The seed is the first link in the food chain. It is a sacred code of evolution, an embodiment of life and memory, a latent world waiting to unfold. The seed gives itself to earth – warm soil, air and moisture – and comes alive. Drawing energy from the sun, it grows and multiplies manifold. Each seed and plant is unique.

Like the earth and the sky, the immense biodiversity of seeds is our collective heritage. Gifted by nature, and the cumulative innovations, adaptations and selections of many generations of farming communities, these seeds belong to all. They are our most vital wealth, essential for survival. They cannot be seen as mere commodities, to be bought and sold at will.

Allowing any variety of seed or plant to become a proprietary resource is a violation of natural justice, and a great suicidal blunder of modern economic civilization.

An estimated 80,000 plant species, and many varieties of each species, have been used as human food, though barely 150 species have been cultivated on a significant scale. But less than 30 crops now account for more than 95% of the human diet, and just 8 crops (of very few varieties) provide three-quarters of all human food.

India is a global centre of origin and diversity of rice. Over 60,000 distinct rice seed varieties have been collected by Indian agricultural research centres. Many more yet grew in farmers’ fields, adapted to diverse conditions. About 19,000 rice varieties were collected by Dr Richharia from just Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, of which 1600 varieties were found to be high-yielding. We have a rich diversity too of wheat, millets, pulses, coarse grains, oilseeds, vegetables, tubers, fruits, spices, and medicinal plants. About 25,000 Indian varieties of dry-land crops are held by ICRISAT alone.

But with the mono-cultural spread of a few dwarf exotic varieties of wheat and rice, and hybrid sorghum and corn, under the onslaught of the so-called ‘Green Revolution’, much of our immense agro-biodiversity is now eroded or severely threatened in their original croplands. Only a fraction of such diversity yet survives, mainly in some areas populated by indigenous peoples.

Much of our crop seed wealth has ended up in distant gene banks – like the IRRI in Philippines, CIMMYT in Mexico, or Fort Collins in USA – far from its rightful owners and the cultures in which they were rooted. This wealth represents the collective bio-cultural heritage – including biodiversity, food culture, ecological knowledge and value systems – of local communities that freely shared and passed them down from generation to generation. It is also the most vital resource that must be reclaimed by them to safeguard their future livelihood options and the people they feed, especially in a scenario of climate change and increased farm vulnerability to erratic weather conditions.

With the inevitable growing scarcity and mounting prices of non-renewable fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers, as well as rising water shortages, the HIV (High Input Variety) seeds supplied by agro-industry – tailored to optimal conditions – are sure to face a sharp decline in yield. Unless our farmers are able to adopt bio-diverse agro-ecological agriculture with their own traditional, locally adapted seeds, severe food scarcity looms ahead.

Today, the danger to our priceless heritage of agro-biodiversity – from proprietary commercial hybrid seds and GM (genetically modified) crops – is graver than ever. The GM crops threaten severe contamination of our local crop varieties through cross-pollination, as seen in the case of corn (maize) in Mexico. The aggressive marketing of GM crops also drives local varieties out of circulation, as witnessed by the near total erosion of traditional cotton varieties in India.

The creation of ‘Intellectual Property Rights’ (IPRs) of plant breeders over seeds and plants, especially under the ‘Trade Related Intellectual Properties’ (TRIPs) provisions of the World Trade Organization, combined with restrictions on unregistered traditional seed varieties, is an assault on our agro-biodiversity and its free, unhindered use. Such criminalizing of the natural rights of farmers and farming communities, whose ancestors nurtured such diversity in the first place, is a mockery of natural justice. Together with the sanctioning of genetically polluting GM crops, this represents a concerted thrust by agri-business to wipe out our rich heritage of agro-biodiversity. All legislations and treaties that abet the biodiversity privatization of our collective genetic heritage, carving out proprietary spheres for exclusive use, must be discarded into the dustbin of history. Our failure to do so will ultimately destroy our agriculture and many millions of agricultural livelihoods, and the food and nutritional security of all.

