Maize targeted for disputed GM food

The vast expanse of the countryside in north and southern India is full of standing maize crop. This crop, which can grow in any kind of ecological zone, is changing the agricultural landscape of India.

India is the fifth largest maize producing country contributing to 3 per cent of the global production, mostly grown during monsoon months. Though Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh are the two leading states producing maize, its cultivation is catching up in all regions of India due to the state support in terms of assured cash subsidy as well as the purchase of the crop through minimum support price.

Though it may be driven by the attractive cash incentives, the driving force behind this maize revolution is the increasing demand from industrial sector. It is a raw material that helps to produce starch, dextrose, corn syrup, and corn oil. It has the potential to supply the bio fuel through production of ethanol. It is estimated that about 75 per cent of the maize produced in India is used by poultry and industrial sector.

Nutritional balance upset
Lured by the state support and assured market, the shift towards maize has upset the delicate nutritional balance sheet of the rural regions, especially in the dry agri zones. P V Satheesh of Millet Network of India says “this switch to maize cultivation abandoning their traditional millet based biodiverse farming systems has negative impact not only on food security but also multiple securities such as health, nutritional, fodder, fuel and livelihood security.”

The agri giants like Monsanto is already penetrating into rural hinterland in many states with their hybrid maize seeds. This replaces the age old self reliant, multi cropping cultivation system, being replaced by the monoculture industrial model of farming with high chemical inputs. Ironically, in a majority of cases several hundred crores of rupees of central government funds under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana is being used to spread maize cultivation.

In availing such subsidies, it is interesting to note that Monsanto is able to influence most of the states governments like Gujarat, Himachal as well as Bihar, ruled by different political parties. The bureaucrats and our political leaders are paving way for maize revolution using people’s money, robbing the poor and helping companies to increase their profits!

The spread of maize revolution with the hybrid seeds of agri corporations is a precursor to Genetically Modified version in the coming days. Farmers once trapped into maize cultivation will fall prey to GM maize, losing their self-reliance on seeds.

There is pressure from agro industrial lobby to lift the ban on bt brinjal, and the upcoming Biotechnology Regulatory Bill, with its draconian nature has already laid the foundation for introduction of GM food crops in India. The experience of past decade of bt cotton, a non food crop has obviously resulted in extinction of local cotton varieties. And now farmers have no other option but to buy cotton seeds from corporates at high price.

Having lured farmers into shifting from diversified multi dimensional millet and coarse crops, to maize, these corporations are bound to pressurise for introduction of GM maize with the false claims of increased productivity. We need to learn from the blunder committed in Mexico, the country where maize originated. The dumping of cheap, GM corn from USA has already contaminated the local diversified maize seeds, destroying their diversity and self-reliance.

The coming of second green revolution through maize has already overrun two million hectares that belonged to hardier cereals such as jowar and bajra. These coarse varieties are the food of the poor, the tribal communities living in remote arid and forest regions of India. The state and central government with their fiscal policies have systematically appropriated the food from poor to be replaced by the demand for industrial food of maize. The basic question is whether such state policies are ethical? Is it ecologically sustainable? Does this address the issue of social equity?

The scenario presents a scary picture. Practicing unethical methods is going to deeply entrench our farmers into chemical industrial model of farming that is ecologically destructive and unsustainable. Last but not the least, it is going to force farmers into the lap of corporate-controlled agriculture systems.

Unfortunately, the political class, cutting across party lines is bent upon treading these unethical, unsustainable policies to lay the roadmap for forthcoming genetically modified maize revolution in the country.

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