ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

14 October 2002


Subject: Open letter to biotech corporations - Ecological Farming versus Industrial Agriculture and Genetic Engineering

Ecological Farming versus Industrial Agriculture and Genetic Engineering
Open letter to biotech corporations

From the Institute for Sustainable Development, Ethiopia

Dear friends,
Please find below an open letter prepared by the participants to the "Nature as Teacher" workshop in Dehra Dun, India. We welcome you to sign on and also pass it on. Please also send it to any appropriate company, particularly pro-GE associates in your own country that you think should receive this letter. The signed/agreed to letter can be returned to either Navdanya in India, or to Institute for Sustainable Development in Ethiopia. Best regards

Tewolde & Sue
Institute for Sustainable Development
Box 171, Code 1110, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
tel: +251-1-514580 / +251-9-200834 (mobile)
fax: +251-1-512350

Ecological Farming versus Industrial Agriculture and Genetic Engineering

Open letter to biotechnology corporations on Ecological Farming, Industrial Agriculture, and its latest Quick-Fix, Genetic Engineering, from the Participants of the "Nature as Teacher" Workshop held at Navdanya Farm, Dehra Dun, India, 1-14 October 2002.
We, the participants of the workshop ÎNature as Teacherâ held at Navdanya Farm, Dehra Dun, India, from 1 to 14 October 2002, who have come from all the six continents, considered the impacts of your activities on the human condition, and especially on agriculture and our mutualistic interaction with Nature in the context of sustaining ourselves, and have decided to write to you.

We condemn your companies' actions to make short-term economic calculations the only consideration in taking decisions on agriculture. These narrow calculations ignore the many layers of rights and responsibilities of farmers, consumers, local communities and governments, especially with regard to human and natural well-being.

Genetically Engineered (GE) crops threaten farms, food and the future of individuals and communities worldwide, not only because of likely health and environmental problems, but also because you are patenting them so that you may use them to wrest control of agricultural decisions from the individual farmer. Your companiesâ selfish need for predictable, manageable returns on investment cannot be allowed to take precedence over human and environmental safety. In any event, there is enough food being produced; it is economic poverty and social injustice that denies people access to it. Your activities make the economic weakness and social exclusion of the poor felt more. Therefore, in the name of cultivating food, you cultivate hunger and famine.

The large diversity of species and cultures found in the world must be valued primarily for their own sake. They cannot be violated with impunity and commodified solely for the creation of niches in the global market. This is particularly blatant when you pirate communitiesâ knowledge and technologies for this purpose. You patent these as yours so that the communities are disinherited. This leads not only to their financial loss, but more so to their cultural debasement.

We condemn governments, which are meant to serve the people who put them in power, disregarding the majority of their constituencies and focusing on only servicing your perceived need of market creation. We condemn scientists, who are meant to have dedicated their lives to the search for truth, being willing instruments in the process thus abusing their professions and being instruments in your global efforts to usurp power and wealth from the ordinary people in your countries and even more culpably even in the poorest of developing countries, made poor by centuries of past injustice.

We find that it is not only diversity in culture and values that the current globalization under your pressure is destroying, but equally blatantly, also the diversity of environments that sustain the wonderful diversity of life. You transform the agricultural landscape into a homogenous monotony with greatly diminished biodiversity. Even when you state that you increase production, you oversimplify. You usually reduce total biological production and focus only on the seed or the root that you suppose the human species eats. Because other animals then lack food, you reduce the supposedly increased human food to feed them. This also enables you to control the seed and the artificial inputs you have manipulated to become necessary in the thus changed agricultural ecosystem. You ensure exclusive control of these inputs by patenting them. Then you manipulate governments, people and the markets for your own ends, and you manipulate the media to enhance your manipulation. Consistent with this manipulation, your latest quick-fix, the use of genetically engineered (GE) seed, is touted as the ultimate instrument for feeding the poorest of the poor. All this only worsens the marginalisation and vulnerability of indigenous and local communities. Equally importantly, it violates the integrity of the crop species by changing it in a way that would have never happened in Nature.

The following points illustrate how your practices are causing irreversible cultural, environmental, and personal damages, and how ecological farming can counter and reverse these damages.

1. Ecological farming intervenes in the land to strengthen the ecological processes, but industrial agriculture intervenes so as to maximize the market for your inputs. Industrial agriculture, therefore, deliberately modifies the land away from ecological balance and towards creating artificial needs for various products supplied by you.

2. In so doing, industrial agriculture destroys soil structure, and greatly distorts soil chemistry and microbiology. Ecological farming by its quest for strengthening ecological processes, restores soil structure, chemistry and microbiology, and thus heals the land.