We thus hereby adopt the following seed declaration:

1) We assert the farming communities’ and indigenous peoples’ sovereign rights over their collective bio-cultural heritage, including the right to freely plant, use, reproduce, select, improve, adapt, save, share, exchange or sell seeds, without restriction or hindrance, as they have done for past millennia.

2) We reject the validity of any private or corporate proprietary claim of ownership over any variety of seed, crop, plant or life form, and particularly any variety rooted in our natural heritage, cultural history and identity.

3) We demand a ban on GM seeds and species, and strict enforcement of corporate liability for any contamination of seeds/plants, and any damage to the health of farmers, consumers, animals, croplands and eco-systems from the illegal use/release of GM seeds and species.

4) We urge our government to partner with our farmers, gardeners and civil society organizations in systematically and transparently recording and documenting in a freely accessible database our genetic wealth, particularly the diversity of our crops and crop varieties, originating in or found in various regions and cultures of India.

5) We demand that our government facilitate and simplify farmers’ and cultivators’ access to our heritage seed varieties from national and international germplasm collections, and support their decentralized conservation in the croplands and regions of origin.

6) We assert our unconditional right to pass on our collective bio-cultural heritage and the health of our croplands and eco-systems to future generations.

7) We demand that our government fulfill its responsibility of safeguarding and regenerating our collective bio-cultural heritage and the health of our croplands and eco-systems.

8) We call upon our government to pro-actively promote and support bio-diverse and holistic ecological agriculture to meet our basic, priority needs in a sustainable manner.

The Seed Festival Declaration, Mumbai-Pune, February 2012


After the Durban climate talks

After the Durban climate talks:

State and market climate failures amplified by civil society failure

Durban, December 3, 2011. Photo by Anne Petermann/GJEP-GFC.

By Patrick Bond, Durban

February 28, 2012 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — In 2007, former World Bank chief economist Nick Stern termed climate change the worst “market failure” in history – since those who pollute with greenhouse gases are not charged, and since they threaten future generations and vast swathes of natural life – and at that moment, even the 1991 ravings of another former World Bank chief economist, Larry Summers, made sense.

“I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up that”, according to a memo with Summers’ signature, although actually Summers was a mere plagiarist of Harvard economist Lant Pritchett’s genius, insiders allege.

It makes sense if you envisage every aspect of life to be a commodity, and if in turn you believe carbon trading is the right way to address climate change, through privatisation of the air coordinated by financial markets (as do Stern and Summers). Indeed “payment for environmental services” is the mantra for neoliberal “green economy” advocates for the extravaganza Rio+20 Earth Summit in June, 2012.

Advocating a risky market fix to a massive market failure under circumstances of widespread market meltdown is the latest version of state failure. If, as expected, US President Barack Obama nominates Summers to take over from the neo-conservative now holding the World Bank presidency, Robert Zoellick, then he may be committing one of the world’s worst-ever state failures.

As in the case of French premier Nicolas Sarkozy nominating as International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde last May – when she was under investigation in Paris, where as finance minister she gifted taxpayer fortunes to an ally of her Conservative Party – this seems to be just another scrape at the bottom of the global governance barrel.

With Zoellick leaving, the search is also now on for World Bank leadership of the caliber of Dominique Strauss-Kahn – the former IMF managing director sunk in a New York civil lawsuit for rape and a Lille prostitution-ring investigation – and Paul Wolfowitz, the former World Bank president fired in 2007 for nepotism, though not for being architect of Washington’s oil-fueled 2003 invasion of Iraq.

South Africa has its own dubious candidate, former finance minister Trevor Manuel, who on one Irishman’s account  has odds of 20-1, in sixth place, as against 4-11 for frontrunner Summers.

However, all this is trivia, mere personality politics. Dig deeper and you feel the enormous weight preserving status quo accumulation and class formation.

South Africa’s elite failure

The same gravitational forces weigh down South African politics, so when President Jacob Zuma and current finance minister Pravin Gordhan addressed parliament earlier this month, they epitomised global-elite failure to shift resources from destructive corporations to the people most adversely affected.

