ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
2 Dcember 2002


AgBioIndia Mailing List
02 December 2002

Subject: Syngenta caught in the act

The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), the umbrella organisation for public sector agricultural research in the country, has taken serious note of the reported collaborative research project between the seed giant Syngenta Corporation and the Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidalaya (IGKV) at Raipur, in Chhatisgarh, in central India, which would have entailed transfer of rice germplasm to the private company.

The rice germplasm in question, comprises the 19,095 strains of local rice cultivars, painstakingly collected by the legendary agricultural scientist, the late Dr R.H.Richharia. The collections were earlier the subject of a hot debate in the country when it was reported that the germplasm had been transferred to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the early 1980s. It was later found that the germplasm collections had in fact been transferred and have further been passed on to the USDA collections at Fort Collins. The USDA collections are outside the purview of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which had for the first time treated plant germplasm as a national sovereign property.

The ICAR has sought a detailed clarification from the agricultural university and at the same time made it categorical clear that such a transfer of genetic resources 'cannot be allowed' at any cost. This goes against various provisions for the protection of plant genetic resources under the national laws. However, the ICAR is unwilling to launch criminal proceedings against the university vice-chancellor for permitting biopiracy under a legalised frame-work.

Syngenta had earlier gone around agricultural unuiversities in the country collecting hybrid varieties for marketing. This was also a clever way of collecting genetic resources in the name of marketing the varieties (at a nominal royalty payment of 5 per cent on the returns), which was finally stalled by ICAR. Knowing that Syngenta Corporation continues to look for avenues and opportunities for (mis)appropriating valuable genetic resources, isn't the ICAR and the Ministry of Environment and Forests competent to blacklist the company from any further research collaborations? And if not, why not? Isn't it the right case to launch legal proceedings against both the university and the private company? Why can't the government take the company to task and thereby demonstrate its willingness to act against biopirates? What is the use of framing laws and regulations when there is no will to act?


1. Seeds: Source of life or profit making by Suresh Kumar Sahu
2. Syngenta-IGKV collaboration -- Civil society rejects vice-chancellor's clarifications
3. Media update on Syngenta-IGKV collaboration


1. Seeds: Source of life or profit making

By Suresh Kumar Sahu

The issue of Bio-diversity, rights over seed resources have once again emerged as a challenge in front of us. In reality, farmers should have the rights over germ plasm. The question arises that what should be the process to exercise this right, what should be the civil and political values attached with the use of resources, what should be the arrangement for saving these resources from thrift or loot, in this process what will be the role of farmer, consumer, scientist community, government and widespread country loving citizens? These are such issues where conclusions cannot be drawn in a day but certainly require debate on ground level. In this debate peoples' organisations and groups will have to play an important role.

Since ages farmers especially women and tribals have protected and developed seeds. In tandem with nature, farmers with their knowledge base and life style have always protected the germ plasm. Hence they deserve fundamental right of use and protection of the varieties of germ plasm.

Third world countries possess most germ plasm. Here there is a need to view the rights over germ plasm at three levels. First, the seeds available with farmers at his farmland, second, the seeds stored in government gene banks and third, the seeds at international and private organisations. However only farmers have rights over all this in reality. Farmers can secure the use and protection of the varieties of germ plasm present in their farms either themselves or in groups. There is also a need to be aware about achieving the rights of farmers over the collected seeds in government and international organisations.

In all over world Indira Gandhi University ranks second in its collection of rice germ plasms. Chhattisgarh is one of the centre of origin of the indica variety of rice is grown. The varieties of rice found in chhattisgarh are one of its kinds. There are varieties present in Chhattisgarh where the time range of harvesting the rice ranges from 60 days to 150 days; the largest size of rice variety- dokra-dokri rice is also present here. Naargoidi rice  which can grow in around 10 feet of water is also of Chhattisgarh. There are both coarse and flavoured fine rice varieties existing here. Some of the varieties of rice contain high protein as well as medicinal importance. The varieties are found according to the widespread land situation and topography of Chhattisgarh. These varieties are neither a product of test tubes in a lab nor are they dropped from the sky. In fact, Chhattisgarh's  farmers have developed them through years of hard work spread in several generations.

