ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Karnataka - Seed Tribunal: Interrogating Farmers' Suicides

A 'seed tribunal' was recently held in Karnataka where farmers from various parts of India testified to their problems regarding agriculture. In the face of large-scale suicides by farmers in India, such a meeting assumes enormous significance. The testimonies of the farmers revealed their frustrations, while the jury's 'verdict' ignored important issues.

In the era of globalisation, Bangalore is fast becoming a centre of paradoxes. On the one hand, global capital is entering into the city with a large number of global actors such as the Japanese prime minister, or media baron Murdoch who descended on the city in recent days. At the same time, Bangalore symbolises the ‘collapsing’ or ‘soft’ state with the state government succumbing to a large number of demands advanced by the forest brigand, Veerappan, when the latter abducted the matinee idol Raj Kumar. Meanwhile, Bangalore is also becoming the centre for anti-globalisation forces. The ‘Seed Tribunal’ was one such activity, which tried to focus on the suicides of farmers in different parts of India in the backdrop of globalisation. It was also an attempt to document the testimonies of farmers of those areas wherein globalisation has provided the space for committing suicide, and has also adversely affected the economy of peasants. This is not the first time that such an attempt was undertaken. Two years ago, after Pokhran II, an attempt was made to undertake what was known as the ‘trial of Vasco Da Gama’ by intellectuals and non-governmental organisations. This was mainly an attempt to document the testimonies of those who were affected by nuclear experiments, entry of multinational corporations, globalisation, etc.

In the present context ‘seed’ or ‘bija’ represents many things to peasants. It symbolises the identity, lifestyles, social practices, and village economy. It also represents biodiversity and cultural diversity. Further, it symbolises the peasant autonomy both from within and without. Any threat to the ‘seed’ or ‘bija’ in terms of preservation, distribution or multiplication would, in the ultimate analysis, become a threat to the very existence of the farmers. In the present context of globalisation the threat to the ‘seeds’ or ‘bija’ has come largely from three different angles: western capitalism/multinational corporations; patent regimes; and the WTO. Prior to the globalisation, peasants never felt threatened, as there were no barriers to exchange, distribute or multiply the seeds. It was treated largely as a historical cultural practice inherent in the peasant economy. In the present context, the multinational seed industries are seeking total control over seeds. Earlier, at the global level, there were more than two thousand companies operating in the seed business. Today, “the top 10 global seed companies control one-third of the $ 23 billion commercial seed trade; the top 10 pesticide manufacturers account for over 90 per cent of the $ 30 billion dollar global market; the top 10 account for 44 per cent of total sales; the top 10 firms hold 61 per cent of the animal veterinary market valued at $ 16 billion” (Hope Shand 2000). In other words, very few companies are dominating the areas of plant breeding, pesticides, fertilisers, etc. A further threat arises with companies such as Monsanto introducing the ‘terminator seeds’, or transgenic trial of Bt cotton ‘Bollgard’ in Karnataka and other parts of India.

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