Instead, Zuma and Gordhan committed US$40 billion to nuclear reactors from 2012-29 (with Gordhan neglecting to mention this very high-risk gamble in his speech), and at least double that amount in the next few years for coal-fired power plants, for transport infrastructure carrying fast-rising coal exports and for roads commercialisation in the Johannesburg area. (Thanks to a popular revolt against e-tolling, this cannot be achieved on a user-pays basis.)

The state will also pay a soaring bill for extensive water degradation of ultra-polluted Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces east of Johannesburg, thanks to an upstream “acid mine drainage” crisis caused by power utility Eskom and the multinational mining corporates.

How does this square with hosting the Durban COP17 climate summit in December 2011, here in Gordhan’s home town, which is also Zuma’s power base?

Not very well, yet quite consistent with extremely degenerative processes in socio-ecological-economic neo-apartheid. Earlier this month, Yale and Columbia university researchers rated South Africa the fifth worst “environmental performer” among the 132 countries studied. The three categories where South Africa lags furthest are forest loss, sulfur dioxide emissions and carbon emissions.

Blame Pretoria’s finance, energy and mining officials; Johannesburg’s Eskom bosses; and the Melbourne- and London-headquartered mining and metals houses. These (mostly) men concur on vast electricity wastage for base-metals smelting, even though it results in the world’s lowest job per kWh rate and near-highest greenhouse gas emissions per unit of per capita economic output.

Such ecological and financial insanity continues because the crony-capitalist minerals-energy complex remains intact. Tragically, the most powerful force in forging apartheid’s migrant labour system was strengthened not weakened after the 1994 end of racial apartheid, even though the mining sector added zero contribution to the country’s GDP during the 2002-08 minerals boom.

One reason was mining’s contribution to corporate capital flight, which in 2007 – at the boom’s peak – reached an awe-inspiring 20 per cent of South Africa’s GDP, according to reliable Witwatersrand University economists.

To that waste and resource outflow must be added banal corruption, epitomised by Chancellor House (an African National Congress fundraising arm) and Hitachi’s $5 billion deal for Eskom boilers which will apparently not be delivered on time, hence risking another round of brown-outs.

Behind that deal, South Africa’s public protector Lawrence Mushwana found in 2009, was Eskom chairperson Valli Moosa, who “acted improperly’ because he awarded the price-busting contract in blatant conflict of interest, for simultaneously he served on the ANC’s finance committee.

That fact doesn’t bother the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s carbon trading desk, which at a Bonn meeting just offered Moosa chair of the “High-Level Panel on the Clean Development Mechanism Policy Dialogue”. The panel will almost certainly attempt to justify carbon trading, the privatisation of the air, in spite of repeated European emissions-market episodes of fraud and corruption, not to mention a dramatic price crash.

Moosa also sits on the boards of Sun International hotels, Anglo Platinum, Sanlam insurance and Imperial Holdings transport and tourism – all major contributors to climate change. When as South Africa’s environment minister in 2002, he organised the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, next to no mention was made of the climate, aside from carbon trading advocacy. For good measure, Moosa also chairs the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature’s South Africa chapter, which promotes carbon trading.

Civil society failure

In part thanks to WWF influence, South Africa recently suffered a sobering case of civil society failure. It was again on display last week when 100 chastened climate activists gathered in a desultory Durban hotel to provide each other with autopsy reports from the COP17 climate summit last December. Those most humbled (myself included, as a result of excessive pre-summit hype about our traditions of protest) worried that the country’s climate justice movement failed to demand accountability from the 1% negotiating elites inside the convention centre who were, to put it scientifically, plotting genocide and ecocide.

The harshest auto-critique of eco-activist impotence came from radical intellectual Ashwin Desai, author of *We are the Poors (Monthly Review Press, 2002). Desai attacked “big name spectacle NGOs” that dominated the main protest against the COP17 on December 3, 2011: “The local grassroots organisations were reduced to spectators, and were allowed only the occasional cameo appearance with most often a single line; ‘Amandla!’ [Power!]”

That march to the Durban Convention Centre, complained Desai, “delivered the minister of international relations, and COP17 president Maita Nkoana-Mashabane to the masses gathered below. She used the opportunity to say how important civil society was and promised to study a memorandum. She was gracious and generous. I could see the NGOs on the truck preening themselves in the glow of this recognition and probably increased funding.”

