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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 39 September 23, 2023

Collaboration of ICAR With Bayer and Amazon is Harmful to Sovereign Indian Agriculture | Soma Marla

Saturday 23 September 2023, by Soma S. Marla


Recently, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has signed MOUs with major Multi-National Companies - Bayer and Amazon. It was stated that the collaboration aims to create innovative solutions for crops, crop protection, weed management, and mechanization that are both resource-efficient and resilient to climate change. Though the association of ICAR with private partners in the fields of agricultural research, and extension services started in the late 1980s with the beginning of the seed sector for private players, present collaboration with MNCs is significant as the partnership extends from sharing agricultural research facilities, generated data to Krishivijnan Kendras (KVKs, the district level farmer demonstration farms). The partnership covers the sharing of several areas of mandated ICAR, eventually, it is likely to affect the nature of various services being presently provided by a public sector farm research body to farmers.

It was stated, for example, the partnership with Bayer, a global major pharmaceutical, agrochemical, and seed company aims to create innovative solutions for crops, crop protection, weed management, and mechanization that are both resource-efficient developing regenerative agricultural models, with a primary focus on rice and horticulture production. ICAR over the last 100 years has been involved in research to develop new productive crop varieties and extending services seeds and crop growing practices primarily to suit small farmers with its mandate covering the above areas. Unlike a public research body like ICAR, global agribusiness players like Bayer and Amazon have different sets of aims, primarily to promote their agrochemical, seed, and marketing agenda to fetch maximum profits rather than service to the farming community.

Agricultural research is critical for sustainable and inclusive economic growth in India, as the vast majority of the population depends on the agricultural sector (close to 60 percent of India’s labor force) for their livelihood. Hence, ICAR for example, develops from time to time (though partially) solutions to various problems faced by farmers from developing new crop varieties, agronomic practices, and protection from diseases, pests, and natural disasters (like floods & drought) to farmers. It developed Pusa wheat 8802, a climate-resilient variety of wheat, for example, to withstand high temperatures in the Central part of India. Pusa Arhar 16, another redgram dal early maturing (120 days unlike other varieties that mature in 160 to 180 days), dwarf and resistant to mosaic and other diseases (IARI, 2022). ICAR has a wide network of 113 crop-specific research institutes, KVKs in every district of the country. Besides nearly 60 State Agricultural Universities located in all states across India conduct local area-specific farm research.

In contrast, Bayer is involved in research, tailor-made to promote the marketing of products starting from pesticides to hybrid and Genetically Modified (GM) seeds. For example, Bayer intends to promote direct-seeded rice in smallholder farms. Direct seeded Rice or SRI rice technology involves direct seeding of rice in prepared paddy fields without the hassles of growing rice nurseries and transplanting. But the practice is taxed with excessive weeds in paddy fields. Here, BAYER is ambitious to promote weed-killing chemical herbicides, to be sprayed several times during crop growing. RoundUp, a Glyphosate derivative is Bayer’s popular product worldwide marketed aggressively in 160 countries. Glyphosate when sprayed in fields equally damages & pollutes soil microflora, water bodies, and the environment and is a known carcinogen for human health. Similarly, GM cotton, maize, and Brinjal containing toxic Bt genes are reported to be harmful to soils, environment and human health. It is well known that Monsanto, another agrochemical & seed player that merged with Bayer recently is well known for the promotion of herbicide-tolerant, cotton, maize, brinjal, and other GM crops in India.

Though BAYER claims to collaborate with ICAR developing climate resilient and sustainable cropping systems, in contrast, it aims to use farm demonstration farms KVKs located across India to promote its environmentally harmful weedicides or GM crops to promote it’s markets. Another MOU is also recently signed between Amazon, a major IT and retail marketing giant fast emerging as a major business house in India. Big Data is a business next only to oil. Pit aggressively promotes precision agriculture technology. Precision agriculture uses technically robust sensors to monitor soil nutrients, plant canopy, and changing weather in crop fields. It also uses Drones to collect and map visual pictured data. Thus collected data is fuel for marketing fertilizers, chemical pesticides, and gauging potential grain market scenarios. The data from farmers’ fields is already being actively collected by Amazon, and Adani data centers located in Visakhapatnam, Bangaluru, and Gurgaon.

Beginning with the Green Revolution in the last century and the Indo-USA Initiative in Agricultural Training and Learning, sponsored by major Agribusiness cartels and corporations like Bayer and Wal-Mart succeeded in changing the direction f Agricultural research, agricultural syllabus, and cropping systems in promoting intensive agriculture. These two strategic programmes succeeded in promoting agrochemical and farm machinery by actively marketing large volumes of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, weedicides, and farm machinery. After nearly five decades of implementation of the chemical intensive, though high-yielding cropping systems we are now dangerously burdened with serious problems of degradation of soils, water bodies, Biodiversity, and the environment in Indian villages.

Partnership of Bayer, Amazon and other corporations with public sector agricultural research institutions like ICAR would potentially hijacks the very small farmer centric mandate to promote promotion and marketing of the former’s corporate interests. Instead, ICAR should strategically plan independently sustainable, nature-friendly agricultural research to protect the environment and livelihoods of millions of farmers. As the proposed collaboration seriously harms the interests of Indian agriculture, especially small farmer livelihoods it should be opposed.

(Author: Dr. Soma Marla, Principal Scientist & Head (Crop Genomics, Retd), ICAR, New Delhi)

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