Mar 5, 1993


New Delhi (3rd March, Vandana Shiva) Delhi was awash with a flood of green Wednesday as farmers from across the country gathered at the grounds of the medieval Red Fort to protest against the Dunkel Draft of the GATT Treaty.

The draft is a two-year-old controversial proposal tabled by Arthur Dunkel, director general of GATT to break the stalemate in the Uruguay Round negotiations. One of its recommendations is to allow the patenting of seeds by multinational corporations, which would spell ruin for farmers in the developing world.

More than 200,000 farmers managed to reach Delhi despite arrests in Bangalore and Madras and despite the fact that the ban on the rally was lifted only on March 1.

Given the short notice, full arrangements could not be made for the accommodation of many of the farmers who had planned to attend. In spite of having to sleep outside in the cold however, the throngs of farmers from states all over India were joyful and enthusiastic as they gathered in the grounds of the Red Fort. Green was the predominant colour in the crowd, with the farmers from Uttar Pradesh wearing green caps and those from Karnataka wearing green shawls.

The rally was called the 'Seed Satyragraha' since its focus is the intellectual property rights clauses in the draft GATT agreement which would rob the farmers of the right to save and reproduce seed.

The 'Seed Satyragraha' was launched on 29th December 1992 when farmers of the Karnataka Ryota Sangha (KRRS, the state level farmers association in Karnataka) demonstrated at the Cargill India headquarters in Bangalore and told the multinational seed companies to 'Quit India', in line with Gandhi's Quit India Movement. KRRS has threatened a "blitzkrieg to oust multinational companies, not only in the agricultural field but in all sectors of the Indian economy."

The campaign is also supported by the Gene Campaign, a group of Indian scientists, lawyers, economists, environmentalists and journalists who aim to ''protect the third world genes and the rights of the farmers''.

When asked at the rally if farmers could read the Dunkel Draft, Professor Nanjundaswamy, the President of the KRRS and the moving spirit behind the demonstration, questioned how farmers could be expected to read a document which had been prepared without the democratic participation of the communities which would be affected by it. He then took a copy of the Dunkel Draft and burned it. The crowd of farmers responded with loud cheers and by tossing their shawls into the air, turning the field into a whirling blaze of green.

Farmers led by Nanjundaswamy in late December ransacked the office of the U.S. Seed giant cargill in the southern city of Bangalore. The KRRS has issued notices to 11 foreign seed firms including Cargill to quit Karnataka.

The charter of demands drawn up by the various farmers organizations participating in the rally stated:

"The meeting of farmers demands the total rejection of the Dunkel Draft text which is trying to invade the economic sovereignty of the country and further damage the human rights and dignity of the individual. This meeting also demands an amendment to the Constitution of India making it mandatory on the part of the government to get all international agreements ratified by a majority of both houses of Parliament and also of not less than one half of the State legislatures. The Dunkel Draft must be discussed in all State Legislatures."

The leaders of the farmers' organisations further stated that it was imperative that the Dunkel Draft be translated into all Indian languages to allow democratic participation in decision making at the assembly level.

The farmers also condemned the appropriation of farm land through state mechanisms for multi-national companies, and demanded that no farm land be transferred to the MNCs through the land Acquisition Act. According to the leaders of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (the national farmer's association), "If agricultural land is to be acquired, the payment should be 25 percent more than the price of the land."

One farmer, 65-year-old Ranjit Singh who had travelled to New Delhi for the rally said: ''The government is bowing to American pressure and the U.S. will buy this country.''

''The foreign companies will do what the British East India Company did to India,'' said Fateh Singh, a sugar cane farmer from Meerut district some 70-km east of here in Uttar Pradesh state.

''The U.S. government and foreign companies are trying to build a seed monopoly in this country,'' added Suresh Bongle a farmer leader who has come here from Karwar in Karnataka.

An estimated 85 percent of seed production in the country is by farmers themselves, despite large government-owned and private seed companies.

Farmers in the north Indian wheat bowl use about 40 kg of seeds on each hectare of land. Paddy farmers in Karnataka use about 200 kg seed for planting each hectare of land. Activists say farmers reap about 2,500 kg of rice per hectare using their own seeds while seeds sold by companies like Cargill yield up to 25 percent more but require large amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilisers which are sold to the farmers by the multinationals.

The farmers of India have decided to lead the country in the struggle against recolonisation and have used seed as a symbol of resistance, just as the chakra (spinning wheel) was the symbol of the Independence movement.

Indian farmers have also begun establishing ties with other anti-Dunkel farm groups in the developing world.

''We feel that third world countries are looking to India for leadership,'' said Nanjundaswamy.

''Since the government of India has failed them in this, we have decided to give leadership ourselves to Third World farmers,'' he said.