But Desai would be the first to confess how few Durban community activists made the effort to link climate to their most immediate, burning concerns, including rampant electricity prices due to coal-fired powerplant construction; severe storms (one causing at least eight fatalities on November 27); and the local petrochemical industry’s regular explosions, such as the Engen oil refinery fire on October 10 that hospitalised 100 kids at Settlers Primary School in South Durban.

For Desai, who assisted with mobilising immediately afterwards, “There’s a litmus test. In 2001 [at the World Conference Against Racism] there was a huge march here, with some 10,000 people in the streets, a completely different march: militant, scathing of the local ruling class, with swear words on its placards. The Durban Declaration was a visceral indictment of our ruling class as an agent of global capital and its economic policies which were deepening inequality and increasing poverty.”

Sadly, in the city’s most radical anti-corporate protest site, no matter how hard South Durban Community Environmental Alliance leaders tried to mobilise in the weeks preceding the COP17 (and I too am a lay member and resident), Africa’s industrial armpit could not consistently deliver more than a few hundred protesters from the 300,000 victims in the vicinity.

Is climate a hopeless issue to motivate the masses? From Cape Town’s Alternative Information and Development Centre, Thembeka Majali rebuts, “People know what climate change is as they relate with that on their daily struggles and they know how to adapt to climate change – droughts, floods that are displacing people [who] migrate to other parts of the continent, unproductive agricultural land and fishing, etc. – but they understand that recently this became too much and that they need government intervention for their livelihoods and they now understand this is a threat to human life.”

But such demands consistently fall on deaf ears. Instead, for Desai, organising against the COP17 had this depressing result: “civil society as meticulously controlled spectacle, reducing people to choreographed cheerleaders, acting as an accomplice to power”.

Activists who supported the unifying “C17” coalition of civil society had all manner of excuses for the weak showing, including erratic funders (always true, e.g. in the US). Even huge NGOs (WWF and Greenpeace) apparently contributed only staff time but no other resources. These and other groups that served the C17 committee, such as faith communities and some trade unions, held competing events to the C17’s “People’s Space”, at locations across town, defeating the purpose of the civil society convergence.

Joked David le Page of the main religious-justice network, “I’m guessing the National Intelligence Agency doesn’t even bother to hire agents provocateur! I can see the report item: ‘Thanks to infighting in civil society this year, no agents were required for infiltration and disruption.’”

Yet infighting was, perhaps, logical, for it often felt like control freakery and intrinsic NGO conservatism overwhelmed C17 logistics (something I witnessed firsthand when attempting to secure space for the Rural Women’s Assembly). One radical cultural activist, Stephen Murphy, complained of continual emails offering assistance which went unanswered, so, “I gave up even trying to get even the smallest tasks delegated, and turned my efforts to OccupyCOP17 and – a site which, by the way, with no budget or mandate, managed over a thousand more hits than the C17 website, and if you include and, which I was also running, more than double. Why? Because we created the space for political positioning and comment, even if we weren’t ourselves making those comments.”

Murphy’s critique of C17 apoliticism was widely shared, given the coalition’s failure to take a justice-based stand against climate change. At its main mid-2011 summit in Durban, a list of 26 demands was submitted to forge an overall political manifesto – yet C17 facilitators somehow agreed that any member of the crowd could veto any single demand, leaving just four left over as the bland lowest common denominator.

To be sure, many justifiably praised six core members of the C17 committee for hard work (though the 11 others were AWOL). Still C17’s meagre impact – reflected not only in the negotiators’ failure to cut emissions but in our own failure to generate momentum for climate justice – doesn’t auger well for unity in future campaigns to save the climate and the South African economy from the minerals-energy complex and finance ministers.

In short, a sober accounting of the disastrous climate summit must also offer an autopsy of civil society counterpower, and hopefully, too, either a diagnosis for reviving that corpse or instead for rejecting contradiction-ridden “unity” of such breadth as to fuse carbon traders and eco-socialists … when really, they’re much better off engaged in constructive conflict.

[Patrick Bond is director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Society. Bond’s books Politics of Climate Justice and Durban’s Climate Gamble were launched during the COP17.]

