Friday, May 25, 2007

The Third Culture

The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.

John Brockman

In the past few years, the playing field of American intellectual life has shifted, and the traditional intellectual has become increasingly marginalized. A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s. Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture, which dismisses science, is often nonempirical. It uses its own jargon and washes its own laundry. It is chiefly characterized by comment on comments, the swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real world gets lost.
In 1959 C.P. Snow published a book titled The Two Cultures. On the one hand, there were the literary intellectuals; on the other, the scientists. He noted with incredulity that during the 1930s the literary intellectuals, while no one was looking, took to referring to themselves as "the intellectuals," as though there were no others. This new definition by the "men of letters" excluded scientists such as the astronomer Edwin Hubble, the mathematician John von Neumann, the cyberneticist Norbert Wiener, and the physicists Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg.
How did the literary intellectuals get away with it? First, people in the sciences did not make an effective case for the implications of their work. Second, while many eminent scientists, notably Arthur Eddington and James Jeans, also wrote books for a general audience, their works were ignored by the self-proclaimed intellectuals, and the value and importance of the ideas presented remained invisible as an intellectual activity, because science was not a subject for the reigning journals and magazines.
In a second edition of The Two Cultures, published in 1963, Snow added a new essay, "The Two Cultures: A Second Look," in which he optimistically suggested that a new culture, a "third culture," would emerge and close the communications gap between the literary intellectuals and the scientists. In Snow's third culture, the literary intellectuals would be on speaking terms with the scientists. Although I borrow Snow's phrase, it does not describe the third culture he predicted. Literary intellectuals are not communicating with scientists. Scientists are communicating directly with the general public. Traditional intellectual media played a vertical game: journalists wrote up and professors wrote down. Today, third-culture thinkers tend to avoid the middleman and endeavor to express their deepest thoughts in a manner accessible to the intelligent reading public.
The recent publishing successes of serious science books have surprised only the old-style intellectuals. Their view is that these books are anomalies--that they are bought but not read. I disagree. The emergence of this third-culture activity is evidence that many people have a great intellectual hunger for new and important ideas and are willing to make the effort to educate themselves.
The wide appeal of the third-culture thinkers is not due solely to their writing ability; what traditionally has been called "science" has today become "public culture." Stewart Brand writes that "Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn't change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly." We now live in a world in which the rate of change is the biggest change. Science has thus become a big story.
Scientific topics receiving prominent play in newspapers and magazines over the past several years include molecular biology, artificial intelligence, artificial life, chaos theory, massive parallelism, neural nets, the inflationary universe, fractals, complex adaptive systems, superstrings, biodiversity, nanotechnology, the human genome, expert systems, punctuated equilibrium, cellular automata, fuzzy logic, space biospheres, the Gaia hypothesis, virtual reality, cyberspace, and teraflop machines. Among others. There is no canon or accredited list of acceptable ideas. The strength of the third culture is precisely that it can tolerate disagreements about which ideas are to be taken seriously. Unlike previous intellectual pursuits, the achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class: they will affect the lives of everybody on the planet.
The role of the intellectual includes communicating. Intellectuals are not just people who know things but people who shape the thoughts of their generation. An intellectual is a synthesizer, a publicist, a communicator. In his 1987 book The Last Intellectuals, the cultural historian Russell Jacoby bemoaned the passing of a generation of public thinkers and their replacement by bloodless academicians. He was right, but also wrong. The third-culture thinkers are the new public intellectuals.
America now is the intellectual seedbed for Europe and Asia. This trend started with the prewar emigration of Albert Einstein and other European scientists and was further fueled by the post- Sputnik boom in scientific education in our universities. The emergence of the third culture introduces new modes of intellectual discourse and reaffirms the preeminence of America in the realm of important ideas. Throughout history, intellectual life has been marked by the fact that only a small number of people have done the serious thinking for everybody else. What we are witnessing is a passing of the torch from one group of thinkers, the traditional literary intellectuals, to a new group, the intellectuals of the emerging third culture.

