How does GMO crops affect organizations within our network?
Article by Maja Enarsson and Britta Josephson
GMO crops and its consequences
Since CIRHEP has worked with organic farming in its vicinity and GMO has not been a real problem for them, therefore they do not have as much knowledge of GMO cultivation. Most in their area grow organic and have a great variety of crops. It is not often difficult to distinguish between what is a consequence of GMO or the use of chemicals alone. Much of the information that emerges is rather general perceptions that they feel somewhat uncertain about. Mohan and Chandra themselves say that they are in the learning stage when it comes to GMOs and that they have much left to learn. One thing that was particularly noteworthy, however, was that CIRHEP recently encountered farmers in the area who grow with GMO without knowing that it was what they grew. They have then found out that 93% of all cotton cultivation in India is GMO and they say that other GMO cultivation, perhaps even with other crops, can be found in the area without their knowledge.
What are the biggest dangers of GMOs?
Destruction of nutrient-rich chemicals due to chemicals
High water requirement
Health impact on humans and animals
Inadequate independent research prior to GMO advocacy and dissemination
High chemical usage requirements
Soil, water and air pollution
Debt settlement of small farmers, which in some cases leads to suicide
Drastic decline of some animal species, such as pollonizers
Food sovereignty crisis
Drastically reduced biodiversity
How does GMO (or would GMO) affect food sovereignty?
Creates a dependency on imported food
Higher economic dependence on food access
Increased nutritional deficiency due to changing unilateral diet
Dependent on purchased water due to. pollution of natural water resources
Political aspects Both the Indian government and the state of Tamil Nadu are in favor of the use of GMOs. However, its impact and distribution look different in the country and differ between regions. In the area where CIRHEP works, GMO has had very little impact. If it has to do with regulations and laws or if the national laws and state laws of Tamil Nadu are different they do not know. It may also have to do with other factors. For example, GM Cotton (BT Cotton) was approved in Tamil Nadu in 2002, but since there are few in the area that grow cotton, the impact has not been so great.
Mohan and Chandra believe that the green revolution, based on hybrid seeds and the use of chemicals, has created major consequences that are still alive today and that it will be worse when the government advocates GMOs. The current policy is more focused on meeting the international market rather than looking for the best interests of people. As a consequence of this policy, market-oriented monocultural crops are increasing, which also threatens the country’s diversity of traditional crops. Mohan and Chandra believe that the politicians in India are governed by the big corporations, international agreement, trade agreements and regulations this creates problems. They believe that this is one of the reasons why India is dependent on others and its support. Furthermore, they say that the roots are already there with high use of chemicals and the spread of GMOs around them, which will most likely affect them in the future.
There is an example of an incident when the former Indian government ruled. When the Minister for the Environment and Forest Department questioned GMOs and advocated more research before approving the crops, he was in turn exchanged and transferred to another department. Later at the change of government, GMOs were approved, which then spread in the area. This occurred without a completed research on various GMO crops that has been mentioned. Mohan also says that the spread of GMOs took place without being published, ie under “silence”. Which has also resulted in that farmers not knowing whether they are growing GMO crops.
Because there are patents on multinational company seeds, the farmers cannot save them in the same way they did before, but are forced to buy new seeds at every harvest. Consequently, they end up in a position of dependence on the companies, which has an impact on, among other things, food sovereignty. (More on this in Social and Economic Aspects)
Another political issue that emerged is the regulations and the high control of seeds. Selling their seeds requires a lot of bureaucratic paperwork, quality control and state approval. A process that few small farmers can go through and in this way it becomes easier for the sellers to buy company seeds that are already approved by the state where the necessary information is readily available. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult for farmers to get hold of traditional local seeds in the market. There are mostly subsidized hybrid seeds or corporate GMO seeds. This along with recommended chemical pesticides and fertilizers advocated by the state. However, there is still room for collecting and processing their own seeds in the traditional way. But with the easy access to buying ready-made seeds, it is a tradition that is increasingly disappearing along with biodiversity. Nature, biodiversity and health Mohan and Chandras general view is that more chemicals are used in GMO crops than in other crops. When farmers buy GMO seeds, they are recommended to buy specific chemical fertilizers and fertilizers, usually produced by multinational companies. They believe that more water is required for the cultivation to produce results, which is very problematic as the water supply in large parts of India is a problem. The high use of chemicals, in turn, also destroys the diversity of the soil, its natural fertility, pollutes and salts natural water sources.