With time there was a felt need of more production per unit area then the farmers of Chhattisgarh in their own farm lands tried to choose and promote more productive and disease resistant seeds. World famous rice scientist Dr. R. H. Richharia recognised the potential of varieties of rice plasms present and farmers rich knowledge and skill of farming in Chhattisgarh. Dr. Richharia, with the combination of the two, began an organised effort on sustainable rice farming in Chhattisgarh. Madhya Pradesh rice research centre's main focus was Chhattisgarh's farmers for which the then agricultural department officials and their colleagues worked day and night. It's important to note Dr. Richharia's strategy and techniques vis-à-vis this work.  The work done by Dr. Richharia during this period is known as 'adaptive rice research'. In the first phase of this work all the varieties of rice with relevant information about them were collected from every corner of Chhattisgarh. From the then undivided Madhya Pradesh around 19095 varieties of rice were collected from all the districts.

These varieties were then grown in Baronda agriculture farm near Raipur and then their qualities were documented. In this way study and documentation of all the varieties of rice was the first stage of the work. Here its important to note that the main aim of preserving the varieties under 'adaptive rice research' was the development of such varieties which could be again available to farmers and used by farmers in their particular situations if they found them conducive. That means here the implicit contract between farmers and Madhya Pradesh rice research centre was the use of these seeds and developing new seeds, which were conducive to the local situations, and giving them back to the farmers. It was not at all for earning profit by allowing their use by any company or organisation. Madhya Pradesh Rice Research Institute (MPRRI) were using these seeds according to the consent by the farmers. These collected and documented varieties were being tested in low external input conditions which majority of the farmers  of Chhattisgarh practice and can afford. In these circumstances, better performing seeds were chosen on the basis of 'pure line selection'. Through this the respective seeds were given the name of BD selection.

Thus in this way Dr. Richharia tried to develop 1500 BD selections and his next step was to make it available to farmers of Chhattisgarh where they could grow seeds conducive to them. In Dr. Richharia's strategy this was proposed that the model of Adaptive Rice Centre be implemented in a decentralised manner which can take forward the work of conservation and development of rice varieties. For this he gave a suggestion to spread the network of ' adaptive research centres' in entire Chhattisgarh. According to Dr. Richharia if one has to tell the most important quality of rice plant, providing food to crores of people, then it's the varieties evident in its thousands of varieties. According to him 'adaptive rice centre' will be the reserve of all the collected local varieties of rice. They would be kept alive in their natural environment for securing the future.

The proposed MOU between Indira Gandhi Agriculture University and multi national company Syngenta is beyond rational thinking. Syngenta is a multi national company whose business is spread over 50 countries. The mergence of seed and agriculture chemical departments of two companies Novartis and Astra-Zeneca in December 1999 formed Syngenta. It is the world's largest agriculture trade company. Its business is in agriculture, chemicals and seeds. Among seeds their production's important component is 'genetically modified seeds'.

Since last 25 years Indira Gandhi Agriculture University is situated at Raipur. And from that time itself it has 19000 varieties of germ plasm available for research. Many rice scientists are working from so many years. After all now what's the research which these scientists are incapable to do themselves? Has the university administration started doubting the potentials of their scientists? After all what is the technique used by Syngenta which the scientists of this university don't know? If we view the qualities of Syngenta we realise that under the pretext of solving the problems it creates bigger problems. Syngenta currently markets crops that are either herbicide tolerant or insect resistant genetically modified (GM) crops. We all are aware that in our farms along with the main crops there are also other biogenetic species which we also use for food. Syngenta's technique will destroy all these species.

Besides this these GM crops would have an adverse effect on whole eco-system. For example, gene transfer to related wild species might take place, creating herbicide tolerant 'super weeds'. Wherever these crops are used signs of its adverse effects are visible, therefore their opposition has begun. In the same way for protection against insects Syngenta's technique is such that insects will become resistant to the inbuilt  insecticide and cause crop failures. That means any insect (useful or harmful for farming) will die after coming in contact with these crops. Gene transfer to related wild species might take place, creating insect resistant 'super weeds'.