Source: Edge

Uncertainty of CA Elections and the Republic Question

- By Dr. Bal Gopal Shrestha

It is bizarre to see the failure of the ruling eight parties to meet even a month after the deferral announcement of the elections to constituent assembly. A country in transition cannot afford such a delay in the political process. In addition these parties are also openly accusing each other for the deadlock. Especially, the head of the state and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala proved himself most irresponsible by not taking the initiative to end the uncertainly.
We know that the sole basis of the present eight-party interim government is the 12-point agreement that they signed in November 2005. The first and foremost agenda of the agreement was to bring to an end to autocratic monarchy and to establish absolute democracy. To institutionalize this purpose the agreement proposed to hold an election to a constituent assembly. The massive people's movement in April 2006 forced king Gyanendra to relinquish his power, which paved the way to implement the road map of the seven-party alliance. A year has passed since the seven-party alliance came to power, but it failed to hold constituent assembly elections as they had agreed with the Maoists. Already it was very late when they announced the interim constitution and interim parliament on 15 January 2007. After that, things could have moved more rapidly if the parties had shown sincerity and realized their responsibility, but apparently they miserably failed in this regard.
The Maoists' demand to let the interim parliament announce Nepal a republic did not come all of a sudden. The eight parties agreed to held elections to a constituent assembly on 20 June 2007, but the postponement of elections came amidst heavy national and international pressure. Especially, we saw James Moriarty, American envoy to Nepal, extremely reckless in his wish to postpone the elections. Until the last minute, he tried to use his influence to postpone the elections and to keep the Maoists out of the interim government. For a year, the Maoists waited patiently for the elections. When the deferral announcement came, the Maoists' outburst can be imagined.
The chief election officer (CEO) said that he needed 120 days before he could prepare the elections, but his announcement came only when he had less than a hundred days. Why the CEO did not come with this fact when he still had more than 120 days is unexplained. Since he failed to hold the elections in a stipulated time, it is but logical that he himself and his team had resigned but that did not happened. The prime minister also did not feel it necessary to hold an urgent meeting of the eight parties to find an amicable solution without delay. Given the uncertainty that prevailed after the deferral of the elections, the Maoists’ move to declare Nepal a republic from the parliament is not unreasonable.
At present, there is no party in Nepal that can speak in favour of any form of kingship, except Kamal Thapa's National Democratic Party, which supported king Gyanendra's February 2005 coup. Now and then, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala talks about retaining a ceremonial king, but he could not stand firm on his words as a large section of his own party, the Nepali Congress appeared against retaining the monarchy. We also noted even Prime Minister Koirala himself advised king Gyanendra and his son Paras to voluntarily abdicate before declaring Nepal itself a republic. On 7 May 2007, Prime Minister Koirala, though, managed to pacify Congress district presidents, and had to tell them that by gradually stripping away all the powers of the king then would Nepal be finally declared a republic. Not only members of civil society but also a vast majority of people are in favour of declaring Nepal a republic straight away. Family members of the martyrs of the April 2006 people's movement and those injured in the movement have also been demanding Nepal to be declared a republic immediately.
During the April 2006 people's movement, defying brutal suppression, hundreds of thousands of people spontaneously took to the streets of cities and villages throughout the country for 19 days chanting slogans against the autocratic king Gyanendra. More than two dozen people sacrificed their lives and thousands were injured. Their single demand was to declare Nepal a republic by ending the monarchy instantly. On 23 April 2006, however, the leaders of the seven-party alliance hastily agreed to let king Gyanendra reinstate the parliament instead of removing the king himself. The Maoists who also actively participated in the people's movement denounced that act of the seven-party alliance, but yielded at Prime Minister Koirala's persuasion of holding an early election to a constituent assembly. Already the general people blamed power hungry leaders of the seven-party alliance for deceiving the people by ending the movement in a secret compromise with the king. Now with the deferring of elections, they feel that these leaders are conspiring to retain the redundant monarchy in Nepal.
In fact, the relevance of the monarchy in Nepal was lost after the 1 June 2001 palace massacre. The palace massacre was the death of monarchy as it wiped out the traditional line of succession to the throne. Although, the official prove-commission put the blame on crown prince Dipendra, who himself was killed in the incident, nobody in Nepal is ready to accept it. Of course, there is no evidence since no proper investigation was carried out, but the Nepalese people have openly been blaming king Gyanendra for staging the palace massacre to achieve the throne. The Nepalese people never gave the same respect to king Gyanendra as to his late brother Birendra because of Gyanendra's image as a notorious businessman and his scandalous son Paras. On top of all this, his autocratic acts against democracy made him the most detested king in the history of Nepal. The February 2005 coup was his final step, which left the people with no option than to take to the streets against him.
Soon after the success of the April 2006 people's movement, the House of Representative (HoR) stripped the king of all powers. On 18 May 2006, it declared Nepal a secular state and scrapped the Supreme-Commander-in-Chief post of the king, and changed the Name of the Royal Nepalese Army to Nepal Army. The 2007 interim constitution again completely deprives Gyanendra of any administrative rights and rejects his rights to the properties of the deceased royal family members. Further it also declares to nationalize all properties he obtained by virtue of being king, such as the palaces, forests and national parks, historic important heritage sites, etc.
At present, the king holds no formal position. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala himself is working as the head of state. Practically the country is already functioning as a republic without declaring itself a republic. If the present interim parliament can strip the king of all powers and passes so many important bills, it can declare Nepal a republic at any time. Rightly, the speaker of the house Subhash Nemang said that he was ready to declare Nepal a republic a minute after the leaders of the eight-party agree for the same. Only we have to see if they will indeed be able to come to an agreement or remain undecided on the issue. It is needless to say that the people are eager to see Nepal declared a republic at the earliest.
(The author teaches at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. He can be reached at
Source: Ekantipur

