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Thousands to risk jail, Rs 1 lakh fine at world’s first farmer stir in favour of GM crops

The 'farmer satyagraha' will see the participants plant banned GM crops in a plot at Maharashtra's Akoli Jahangir village.

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Bengaluru: As many as 5,000 people are expected to come together in Maharashtra’s Akola district Monday for what will be the world’s first farmer protest in favour of genetically-modified (GM) crops.

The Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmer organisation founded by former Rajya Sabha member Sharad Joshi, is spearheading the protest.

The participating farmers will borrow from Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha, and plant the banned herbicide-tolerant Bt Cotton (GM cotton is allowed in India, but this variant isn’t) and Bt Brinjal seeds in a plot at Akoli Jahangir village. Other programmes planned for the day include speeches from leaders and experts, and a Q&A session.

Carrying, storing, selling, or sowing of banned GM crops can earn you a Rs 1 lakh fine and five years in jail, but the farmers say they are prepared.

“We are going to plant cotton and brinjal seeds on a one-acre plot. If police arrest us, we’ll go to jail. If we’re asked to go to court, we will do that too,” Shetkari Sanghatana president Anil Ghanwat told ThePrint over the phone.

The programme will commence at 9 am, while the planting is scheduled for 2 pm.

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The Bt Brinjal conundrum

GM crops are plants that have been reared with the genes of another species to reflect or temper certain characteristics. However, while proponents swear by their advantages such as insect-resistance and lower cultivation costs, critics say they could adversely affect food safety and biodiversity.

The Shetkari Sanghatana has been mobilising farmers and spreading awareness about GM crops for over a year. They use WhatsApp and other social media to connect with farmers across the country and have also organised conferences for farmer awareness.

Over the last year, the organisation has actively sought to make farmers aware about the potential impact of GM crops on yields, as reported by ThePrint in May last year.

“The government has allowed technological advancements in every sector, but expects India’s farmers to not develop,” Ghanwat said.

He cited the example of Bt Brinjal, pointing out that its cultivation was barred despite the crop getting a nod from the Union Environment Ministry’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the government watchdog for GM crops, in 2009.

Bt Brinjal is currently being cultivated commercially in Bangladesh and has received a largely positive response. However, in 2010, the then Manmohan Singh-led UPA government imposed an indefinite moratorium on its cultivation after GM critics expressed concern.

“Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s moratorium is not being overturned by the current government either,” he added.

“If the problem is with Mahyco (Indian company), Monsanto (US firm), and other multinational companies, at least the GM mustard developed by Delhi University should be given a chance,” he said.

“So many scientists and farmers have written to the government, but to no avail. So we have no decided that we are not going to abide by the law that bans Bt crops,” Ghanwat added.


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