The GM crop, leading to genetic contamination with the foreign genes, may pollinate neighbouring organic or non-GM crops. Genetic Use Restriction Technique(GURT) is promoted to make the farmer dependent on these companies for seeds every year. In our understanding after the adverse effects of atom bomb, terminator technique (infertile seed technique) is the biggest example of anti humanitarian technique and Syngenta is leading for promoting this. Despite their widespread ill effects on environment, farming and health Syngenta continues to develop and market GM crops and has remained in controversy. It's important to ponder whether there is an hidden agenda to experiment this in Chhattisgarh's farmers.

There is a trend of increasing investment in production and decreasing production in today's agricultural arena catalysed by green revolution. Now the most critical thing is to decrease the cost of production and increase production keeping in view the environment balance. In these circumstances, Chhattisgarh's farmers' seeds, knowledge and technique is more useful in increasing the production rate of rice and researching the drought resistant varieties which Dr. Richharia had done at one time even in formal 'scientific frame'.


2. Syngenta-IGKV Collaboration

Civil Society Organisations reject Vice-chancellor's  clarifications

Dr.VK Patil, Vice-chancellor of the Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishvavidayalaya (IGKV) clarified the position of IGKV vis-à-vis the Syngenta deal in a press conference on November 27th.  The press conference came soon after he was summoned by the Honorable Governor of Chhattisgarh and asked to explain the details of the collaboration following a huge media outcry and protests by Civil Society Organisations across the state.

In a written statement the VC of IGKV was forced admit that the first round of "informal preliminary" talks with Syngenta was held on July 31st, 2002 where a team of scientists including the Director - Research Dr.Tripathy met the Syngenta representative Dr.Abraham to pursue a proposal on collaborative research between Syngenta and IGKV.

Dr.Patil subsequently met Syngenta representatives in Aurangabad. He could offer no explanation as to why a meeting with the Syngenta representatives was not held in Raipur.   He did insist however that the meeting was a preliminary one where he had clarified to Syngenta officials that any agreement will have to be vetted through the competent authorities including the ICAR, University Board and state Government officials.  According to the VC it was at this meeting that Syngenta made clear the terms of the research offer under which they would provide funding to the University and jointly develop hybrid, drought-resistant  rice varieties using the germplasm currently in possession of IGKV. The new varieties would be marketed by Syngenta and proportionate royalty given to IGKV.

Subsequently on October 23rd, 2002, a meeting was organised at IGKV where senior University officials met Syngenta representatives - Dr.G J Pal, Dr.M J Abraham and Dr. Bhargava.  Syngenta officials had come to discuss the 15 point draft MoU which they had submitted to the University. Dr.Patil claimed that the conditions of the MoU including the proposals for joint research were unacceptable to the University which in turn therefore had prepared a 12 point MoU after consultations with 12 senior scientists and other officials of the University.  The proposals included setting up a joint board for managing the programme with 3 representatives each of Syngenta and the University.  The Board would be presided by a University official and would be co-ordinated by a Syngenta representative. The proposal to use the germplasm in possession of IGKV was agreed upon.

Despite persistent questioning by the media the VC refused to share the copies of the MoU drafted by Syngenta. Going on the offensive he claimed that in a globalised era such collaborations were increasingly becoming necessary and if any other company offered greater financial support than Syngenta, the University was willing to negotiate with them and go in for collaborative research on the germplasm with IGKV.

The VC also clarified that since they had not heard from Syngenta after the  draft MoU (as proposed by IGKV), they had not gone in for further  negotiations.  Dr. Patil insisted that at no stage was the University  considering compromising the IPR of the parental lines.

Interestingly, the VC went back on the earlier note released by IGKV which seemed to suggest that the discussions were at an advanced stage, on the grounds that it was based on incomplete information since both the Director - Research and he were out of station at the time that the controversy erupted.

Dr.Patil refused to categorically deny the allegations about the transfer of  rice varieties to IRRI but instead chose to say that he was unaware of the details of an enquiry of the nature that was suggested by the media.


3. Media Update on Syngenta-IGKV collaboration

Dainik Bhaskar, Nov 9, 2002:

Title: "IGKV to grant the rights of rare varieties of rice to multi national company"

· Meeting held in Germ Plasm centre, University on 23rd October 2002. Attended by Head of Department, 3 scientists, 4 administrative officers and 7 others.