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Getting connected at the SAARC Summit

Between leveraging India and respecting the spirit of regionalism, the 14th SAARC Summit took place in Delhi on 3-4 April.

By Sukumar Muralidharan

Among the ceremonial events that marked the opening of the 14th SAARC Summit in Delhi in early April, was the flagging-off of a car rally. Beginning two weeks earlier in Dhaka, the rally had briefly halted in Delhi en route to covering all of the member countries (then seven) of the regional grouping, in the space of a month. It was a rather literal-minded effort to underline the Summit’s ostensible theme of ‘connectivity’. But even as the cars went their way, proudly emblazoned with the emblems of generous Indian corporate sponsors, nine forlorn youths from Maharashtra were making their way back from the Wagah border. They had cycled 2000 kilometres over a few weeks, in the expectation of visiting Lahore on a peace-and-goodwill mission – only to have their visa applications rejected at the last moment.
Is ‘connectivity’ about a coming together of the people of Southasia? Or is it merely a means of creating greater opportunities for Indian business? Certainly, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed his summit partners shortly after assuming the SAARC chair from Bangladesh, he seemed to be advocating connectivity in its widest possible sense – a confluence not merely of “physical, economic” attributes, but also “of the mind”. Southasia as a region, he said, has traditionally only flourished when it has been connected within itself and to the rest of the world.
Prime Minister Singh was reprising a much-favoured theme: that of the endeavour to make borders irrelevant, and to give the people of the region the wherewithal to move freely across the vast, populated expanses of Southasia, searching out and utilising every opportunity available for both their own betterment and the larger social good. This is undoubtedly a noble vision, yet it overlooks a significant point. As the cyclists from Maharashtra found, they probably do not enjoy the same privileges of cross-border mobility as the owner of a car. While connectivity within Southasia could become a right theoretically enjoyed by all, it may in practice remain the preserve of a mere handful.
To give him due credit, what the Indian prime minister envisages is a situation in which the freedom to travel becomes a reality for a broad cross-section of the people of Southasia. And thus, he promised that India would soon announce a unilateral liberalisation of visa rules and procedures for students, academics, journalists, and individuals traveling for medical treatment. India would also provide duty-free and quota-free access for imports from SAARC member countries that happen to be classified among the “least developed” – excluding Pakistan from the party. The sensitive list of commodities to which the new rules would not apply would, the prime minister assured, be pared down and soon made public. No time frame was specified within which these decisions would be made and operationalised, though the history of SAARC is strewn with promises made in the effulgence of a summit, only to be forgotten just as rapidly.
It was little surprise that the assembled dignitaries were underwhelmed by Prime Minister Singh’s announcement. As former Indian Foreign Secretary Muchkund Dubey has commented, trade liberalisation in Southasia has been “flawed” from the start – and this has been a conscious “political choice” on all sides. A key aspect of all such agreements is the ‘negative list’, which specifies the product lines where free trade does not apply. As yet, no Southasian country, least of all the region’s largest, has shown the generosity or courage to prune this list to a meaningful level. In the inchoately formed and contentiously interpreted South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), India’s negative list is four times larger than that on the most recent offer it has made to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Regional tokenismWhen it is not of purely symbolic value, the fact is that ‘duty free’ access could also be a means of increasing opportunities for Indian business. India’s free trade agreement (FTA) with Sri Lanka, which came into effect in 2000, has been an umbrella under which shrewd businessmen have managed to arbitrage customs-duty differentials on third-country imports. Sri Lanka, for instance, allows duty-free imports of copper scrap and Indian businessmen have been sharp enough to spot the opportunities this affords for investing in copper smelters in Sri Lanka, for re-export to India. A similar process has been underway in the vegetable-oils market. Value addition in Sri Lanka from these exports, which account for the bulk of its trade with India, is minimal. The principal upshot has been that a few Indian businessmen have managed to enrich themselves. How Sri Lankan business groups have fared in the same sectors remains to be documented.
On the other hand, India could be using the promise of duty-free access for the region’s least-developed member countries as a means of leveraging greater trade openings within Southasia, with an eye towards emerging as a major investor in regional light industry, transport and telecom. This is likely to encounter competition from China, which perhaps could underline its own investment ambitions with a greater infusion of funds. Moreover, as long as the smaller countries in Southasia remain locked in a low-level equilibrium of poverty and slow growth, the opportunities for such investments are not likely to be particularly large in the near future.
