6:40 AM Oct 4, 1993
INDIAN FARMERS RALLY AGAINST GATT, BIO-PATENTSBangalore 2 Oct (TWN/Martin Khor) -- About half a million Indian farmers took part in a day-long procession and rally in the South Indian city of Bangalore on 2 October to protest against proposals in the Uruguay Round Draft Final Act texts that they claim would have devastating effects on their livelihoods in general and on their control of seeds in particular. It was by far the largest public display of opinion anywhere in the world either for or against the controversial Round of trade talks being held in Geneva under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The crowds, the organizers said, would have been larger but for the tragic earthquake that struck the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. Among the guests at the rally were scientists, representatives of farmers' organisations and groups involved with agriculture and the environment from several Third World countries including Ethiopia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Thailand and South Korea. They are in India to attend a two-day seminar on sustainable agriculture. At the end of the rally, addressed by prominent leaders of farmers' unions from several states in India, the farmers pledged to act to protect their "sovereignty over our seeds." They also approved eight resolutions including calls to reject the Dunkel draft agreement of the Uruguay Round on patenting of agricultural seeds and plant resources, opposing entry of transnational corporations in Indian agriculture, establishing community intellectual property rights of farmers over their biological wealth and blocking the outflow of this biological wealth through direct actions. The resolutions also called for the burden of proof to be imposed on foreigners wishing to assert claims of IPRs over biological materials of farmers to prove that they were not stealing the common intellectual property rights of farmers. The rally also adopted an alternative action programme in the event the provisions of the Dunkel draft they object to are accepted by the Indian government, and are incorporated in the final accords of the Uruguay Round. The programme includes continuation of free exchange of seeds among Third World farmers, blocking of an outflow of biological wealth from the South through direct action, and protection and development of "community intellectual property rights" of farmers. It was also announced that the Karnataka farmers had decided to establish an international research centre with the cooperation of scientists to help develop community seed banks and to protect the intellectual rights of the communities. The Dunkel draft (so named after the former GATT director-general Arthur Dunkel, who tabled the draft of the various agreements in December 1991) is a comprehensive set of proposals in the Uruguay Round talks that if passed and enforced would open up the economies of Third World countries including their agriculture and service sectors to competition from foreign firms and foreign products and services. The proposals under TRIPs (trade-related intellectual property rights), include provisions for compulsory introduction of patent and other "intellectual property" laws in all member countries that would give TNCs monopolistic protection over their technologies and products and force Third World countries to pay higher prices for these goods. The rally had been organised by the KRRS, the Karnataka Farmers' Association led by M D Nanjundaswamy, a farmer and former professor of law in Bangalore University, and now an elected member of the state legislative assembly. Most of the farmers at the rally were members of the KRRS but a sizable minority came from other states. The Bangalore rally is the latest in a series of protest actions against entry of TNCs such as Cargill and Pepsi to invest in the agriculture sector. The farmers also fear that the Uruguay Round may result in TNCs to exercise monopoly rights over modified seeds and then prevent farmers from continuing the traditional practice of saving part of their crop as seeds for the next season's planting. Cargil, the giant US TNC is one of the three or four giant global corporations that have oligopolistic control over the world farm trade and agribusiness products. According to Prof. Nanjundaswamy, the farmers want Cargill to quit its seed operations in India. They also want to prevent the involvement of TNCs in general in Indian agricultural sector, a process they fear is inevitable if the current proposals in the Uruguay Round negotiations are approved. The farmers' protests are taking place as Northern governments and the GATT secretariat intensify their efforts to get the Uruguay Round concluded by mid-December. The rich countries are eager to get an agreement signed quickly and most Third World governments also want the talks concluded as they fear a breakdown could result in trade conflicts and a worldwide economic depression. In several countries in both the North and South there has however been public opposition to some of the terms of the agreement, though media attention has been focused more on the protests of French farmers against the removal of agricultural subsidies and their 'right' to export with subsidies. Public interest groups in some Third World countries have characterised the Uruguay Round as a process dominated by the Northern countries to "recolonise" the South by enhancing the powers of foreign firms to trade and invest in all sectors of Third World economies, and by severely eroding the rights of governments to formulate national economic and social policies, particularly the regulation of foreign trade and investment. Addressing the Bangalore rally, Prof. Nanjundaswamy said the KRRS' seeds campaign was aimed at protecting the rights of farmers not only in India but also worldwide as sovereignty of nations and peoples over their seeds was the basis for food security and national development. The Dunkel draft, he said, must be rejected as it would effectively remove control of seeds from the farmers and transfer it to the TNCs. Even if the government were to sign an agreement granting intellectual property rights on seeds and biological materials to corporations, the KRRS would counter this by setting up community-based seed banks in the villages of different districts and promote the exchange and use of the farmers' own seeds. "We do not recognise intellectual property rights on biological materials being granted to companies for their private profit," Prof. Nanjundaswamy told the rally. "The knowledge on which crops to plant and on which seeds to use was evolved by generations of farmers, and not by the corporations. Therefore, we do not accept that they have a right to profit from our knowledge at our expense. Instead, we adhere to the concept of common property rights, where the right to seeds cannot be owned by private companies. Seeds should be allowed to be exchanged freely among farmers in the country and the world, as has been the practice till now."