary and the ‘plates’ themselves serving as food for cows, which in turn produce milk.
  • Where banana plants do not grow, plates made of dry leaves of several other trees [ banyan or breadfruit] or even wooden cups and plates have been used.

Medicinal research 

These isolated groups use a range of plants for medicinal and other purposes, having done a lot of research over time. Over 9500 wild plant species have been recorded as used by bhagats (right) and other tribals for various requirements, of which over 7500 are used for medicinal purposes. In the case of herbal medicines, cures will only be researched for the specific diseases which occur in the traditional scientist’s habitat. S/he cannot test out herbs without patients who need treatment. The scientist is most likely to use the plants growing locally. Only if these fail will s/he look further afield. This could explain the different species used even by neighbouring communities for the same disease.

Information about medicine used by Gujarati tribes living in the Satlasana forests is recorded here: https://www.rroij.com/open-access/folk-herbal-medicines-used-by-the-tribalsinsatlasana-forest-area-mehsana-district-gujarat-india.php?aid=33919

Most of the activity in this study was carried out by adivasis who conduct research while carrying on their normal occupations, in their fields and homes, mainly using locally available resources. The researchers do not require formal recognition for their work and are happy to see the use of their shared inventions without expectations of any rewards for their efforts. The free dissemination of knowledge is an essential characteristic of the traditional system.

 

 

 

“The push for GM mustard is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes”

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As the Indian government considers approving the commercial cultivation of GM mustard, the Hindu reports that an alliance of biologists and activists have warned that such a move would be ill-advised.

A threat to seed diversity

Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), said that GM mustard threatened the seed diversity of indigenous mustard.

She told a panel here at Anna University: “The push for GM is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes”.

India can produce all mustard needed

She added that India produces sufficient mustard to meet its consumption requirements and the claim that GM mustard will reduce dependence on mustard oil imports is baseless.

Implications for health and safety of its consumers

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail, a soil biologist, said that herbicides sprayed on the crop to kill weeds were potentially carcinogenic.

Live Law, a legal news portal, ‘set to redefine the standards of legal journalism in India’ reports that – in a letter addressed to the Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate – Public Interest Advocate Prashant Bhushan has set out his opposition to the commercial release of GM Mustard, one of several grounds being that the government itself admits that there’s no evidence that GM mustard will increase yields.

These organisations are amongst over 100 organisations representing farmer unions, trade unions, civil society groups, and political parties, who are urging the government not to release GM mustard.

They say the farmers’ problem is not the production of mustard but the unfair market prices.

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For more information there are links on our 2016 mailing on this subject.

 

 

 

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Farmers have been subsidising the nation

So says Devinder Sharma, in India’s APN News, a respected and widely watched news channel:

“The economic crisis farmers are facing is compounded by the denial of a rightful income to farmers for their produce. To keep food inflation under control it is the farmers who have paid the price. What we don’t realize is that it is the farmers who have been subsidising the nation all these years.

“Farmers are in distress throughout the country, be it in Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra or UP. Why has the situation reached these extreme levels and what can be done to reverse this trend?

“The Economic Survey 2016 had clearly pointed to the severity of the prevailing agrarian crisis. Accordingly, the average annual income of a farm family in 17 states of India is a paltry Rs 20,000. This means that the average monthly income for a farm household in these 17 states is less than Rs 1,700.

Most of us who live in cities have a monthly mobile bill exceeding this

I shudder to think how farmers survive with such meagre income . . . I thought this revelation alone should have shocked the country and forced policy planners to undertake immediate steps to address the grave tragedy. But unfortunately, nothing of that sort happened.

And, as in UK: “Our planners can’t think beyond what is prescribed in textbooks. Increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation and reducing the cost of production as the way forward . . .” (see next week’s post here)

There is a high rate of suicide in the farming communities of India and UK, compared with other occupational groups.  Over the past 21 years, India’s National Crime Record Bureau reports that more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide. In secretive England such records are out of date or confined to abstruse medical journals, giving the public to assume that all is well.

Sharma emphasises that the burden food producers carry is not one of low productivity but the lack of a fair price providing an assured farm income and this is true in both countries.

Farmers from the southern state of Tamil Nadu display skulls, who they claim are the remains of Tamil farmers who have committed suicide, during a protest demanding a drought-relief package from the federal government, in New Delhi, India March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/variety/2017/03/23/Why-Indian-farmers-brought-human-skulls-to-this-protest-.html

In both countries already affluent middlemen in retail, packaging and transport or speculating in food futures have prospered while those who actually work and produce food – in particular fresh milk, fruit and vegetables – are denied a fair price covering production and living costs.

 

 

 

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Anil Dave would have steered country’s environment to a safer haven

When Devinder Sharma saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter expressing his sincere condolences on the sudden passing of Environment Minister Anil Dave, he records that it took a few minutes for the tragic news to sink in.