As home to the largest concentration of the world’s poor, Southasia needs to reconsider how well the process of trade liberalisation truly aids in increasing social welfare. There is at least an equal risk that liberalisation within the region could become a zero-sum game, with each country trying to out-compete the other in lowering wage levels – in other words, in using poverty as a source of competitive advantage. Trade liberalisation has all too often been seen exclusively as a charter of rights for business. What Southasia needs in order to escape from its grinding poverty is a social charter, one that will secure at least the barest entitlements to subsistence for its people.
Of all the pronouncements made in the Summit’s Delhi Declaration of 4 April, two may have a direct bearing on mass welfare. The first concerns the SAARC Development Fund, which has now been ordered operationalised in full conformity with the charter of the association. Second is the creation of the SAARC Food Bank, which is intended to “supplement national efforts to provide food security to the people of the region”. Scepticism would not be out of place with regard to either of these endeavours, especially since India’s management of its own food economy over the past decade and a half of globalisation has been little short of chaotic. In short order, the depleted warehouses of the early 1990s were swamped with an over-abundance of food, which was subsequently disposed of by exporting it at prices lower than those reserved for India’s poor. Since the severe drought of 2002, the pace of stock depletion has accelerated, and the last two years have seen grain imports of unprecedented magnitude.
When the efforts of national governments have been so disastrously askew, there seems little reason to believe that trans-national efforts at cooperation will fare much better. Anybody viewing the financial allocations that have been made would be justified in concluding that these programmes are but the barest tokenism. They would serve little purpose other than of sustaining the somnolent SAARC bureaucracy through another year. The much-needed fillip they would impart to the various track-two efforts that have rather ineffectively sought to energise ‘regionalism’ thus far would be an outcome to celebrate, even if it is unintended.
A regional institutionThis does not mean that the Delhi Summit was a complete fiasco. As Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, it was the smoothest and least contentious such gathering in many years. This despite SAARC’s new member, Afghanistan, having provided a rather colourful prelude, in President Hamid Karzai’s trenchant attack on Pakistan just before his arrival in Delhi. In remarks to The New York Times, published to much consternation in Delhi just as the committee of SAARC foreign ministers was in session, President Karzai accused Pakistan of harbouring a “colonial” mentality, and being intent on transforming Afghanistan into a satellite state. Landing in Delhi, President Karzai would have undoubtedly been comforted by the thought that most of the member countries of SAARC were undergoing transitions, though with varying degrees of tension and trauma. Indeed, aside perhaps from Bhutan and the Maldives (the two smallest members) and India (which is too big to feel the pain of its million mutinies too acutely), every other SAARC member state might witness a change in the character of its ruling arrangement before the next summit. This raises some interesting questions about just how far the decisions made in Delhi will stand the test of changing times.
Yet for all the cynicism that customarily shrouds the SAARC organisation, there was at least one decision made during the Summit that was welcomed across a broad spectrum. If all goes according to plan, a Southasian University could soon be a part of the academic landscape of the region. Its central campus would be in India, with satellites and perhaps entire faculties being located in other countries. An intergovernmental steering committee has now been tasked with drawing up the charter of the university.
Considering the record of earlier initiatives in the realm of education (for instance, the little-known SAARC fellowships programme), there is reason to believe that things may not indeed pan out quite as well as the more optimistic observers believe. Presumably, with the Southasian University’s location having been broadly settled, any residual uncertainties on this count would be an internal matter of India’s. There are believed to be two contending opinions within the Indian government, the first of which seeks to convert an existing campus – such as the Viswabharati at Shantiniketan, West Bengal – into a Southasian institution; while the second favours an entirely new establishment, based in all probability in Delhi. Quite apart from these decisions, there is immense potential for discord between the member nations when the charter of the new centre of learning is drawn up.
With the extravagance of hope continually bumping up against the recognition of reality, some scholars believe that the best course for the new university to follow would be to go to the heart of the most contentious subjects that divide the Subcontinent: history, comparative religion, contemporary politics, international affairs and the like. Southasia is a region divided as much by conflicting readings of history as by competing ambitions of national elites. And for reasons of history and sheer geopolitical clout, India has assumed for itself the mantle of representing the civilisational ethos of the region, in a manner that neighbouring states find insensitive, if not hegemonic.
The groves of academia may well afford a congenial environment in which an alternative vision could be constructed – one that provides room for all Southasians to participate, and respects their particularities. Though optimism is at a premium after the indifferent performance of SAARC over the first 22 years of its existence, there is still room, presumably, for the occasional extravagance of the imagination.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Patenting Genetic Manipulation: A Threat Looming Large in the Indian Subcontinent

