Indian farmers escalate civil disobedience campaign to sow GMO seeds

June 17, 2019

The “seed satyagraha” civil disobedience campaign is continuing to snowball in India as numerous farmers hold rallies and protests to sow genetically modified (GM) seeds in open defiance of restrictive laws.

The movement began June 10 with 1,500 farmers attending a rally in Akot, Maharashtra, where herbicide-tolerant (HT) GM cotton seeds were planted openly, despite the threat of a five-year jail term and severe fines.

Since then, at least five similar protests have been held, with more planned this week.

The escalation of the civil disobedience movement means that anti-GMO groups, which are largely funded from European sources, are now in open warfare against India’s poorer farmers as activist leaders call for jailing the protestors.

The farmers in Akot also declared their support for smallholder farmers in Haryana, who have been growing pest-resistant Bt brinjal despite a national moratorium that the central government imposed in 2010 at the behest of anti-GMO activists.

Three days after the June 10 action, around 50 farmers gathered at Anandwadi village in the Shrigonda district of Maharashtra on June 13 to continue the civil disobedience campaign by openly planting HT cotton seeds on one acre of land owned by a farmer Mahadeo Khamkar.

A second video of this event shows that women led the planting of banned GM seeds.

Farmers elsewhere have also taken to sharing selfies of themselves openly defying the law by planting banned HT cotton.

On June 16, another farmer, Nilesh Nemade from Telhara, Akola district of Maharashtra, took non-violent direct action by sowing GM seeds on one acre of land with the reported participation of another 200 farmers.

Photos from this event show that police were in attendance but took no action, despite the farmers openly defying laws that forbid planting unapproved GM crops.

A day later, another farmer, Sanjay Shelke of Jitapur, Akola district of Maharashtra, shared photos of women farmers sowing GM cotton seeds.

Photos were also shared on social media by Pramod Tamale, a cotton farmer from Plugao, Wardha district of Maharashtra, who declared that he was openly sowing GM seeds on three acres of land.

Farmer Pramod Tamale says he won’t abide by a law that hampers his progress and restricts his freedom.

Other farmers are also advertising upcoming seed satyagraha events. For example, Baburao Appaji Golde of Jalna district in Maharashtra has declared that he will hold a sowing event for HT cotton on June 20.

Details have also been shared of an upcoming June 18 event, while many others are expected over subsequent days as momentum accelerates and farmers sow banned seeds in solidarity with one another and those who are threatened with legal action.

The term “satyagraha,” which means seeker of truth, was coined by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who led non-violent civil disobedience protests against colonial-era laws that forbade ordinary Indians from, for example, making their own salt.

Today’s Indian farmers compare modern laws forbidding them from adopting better seeds that can help them improve their livelihoods — enacted due to demands from anti-GMO groups that promote “traditional” seeds and the subsequent continuation of agrarian poverty — with colonial times. They have pledged to resist the continued imposition of these laws.

In response, anti-GM campaigner Aruna Rodrigues has launched a legal action and demanded that “the culprits [farmers] must face criminal charges as appropriate.”

Vandana Shiva, an anti-GMO campaigner who has charged Western clients $40,000 speaking fees and first-class airfare while defending the virtues of Indian poverty, has put out a press release stating that the farmers “are criminals and will be treated as such.”

This means that Shiva and other anti-GMO campaigners are demanding that thousands — possibly tens of thousands — of small Indian farmers should face jail terms of five years or heavy fines for following in the footsteps of Gandhi and running a seed satyagraha campaign.

However, it may be difficult for the Indian government to countenance locking up large numbers of farmers when their only crime is growing seeds that are already in widespread use elsewhere in the world — especially when doing so would be to kowtow to groups with an explicit anti-development agenda.

The farmers’ case is supported by the fact that Bt brinjal has been grown legally and successfully in neighboring Bangladesh for several years. Farmers there have been able to dramatically reduce their use of pesticides and improve their livelihoods as a result.

While Bt brinjal is already grown in Bangladesh, other Bt food crops such as corn are grown from the Philippines to Spain to North and South America. India has been successfully cultivating Bt cotton for many years. Herbicide-tolerant cotton is also grown widely, from Australia to the United States.

There is also a worldwide consensus that the GM crops currently on the market are as safe as any other, and that their adoption around the world has helped deliver environmental improvements.