He writes about their interaction on personal and issue-based matters and continues, “When I learnt that he had actually suffered a heart stroke, I couldn’t believe my ears. After all, he was my “junior” and going by the bypass medical history, he should have under normal circumstances lived for another 15 years or so or perhaps longer”. . .

Sharma recalls: “I met him first time when he was planning to launch the annual “Narmada Samagra” drawing environmentalists, politicians, policy makers, NGOs, and concerned citizens to save the mighty Narmada River. I was in fact introduced to him one fine day by my friends. We sat down for lunch and he shared with me what he proposed to achieve from “Narmada Samagra”.

He even told me: “You may think it is a government show but all I can tell you there are good people in the government who too want to protect the rivers,” I still recall his words, and could see through the deep commitment . . . ”On a number of occasions I found he would often speak with a lot of respect for some of the well-known environmentalists. “Sad, in this race to attain a higher GDP, we are mercilessly killing the environment, cutting down the trees, polluting the rivers ….”

I specifically recall when once I gave him a call, and told him I was in the city. At his insistence, I drove to ‘Nadi Ka Ghar’ where he greeted me and then we got into discussing a wide array of subjects – from rivers, to deforestation and to non-chemical agriculture. “I am telling the Chief Minister to ban chemical farming around Narmada. All these chemicals – fertiliser and pesticides — eventually flow into the river,” he told me. He wanted a massive plantation drive along the river banks, and I am glad Madhya Pradesh has undertaken that exercise.

Dr Deepak Pental (second from left) with fellow scientists at a GM mustard trial field in Jaunti village of North West Delhi.

Sharma records that Dave had been under severe political pressure to approve genetically modified mustard and had told him that given a choice he would never approve GM Mustard, adding, “I suggested to him to resign rather that give in to pressures”. He continued:

“For a man who in his heart only revered nature, it wasn’t easy to take a call on GM Mustard. As Tarun Vijay wrote: “He was to take a final decision on an application for an indigenously-developed GM crop of mustard. Everyone who knew him was sure that he would ban it in India.”  On that fateful day, after witnessing a civil society protest outside his office during the day, and later inviting a six-member team for discussions in his office, he met the Prime Minister at his residence late in the evening. As the Prime Minister had tweeted, acknowledging he had long discussions around policy issues with Anil Dave the fateful night, it is quite obvious that the contentious issue of GM Mustard approval too must have been discussed.

“A few hours later he complained of pain in the chest and was rushed to the hospital”.

Read the whole article here: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/

Antibiotic and antifungal drug residues in water sources around Hyderabad

 

Visitors from seven countries selected news from Devinder Sharma as the top post this week. He had written about Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, believing that he is on the right track to revive UP agriculture. CHS founder Winin Pereira, who wrote about ‘breaking the cycle of debt and dependency’ might well have agreed with Sharma.

Last week we received news about a major study published in the scientific journal Infection. It found “excessively high” levels of antibiotic and antifungal drug residue in water sources in and around a major drug production hub in the Indian city of Hyderabad, as well as high levels of bacteria and fungi resistant to those drugs.

It pointed out that the presence of drug residues in the natural environment allows the microbes living there to build up resistance to the ingredients in the medicines that are supposed to kill them.

In this report the issue of industrial pollution from pharmaceutical companies was considered as it affects consumers of their medicines – a serious issue as resistance could leads to the deaths of many.

A detailed account of the every day impact on local people who are using those water sources  is given in a report by Changing Markets, an organisation with a mission to expose irresponsible corporate practices and drive change towards a more sustainable economy. The report opens by saying that a 2015 report from the Indian Government estimates that the number of contaminated waterways has more than doubled in the past five years and that half the country’s rivers are now polluted. An extract relating to the pollution of water by pharmaceutical companies in Hyderabad follows:

“The social and environmental costs of the development of Hyderabad’s bulk drug industry are plain to see in the neighbourhoods and villages surrounding the industrial areas, and have been well-documented over a period of decades.

“Inhabitants living and working in the vicinity of drug manufacturing units in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, and other locations have borne the brunt of this. It has affected their livelihoods in the form of livestock deaths and decreased agricultural yields and damaged their health, with reported impacts ranging from higher abortion rates to birth defects and stunted growth in children, as well as greater incidence of skin diseases.

“However, the response from both the central government and the state authorities has been woefully inadequate, not to say complicit, and over the years, irresponsible drug manufacturers have enjoyed free rein to continue pumping vast quantities of untreated or inadequately treated pharmaceutical waste into the environment”.

Read the full report here: http://changingmarkets.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Impacts-of-pharmaceutical-pollution-on-communities-and-environment-in-India-WEB-light.pdf

 

 

 

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