- Mira Kamdar

The Green Revolution that transformed Indian agriculture in the last century was an American invention. It began in 1944 with a project sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico. Dr Norman Borlaug, a plant geneticist from Minnesota, was sponsored by the Foundation to assist in breeding new plant hybrids that would boost yields of basic food grains. The project was enormously successful: Mexico was transformed from an importer of wheat to an exporter within a couple of decades. In the 1960s, the Rockefeller Foundation helped bring the Green Revolution to India, which was facing such severe food shortages that there was fear of a major famine. The hybrid seeds developed in Mexico were planted in Punjab, where yields soared.
In addition to the new hybrid seeds, the Green Revolution made heavy use of new pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilisers and irrigation techniques. However, it quickly became clear that the organochlorine pesticides were harming crops more than agricultural pests. The 1962 publication of Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring drew attention to the dangers of ddt, and helped launch the worldwide movement against the chemical.
The cost of synthetic fertilisers has risen in tandem with that of natural gas, increasing the cost of food production. Moreover, pollution from these fertilisers in the form of nitrates is a serious problem the world over. In the United States, where nitrogen fertilisers are a key factor in the most productive agriculture in the world, more public water supplies have been closed due to the violation of drinking water standards from nitrate than from any other contaminant. Without these fertilisers, the high yields of the post-Green Revolution era would not be possible, yet they pose serious risks and may permanently damage our environment, especially our water. Too much water, delivered via irrigation, can be environmentally harmful. Over-watering has negative impacts on soil composition, especially in conjunction with the use of nitrogen fertilisers where it increases the salinity of the soil. Farmers are increasingly facing these problems in Punjab, where India’s Green Revolution took off.
Dramatically increasing the production of food did not end hunger in India. Though India claims food self sufficiency, more people in India go hungry than in any other single country. At least 232 million people in India do not receive sufficient food. According to a unicef report last year, 200 million children — one third of all the malnourished children in the world — live in India. Nearly half of India’s children, 47 percent, are severely underweight.
Last year, India could not meet its food grains need. The country imported 2.2 million tons of wheat, including orders from American giants Cargill, the world’s largest grain trading company, and Archer Daniels Midlands. India’s strides in increased wheat production — achieving about 70 million tons annually — cannot keep up with the steady growth in population and swelling consumption. The diversion of land by subsistence farmers from food crops to cash crops such as cotton contributed to the problem, as did the reduction of land put to cultivating traditional hardy and nutritious food grains such as jowar (sorghum) and bajra (millet). The shortfall in wheat production caused prices of wheat flour, the ingredient for India’s flatbread that is the staff of life for hundreds of millions, to rise by 30 percent last year.
A key component of the closer India–US relationship is a new agricultural development initiative that President Bush hailed as “a second Green Revolution” during his speech at Delhi’s historic Purana Qila fort when he visited India last year. The initiative is called the US-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative. Dr Norman Borlaug, after winning a Nobel prize for his work on the first Green Revolution, is participating in the new joint effort. The goals of the agricultural initiative are listed as follows: (1) raise agricultural productivity to promote food security (2) increase technology transfer, including biotechnology (3) build a sound policy and regulatory environment (4) expand trade and investment and promote integration of India into the global economy (5) ensure a key role for the US and Indian private sectors and (6) reinvigorate US-India university partnerships.