URGENT APPEAL to the press and supporters of the people’s struggle in Golibar!


to the press and supporters of the people’s struggle in Golibar!

Golibar, Mumbai, February 29 : A few days ago the police had informed the residents that they will accompany the demolition team to Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society, on the 29th of February, Wednesday, 2012. There hasn’t been a notice for demolition, but this wouldn’t be the first time that demolitions have occurred without notices. The residents will not be going to work, and will stay home to protect their homes and protest in every way possible. This would be the fifth demolition drive since November of 2010, including many attempts when calls to the chief minister have led to verbal stay orders.

Previously in May last year, as many of you may have heard, there was a 9 day hunger strike by Medha Patkar which led the government to adopt a General Resolution, which amongst asking for a stay order, had asked for an independent committee to investigate the alleged fraud committed by the builder. However, the government later backtracked on the GRs, and the matter has now been in court for the last few months.

Thousands of people had later marched from Golibar to the Mantralaya to challenge the government’ decision, but the builder managed to galvanize the press and give an impression that people supported the project, often by paying supporters and people who’re not even residents of Golibar. Similarly, the matter in the criminal court (case number 2207 of 2011) has been pending without any resolution, even after repeated court orders asked for the builder and the chief promoters of the builder to be chargesheeted for fraud.

The builder lobby may be reacting to the fears of the court, since recently the High Court order in the Hiranandani case, led to the immediate halting of all construction and directed the developers not to sell any flats, and to to construct 3,000 flats to be handed over to the State Government, which will alloted to Lower Income Groups and Middle Income Group. Previously, the land in question was, actually given on lease to Hiranandani (at 40 paisa per acre) for building houses for poor people but in gross violation of all terms and conditions it built skyscrapers, housing societies, Malls etc for rich and big businesses.

In Golibar, the land meant for ‘rehabilitation’ is already in the courts as the Defence Ministry has contended ownership of the land.

We appeal to all journalists and supporters of people’s rights to stand with us and please join us on Wednesday the 29th, where we will be more than happy to answer any of your queries about why we’re still fighting for our homes and our rights.

Sumit Wajale 9967875999, Faiza Khan 9820683281

Consultation on Current Challenges to Democracy, Secularism & Fundamental Rights

Invitation to a Consultation on Current Challenges to Democracy, Secularism & Fundamental Rights

3rd March 2012, Saturday, J.P.Naik Bhavan, Mumbai University, Kalina Campus, Mumbai

Women’s Research & Action Group (WRAG) is pleased to invite you to an All India Consultation on “Current Challenges to Democracy, Secularism & Fundamental Rights”. The Consultation is to be held on 3rd March 2012. Many of you would have received a ‘save the dateinvitation letter from us last month. The Concept Note for the Consultation is attached. The final programme schedule is pasted below.

WRAG was founded in 1993 in the wake of the communal violence that shook Mumbai in 1992. Its work focuses on protecting and promoting social and legal status of women, especially those from underprivileged and marginalized communities, through community empowerment and the law. It consists of a group of young feminists who engage actively with the women’s movement in India, constantly re-examining and questioning established norms and ideologies within. It also focuses its activities towards situating women’s concerns and interests within a human rights framework.

At WRAG as we launch into a new phase of our work we feel it is necessary to have a discussion on the issues outlined in the concept note with like-minded individuals, groups and networks; to take stock of the national and global scenario and to collectively deliberate on a way forward. We extend our invitation to you personally to participate in this Consultation. The following 4 themes have been identified for discussion during the Consultation:

1. Progress on economic, physical and legal security of minorities

2. Women human rights defenders

3. Security forces and the need for accountability

4. Gender-based violations

Please confirm your participation by sending an email to / calling us at 022-26674830. Amarjit Singh (ph. 9820214688) / Leena K.K. (ph. 9820623475) may be contacted for enquiries / confirmation of participation.

We look forward to your participation in and contribution to the discussions.

In Solidarity,

Nasreen Mohammed, Saumya Uma, Vahida Nainar, Varsha Berry & Dr. Vibhuti Patel

Trustees, Women’s Research & Action Group, Mumbai