3. Chemical agriculture requires homogeneity for its predetermined and marketed inputs. Therefore, it plants a genetically homogenous variety across the land. This reduces crop genetic diversity. The chemicals invariably used to control other plants as weeds and the inevitable pests and diseases further pollute soil, water and air, negatively affecting human and environmental health and diminishing species diversity. The resulting instability makes it convenient to bring in new chemical inputs and thus create new markets. Genetically engineered varieties make this easy by incorporating into their constitutions the high requirements for the marketed inputs. The paucity in genetic diversity in industrial agriculture means that nutritional balance is disturbed exacerbating health problems. This impoverishment of biodiversity is irreversible because extinction is irreversible. Ecological farming increases biodiversity both within the species of crop, and in the associated plants, animals and micro- organisms. Therefore, it diversifies food and leads to healthy balanced diets.

4. Once caught in a system of production which becomes increasingly expensive as inputs increase and finding alternatives diminishes as biodiversity reduces, farmers get into a trap in which they live as helpless victims, and often commit suicide to escape. Ecological farming requires only labour, which is under the control of each farmer, and offers alternative strategies based on the wide choices made possible by biodiversity and healthy soils. The trap you have set is further secured by the patenting of seed and inputs thus subjecting the farmer to conditionalities dictated by the whim of the remote patent owner, which is usually a North-based TNC (transnational corporation), i.e. yourselves. The most recent and most vicious form of this is the patenting of genetically engineered seed. Pollen from a field planted with a GE crop crosses over to the non-GE crop in the field and contaminates it. A farmer may, therefore, not be able to grow his/her traditional varieties in safety. To worsen matters further, the reversal of the burden of proof in TRIPs mean that she/ he becomes a patent infringer and liable to being sued by the patent holder. Imagine being forced into the status of a second hand smoker and, besides being exposed to the risks of cancer, getting a bill from the tobacconist for tobacco that you passively inhaled, and being criminalized for doing so on top of that.

5. The risks to human health and the environment posed by GE food are not fully understood because GE food has been pushed to unsuspecting consumers as substantially equivalent to non-GE food. The fact that often it is disease-causing viruses and bacteria that are used as vectors to transfer the targeted gene or genes in genetic engineering should be enough to warrant caution. The use of genetic engineering should, therefore, have been governed by the Precautionary Principle. It should have been considered risky until proven otherwise. You should have learnt from the fate of tobacco companies, who had ignored precaution in the search for profit, and are now being sued for damages. And all this risk taking when, in fact, the advantages of GE crops compared to the best non-GE crop varieties have not been clearly shown, demonstrates incomprehensible short- sightedness, even in investing purely for short-term profit. It should be remembered that damage from GE, if inflicted, is likely to be permanent as once released, the GE species cannot be recalled.

6. Industrial agriculture, by trapping the individual farmer, promotes selfishness, inequity, injustice and personal wealth, and undermines community life. It economizes only on labour and spends much more on other inputs. It abuses natural resources extensively and destroys the environment only to generate unemployment and bring about human displacement. Its piracy of community knowledge and technologies further marginalizes local farming communities and destabilizes whatever is left of them after the displacement of labour. Therefore, it undermines mutualism and destroys farming communities. Ecological farming prospers in freedom and fosters cooperation, equity, justice and community welfare, and sustains the life of farming communities.

7. Industrial agriculture undermines the ability of farmers to use their own knowledge, technologies and biodiversity, and reduces them to helpless recipients of marketed inputs. And yet you, the very corporations that sell farmers those inputs, pirate the very knowledge, technologies and biodiversity, treat them as your own, patent them, and sell them back to the farmers as marketed inputs. Ecological farming, on the other hand, fosters self-confidence and not only the use, but also the community-based generation, of new knowledge and technologies.

8. By monopolizing government attention to the disregard of the majority of the population and by thus deploying it to maximize your gain on the one hand, and by destroying the mutualism that motivates members to unite into a strong community on the other hand, your interference undermines participation and breeds apathy and antidemocratic tendencies.

9. In this context, it is obvious to us that the drought stricken Southern African countries are right to refuse to be forced by this problem into accepting GE maize and thus contaminating their future agriculture. We salute them in their difficult decision. We condemn those immoral forces supporting the spread of GE under any conditions and trying to use the calamity of drought for ensuring this. We express our solidarity with the Southern African countries, and especially with the Government and people of Zambia, who have totally refused to be intimidated by the situation. We call upon states and peoples to help out Southern Africa with non-GE food at this difficult time.