They have also heard that the bird population has decreased as farmers grow GMO corn instead of millet, because the birds have a harder time eating the corn. Chemicals have also had an impact on the butterfly population. As the number of butterflies and birds has decreased, plant pollination and, by extension, biodiversity are also reduced. They definitely believe that the diversity of seeds has drastically decreased and will continue to decline in the future. Especially different cotton seeds since 93% of the cotton grown in India is from GMO seeds. Increased use of GMO seeds removes much of the traditional seeds, which in turn leads to reduced diversity. Something that, in turn, also has an impact on human health. Mohan says that when he ate rice once every two weeks, today almost every meal consists of some kind of rice. As rice is free in Tamil Nadu and the general supply of various raw materials has gone down, less and a result is that the nets are less neutrious. This has led to that 50% of children in India being malnourished, while eating more unhealthy food and diabetes has become a serious health problem. They know very little about whether GMO crops have any impact on human health in the form of diseases. They think there should be more research done on what consequences GMO crops can have on our health and our bodies. However, they believe that GMO has caused more people to have food allergies and have problems with itching. They have also read that it has damaged many animals and their health. For example, they assume that cows have major problems after eating GMO crops, which in turn has also caused their milk to be poisoned. As a result, people no longer use their milk and then no longer consume dairy products.
Social and economic aspects Mohan and Chandra say that they recently met a farmer who did not know that he was growing GMO seeds. He was recommended the seeds in the store. They also say that many farmers do not know the difference between GMO seeds and other seeds. They also do not have any information on how to handle the new seeds. This means that many farmers continue to handle the seeds and crops like they have always done, without knowing that the new crops, for example, require more water. This becomes problematic in an area like Tamil Nadu which generally has a dry climate with little rain. Therefore, when the crops become much smaller or destroyed, the farmers cannot pay the loans they often take to buy seeds. This leads to debt and new loans; they end up in various debt traps. This has led to farmers taking their own lives. Mohan and Chandra say that it is usually farmers in cotton growing who commit suicide and that this is probably because it is the largest GMO sector in India. They also mention that many who are indebted are forced to migrate to cities and take jobs in industry.
Previously, farmers took care of their own seeds. They collected them, processed them themselves and were able to save seeds for several years in their homes. This took a lot of time and energy, now most people buy their seeds from the store. The Tamil Nadu government also has subsidies on hybrid seeds, which affects farmers’ willingness to collect and store their own seeds. Since local seeds and organic homemade fertilizers are much cheaper than GMO seeds and chemicals, the farmers who grow in this way do not end up in the same large debt traps even if a harvest would be destroyed. This is something that CIRHEP explains and advocates for the farmers they work with.
As the farmers no longer utilize their seeds, the diversity of seeds has decreased. It is no longer as easy to get hold of local seeds, so most sow with large companies’ seeds. This creates a dependency position, especially as GMO seeds must be purchased new for each harvest. As the new seeds require different handling, more and more of the traditional agricultural knowledge is forgotten. In the past what agriculture was organic, now agriculture is increasingly chemical and synthetic. In the past, farmers were able to prepare their own fertilizers and the local seeds were adapted to the climate and soil that existed on the site. Now they buy seeds that are not at all adapted to the climate of Tamil Nadu.
Links between GMO use and climate impact Mohan and Chandra point out that GMOs require a lot of water and water supply is a major problem in many areas. A problem that affects not only the GMO farmer, but also other farmers in the area and the entire ecosystem as a whole. GMOs also require large quantities of chemicals that lead to soil, water and air pollution. Animal species also decrease drastically, affecting the vegetation, nature, ecosystem and thus the climate at large.
Interview with Cirhep, India staff 2015 2015.
Interview by Maja Enarsson and Britta Josephson.