25 March, 2014

Seed failure is international failure

The maize crop has failed again in parts of Southern Nepal. Thousands of farmers are protesting and asking for compensation, but who's going to hear them?  

The seeds were imported hybrid seeds, brought from India. The Rajkumar variety of hybrid seeds, while impressively named and hinting to royal origins, could easily have been genetically modified seeds, sold by shadowy international companies whose stocks keep on rising in the stock market. The X-92 and Sandhya are equally well named—one hinting to scientific certitude, the other to some feminine quality nested in the seeds. The branding was great but the product was fake. Unfortunately, Nepal doesn’t have the investigative capacities to figure out where these seeds actually originate from.

Why are these seeds being sold publicly to farmers when it is clear, over and over, that “hybrid” seeds sold commercially are of questionable origins,  possibly of genetically modified backgrounds, and they continue to fail spectacularly on a yearly basis?

This doesn’t really impact those international companies who sell these seeds, who feel they are immune from prosecution or lawsuits. As long as the business community of low accountability countries like India and Nepal continue to sell these seeds, often openly and with great pride, the farmers will continue to suffer great economic damages, debts and despair.

Seed failure cannot be written off lightly in countries where people get into heavy debt to lease land, buy seeds and fertilizers and pesticides in order to grow food. Which is exactly what happened in the Nepal case-the Nepali farmers had leased the land they had sowed the maize seeds in at the rate of Rs.40,000 annually.

The governments of both countries have turned a blind eye to the plight and rights  of farmers, till now. But the time has come to set up a justice mechanism to investigate how exactly the government and the legal system should respond when seeds, which are the fundamental units of life, turn out to be bogus and fake. How should the companies that sold these seeds compensate the farmers? Because its not just the price of the seeds, but an entire season’s lost crops, that affect a farmer’s community when these events keep repeating themselves.

It is also clear that besides a national level investigation, an investigative panel of an international stature needs to be set up to investigate what is going on with seed failure of maize seeds, rice seeds, and other seeds fundamental to food security for billions of people globally. Until this becomes an international issue, there is sure to be no action against those selling these seeds.

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