The battle for Pakistan’s agriculture
By NAJMA SADEQUE
first battle never really took off even after 66 years -
restoring unduly appropriated land to the tiller - and a
second more destructive and far-reaching battle is already
three-fourths of global biodiversity and soils: GM can only
In recent decades, the
sovereignty of many countries has been undermined by the
bullying impositions of corporations backed by their own
This extends to forcing
the adoption of so-called “level playing ground” rules that
cannot apply to our socio-economic and environmental
conditions: fictitious “equal standing” is simply not
possible between unequals.
After a long struggle, during which time the US
government tried to push sanctions against the European
Union if it banned or discouraged GM crops (from USA), the
EU finally prevailed.
And last week, financial news agencies reported on hedge
funds and insider traders dumping Monsanto stock, driving
That includes Monsanto’s own CEO Hugh Grant selling off
40,000 of his own company’s shares, followed by other
high-level executives. Worse is expected to follow.
The reasons were the same as elsewhere - the hazards that
GMOs pose to human, animal and environmental health,
Monsanto’s dangerous experiments that have lead to
widespread GM pollution and cancer, and its predatory
No longer welcome in Europe
while facing rising opposition at home, Monsanto’s last hope
for market lies in developing countries such as ours, where
regulation is weak.
There is an interesting similarity to Monsanto’s powers of
persuasion used in USA, India and Pakistan. Monsanto has
long been ‘cosy’ with US Congressmen, getting its way
entirely throughout, and helpfully eased through by former
Monsanto executives vaulted to government.
In India, the push to introduce Bt cotton was also
engineered from top officialdom, but it was not easy. India
is a huge country with many fiercely independent states, all
with a strong and informed say, turning the entire farmers’
communities and public interest groups against Monsanto.
While it still prevails
perforce in some areas with Bt cotton, it has failed with GM
food crops; and given the 200,000 farmer suicides to-date,
its days seem to be numbered.
Similarly, in Pakistan, the National Biosafety Committee and
other regulators are under great pressure to approve GM
There was quite a hue and cry in 2011 when Monsanto was
exposed to have written the biotech report, which was
circulated for unilateral approval without being examined
But it takes two to clap
hands; the head of PARC and the Vice Chancellor of
Faisalabad University had thrown their full support behind
There are 61 federal and provincial agricultural agencies
(led originally by Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC)
and National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC), which were
devolved to the provinces in 2010.
Now PARC is trying to get an extraordinary position for
itself at the federal level as an umbrella organisation over
all other agencies from where it will be easier to impose
decisions onto the provinces.
For the same reason, foreign
interests such as USAID, therefore, prefer working with
all-encompassing federal institutions.
This effort is remindful of the recent furore over the
Farmer Assurance Provision, recently signed into law by
President Barack Obama. But it had little to assure farmers
with and more with boosting big agro-chemical corporations,
so that it earned the title of “Monsanto Protection Act”.
A provision was anonymously
and secretively slipped into a resolution, as part of the
Agricultural Appropriations Bill.
It turned out to be a special
interest loophole about which most lawmakers were unaware
when they signed it. Over a quarter of million outraged US
citizens then signed a petition launched by the “Food
Democracy Now” network demanding the President veto it.
Why were people so angry? The provision shielded big biotech
companies like Monsanto from legal action, even if a
particular product proved to be harmful to humans or the
For the period that the
provision is in place, both the Department of Agriculture
and the courts are rendered powerless to stop Monsanto from
producing or selling the product, no matter how toxic.
The Congress actually blocked the judiciary from doing its
job! According to Al-Jazeera, the provision was partly
drafted by Monsanto and sneaked in through their insider
friends, bypassing the necessary review from Congress'
Agricultural or Judiciary Committees.
Later, the Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee,
Senator Barbara Ann Mikulski, offered her apologies,
claiming she did not put the offending text in and did not
support it either. So, why was she so careless as to let it
get through without it being discussed?
Fortunately, the provision is effective only until September
30, 2013. By then, activists will be fighting hard to
prevent it being made permanent, just as activists here will
have to ensure that PARC does not become the sole
decision-maker and law unto itself like the corrupted
agricultural regulatory authorities in the US.
Ijaz Ahmed Rao is one such committed activist-farmer, who
took it on himself to keep farmers, government
decision-makers, agricultural institutions, the media and
concerned citizens informed of global and local
developments, good and bad, through his press writings and
extensive email network - not the easiest task in an area
that does not arouse strong feelings the way power politics
A graduate of Charles Stuart University, Australia, and a
professional farmer in Bahawalpur for the last 15 years, he
became interested in agro-biotechnology early on when he
found his preference for organic farming difficult to pursue
without government technical backup and in difficult terrain
dependant on toxic river water, highly-polluted by
industrial and agro-chemical runoff.
He hoped to find solutions in gene technology, and initially
supported the introduction of GM crops in Pakistan. But
experience, controversies and data from independent sources
and events since 2007 changed his mind: he concluded the
technology was overhyped and MNCs were misrepresenting
Between a billion and two billion rupees - all taxpayer
money - is spent annually on Pakistan’s agricultural
agencies to do research and related work.
And though they will offer a
list of impressive projects, some in collaboration with
“foreign” establishments, they do not include what
smallholder peasants or farmers like Ijaz Rao really need or
want, such as organic farming, something they could revive
with Cuba’s help, today the global leader and teacher in
“Large-scale GM trials have still not been conducted in
Pakistan and the process is being bulldozed so that
everything is approved before the new government realises
what’s really going on,” adds Rao.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has, reportedly, refused to
give in to the GM lobby. If that’s true, stakeholders may
not immediately lose the battle over Pakistan’s agriculture
The writer is a former journalist and currently director of
The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and