On first glance, it seems odd to name an agricultural deal a “knowledge initiative.” But a core goal of the agreement is to expand patentable intellectual property. According to the Ministry of Agriculture at the government of India’s website, the private sector participants are Masani Farm and itc on the Indian side, and Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and, of all companies, Wal-Mart, on the American side. Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland are already, as we have seen, deeply involved in Indian agriculture. Wal-Mart has every intention of being so the moment the Indian government changes the law to let the company in. The Hindu newspaper reported last year that “transgenic research,” meaning research on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), “in crops, animals and fisheries would be a substantial part of the collaboration in biotechnology.” Reporting for the respected science journal Nature’s biotechnology publication Nature Biotechnology, KS Jayaraman asserted: “What critics resent most is the presence of Monsanto, the second largest gm seed producer in the world, and Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, on the board of the new initiative.” The article goes on to quote Indian food policy analyst Devinder Sharma on the role Indian universities are likely to play with regard to Monsanto and Wal-Mart: “With them on the board, the US multinationals are all set to determine the Indian agricultural research agenda.”
The combination of India’s rich plant and animal genetic diversity, its potentially large market, and its proven capacity as a research and development centre, are all powerful attractions for US agribusiness concerns. They can look forward to dramatically expanding the scope of their intellectual property rights holdings, using Indian brain power to help unlock new applications in biotechnology and transgenic research, using Indian fields to test new transgenic products, and then selling these products to Indian consumers, whether to Indian farmers or to Indian retail customers.
I called up Suman Sahai of Genecamp in Delhi to ask her about her take on the US-India agricultural deal. Genecamp is an ngo focused on indigenous knowledge, biopiracy, community rights, and intellectual property in agriculture. Suman has been very vocal in criticising the deal, saying India will gain little and give away too much. “The agricultural deal is pay-off for the nuclear deal. I see it very much that way. It’s easy to understand why Monsanto needs India. There is a huge amount of resistance to GMOs in Europe, Africa and Japan. Who are they going to sell this stuff to? An agricultural giant like India is hugely important for them,” she said.
In 2006, farmers in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and California sued Bayer Crop Science after an unapproved genetically modified strain of rice it had developed entered the food chain and contaminated the US rice crop. The modified rice contains a protein dubbed Liberty Link that allows it to resist herbicides used to kill weeds. After the contamination was discovered, Japan banned imports of US rice and the eu instituted testing requirements to ensure that rice coming from the United States was not contaminated. This was a major blow to US rice producers. No one knows the long-range potential effects of altered plant or animal genes entering the food chain.
I asked Suman why the Indian government would give so much genetic capital away to the United States. Suman would not take names, but she said that influential policy-makers “have direct tie-ups to this”. American companies aren’t the only ones favoured. Swiss biotech giant Syngenta, for example, is working with the Vasantdada Sugar Institute in Pune on genetically modified sugarcane. In general, “there has been a huge buy-in at the top level of the Indian government on GMOs,” Suman said.
“This has been packaged very cleverly by linking it to the Green Revolution,” she said. “For Indians, the Green Revolution gave us our sovereignty, it made us self-sufficient. To call this deal ‘a second Green Revolution’ is very shrewd, but this is nothing like the Green Revolution. All the knowledge generated by the Green Revolution was public knowledge. This will all be private knowledge. This is about intellectual property rights and monopoly corporations extending the reach of what they own.”
excerpts taken from Kamdar’s book Planet India: How the Fastest-Growing Democracy is Changing the World (Scribner)