· Opposition to company's terms and conditions by few of the agriculture scientists because the company would use this in its favour.

· Company is bent upon taking the rights of research on the use of varieties of rice.

· VC, Dr. Patila told the representatives of the company to talk to him after his 'Germany tour'.

· Preparation going on to secretly hand over the rights of research on 23,000 rare varieties of rice plasm to multi national company by the University.

· Director of Hyderabad Rice Research Centre, Dr. B.Mishra opposes this move.

· A fixed amount of money earned by selling the new hybrid variety of rice in market would be given to the university as royalty. VC agreed on this bargain.

Navbharat, Nov 12, 2002:

Title: " Multi national company to prepare the hybrid varieties of rice in Chhattisgarh"

· University to do the research jointly with Syngenta.

· Company to pay the royalty by selling the developed varieties in the foreign market. Decision to be taken on this proposal after state's  approval.

· Germ plasm to be used only by them and will not allow it to go outside.

· Both Logo of Syngenta and the University to be used on the packets used for selling the varieties of rice.

Deshbandhu, Nov 15, 2002:

Title: "Agriculture University to hand over the rare varieties of rice unknown to farmers to multi national company"

· This decision is opposed by a number of NGO's and Civil Society Organisations.

· With the assistance of the farmers Dr. Richharia developed 17000 national varieties of germ plasms in Chhattisgarh. He was director of Rice Research Centre, Madhya Pradesh (posted in Chhattisgarh). In 1977 document he has stated that better and more cost effective national varieties than international ones are available in the market.

· He was ousted from his post because of opposing the foreign varieties.

Deshbandhu and Navbharat, Nov 16, 2002

Title: "Opposition of granting the rights of rare varieties of rice to multinational company Syngenta"

Attack on Chhattisgarh's identity- CPI (M)

· Sanjay Parate demands the state to intervene in this matter.

· Also stated that under this veil Chhattisgarh's farmers would be compelled to buy the hybrid seeds.

Deshbandhu, Nov 18, 2002:

Title:"CM to have secret agreement with Syngenta- Brij Mohan Agrawal(BJP  Leader) "

· Like other industry CM is spoiling Chhattisgarh's agriculture.

· Blaims the CM of attack on Chhattisgarh's identity by this move.

· Blaims the CM that the crop rotation change campaign was totally based on directions of multi national companies.

Deshbandhu, Nov 20, 2002:

Title: " After commitments to Syngenta, Agriculture University has not kept the agreement."

· Dr. S.N Srivastava of Agriculture University denies of any agreement. Also denies of any meeting held in Aurangabad.

· Syngenta proposed to work jointly on development of hybrid seeds variety, drought resistant varieties and marketing strategy. Also proposed to give grants to the university for research in which the University and Syngenta would use the available germ plasm for marketing by Syngenta while the university would have the royalty for 7 years.

· Mr. Tripathy said, "University's officials denied to accept some of the terms and conditions of Syngenta Company and proposed new conditions from the university's side". Also said that on this subject any decision can be taken only after agreement by University's scientists/officials, University' s academic group, administrative group, Indian agricultural research community and state government.

· University is waiting for company's answer.

· Made clear that parental license to be with the university.

Deshbandhu, Nov 26, 2002:

Title: "Efforts to justify after the illegal agreement with Syngenta"

· On 20th august 2002, VC met the officials of the Syngenta Company on invitation, in Aurangabad.

· The present proposed agreement between Syngenta and University is violation of Ritho agreement held 10 years back. This agreement took place on 29 December 1993 in which 156 countries had signed and India was one of them. According to this agreement germ plasm should be protected at local level and before taking it anywhere the consent of local communities should be obtained.

·  Some of the varieties of rice have already reached foreign countries.

· One of the scientist associated with agriculture university is of the opinion that if there is an agreement with any multi national company then the permission to use the seeds cannot be granted without intimating National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR).

[We are thankful to Chhattisgarh Biodiversity Security Forum, which provided us these updates. The Forum includes People's Union for Civil Liberties (Chhattisgarh Lok Swantantra Sangthan), Ekta Parishad, Rupantar, ActionAid, World Social Forum - Chhattisgarh Chapter, Chhattisgarh Kisani Samvardhan Kendra and other organisations]

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