10. To restore sustainability to the relationship between Nature and the human species, and restore democratic mutualism and equity to human societies, we propose the following solutions:

a. Local communities, and in particular farming communities, should be put back centre-stage in making our demand on biological resources, especially agricultural products, from Nature. You, corporations, should retreat to a mere supporting role. Governments should recognize by law and protect as inalienable prior rights the norms of local communities and farming communities. To the extent that it goes, we welcome the recognition that the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture gives to Farmers' Rights. We support the African Union in its attempt through a Model Law, to promote the legal protection of Community Rights. In particular, we believe that the rights of farmers to their land and any seed to use as they know best are inalienable.

b. We oppose the treatment of agriculture as a mere business for a small number of people. We recognize it as a way of life. As such, its impacts are not to be measured in bushels or tonnes of grain alone. All the production that goes into satisfying human, domestic animal and environmental needs should be valued for the role it plays. Measurement of agricultural productivity should capture all the dimensions. The effectiveness of agriculture should be measured by the totality of the needs it satisfies, not merely by the market niche it fills.

c. For these reasons, agriculture should be governed in a manner consistent with Natural laws. Agricultural activities and inputs should reinforce and not replace ecological processes. That is why industrial agriculture should everywhere give way to ecological farming.

d. To support this transformation, appropriate taxes and incentives should be used to foster the fulfilment of social and ecological responsibility.

e. Liability and redress regimes based on appropriate new laws should build responsibility into your corporate action. In particular, we call for active support for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and for the observance of its provisions even before it comes into force. We call on you, the biotechnology corporations, to accept liability in genetic engineering and redress any damages caused by your GMOs. We condemn those of you that make farmers sign contracts accepting liability if your GE crops go wrong. This is reversing the normal risk taking process. Therefore, we call for a quick start and conclusion to the liability and redress regime for genetic engineering which is due for negotiation under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. In the meantime, consumers should be helped to make informed decisions through the complete labelling of GE food, including any GE food aid. All countries, like Bolivia, that have already got laws banning the import of GE food should have their laws respected, even by food aid donors.

f. We call on you, biotechnology corporations, and governments to subject all your decisions to the criterion of the sustainability of the demands you make on Nature and natural resources. This is particularly true in agriculture, and also in energy. Agricultural interventions should strengthen ecological processes, and energy demands should be satisfied from renewable sources. Otherwise, the human species will kill ecosystems and itself.

g. To this end, both formal and informal education and awareness raising efforts should be intensified and reorientated to promote understanding and decisions for sustainability.

h. We believe that to be sustainable, agricultural and other production systems essential for human life should be as decentralized as possible, that globally common problems require local solutions globally. To this end, we demand that power also be restored to the local community, which should be responsible for all local governance. It is under these conditions that local sensitivity can be achieved; and local sensitivity is essential to address all global and local issues of sustainability and environmental management and protection.

i. We believe that trade in agricultural products and the other natural resources we obtain from Nature should be governed by laws consistent with the processes of Nature that determine Ecological farming. We know that the present WTO Agreements make it impossible to follow these natural processes. They also make the localization of sensitivities and local community-level democratic processes impossible. Therefore, we call upon national governments to either subject these WTO agreements to the laws of Nature, or, failing that, to withdraw from the WTO.

Dehra Dun, 8 October 2002

Agreed to by:
Masanobu Fukuoka, Natural Farmer, Japan
Vandana Shiva, Scientist and activist, India
Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, Environmentalist, Ethiopia
Alpana Bhartiya, Animal welfare activist, India
Beau Champ, Gardener, France
Chandran Gopalakrishnan, Farmers, India
Dhundup Tsering, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Dorjee Tseten, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Dorjee Wangchuk, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Dorjee, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Helene Oakley, Researcher, Wales
Jaideep Singh Brar, Farmer, India
Jamphell Dorjee, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Jamyang Tsering, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Johanna Asikainen, Seed saver, Finland
Jonathan Hapern, Environmentalist, Australia
Joya Roy, Sociologist, India
KM Joshi, Journalist, India
Krishna Duncan McKensie, Farmer, India
Kristi Harris, Environmentalist, United States of America
Lara Freeman, Researcher, United States of America
Lobsang, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Madhu Ramakrishnan, Farmer, India
Maggie Bloemhof, Educationalist, The Netherlands
Migmar Tsering, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
N Gopalakrishnan, Farmer, India
Namgyle Tsering, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Naoka Yatani, Researcher, Japan
Neil Cantwell, Campaigner, England
NJ Antony, Social worker, India
Pia Pera, Author, Italy
Poorna Dwivedi, Puppeteer, India
Prodipto Roy, Sociologist, India
R Balachandran, Farmer, India
R Giri, Farmer, India
Rachna Toshniwal, Herbalist, India
Ramana Acharyulu, Manager, India
Rapten Tsering, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Sameer Mohan, Environmentalist, India
SK Kupposwamy, Agro-industralist, India
Sonam Gyamtso, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Sue Edwards, Botanist, Ethiopia
Suman Pandy, Natural resources management, India
Tenzin Damdul, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Thudop Dorjee, Government Official and agriculturalist, Tibet
Thupten, Agricultural extensionist, Tibet
Valentina Campos, Artist, Bolivia
Vasanth Rakasi, IT professional, India
Matt Mellen, Environmentalist, England

Tewolde & Sue
Institute for Sustainable Development
Box 171, Code 1110, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
tel: +251-1-514580 / +251-9-200834 (mobile)
fax: +251-1-512350

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