10 February 2010

eggplant interrupted

I have spent a lot of time ruminating the phenomenal decision taken by Jairam Ramesh, India's Environmental Minister. I have concluded that in the face of corrupt politics and skewed ideas of agricultural progress: it is a monumental affirmation. It is more power to the GM Free India Coalition, to the science of right and indeed, farmers all over the nation.

Today I am slightly stunned because I doubted if this moratorium would actually happen - so clearly resounding its logical voice and based so solidly in scientific fact. This decision has come after public debates, back and forth consultations, news cycle after news cycle, protests and general chaos which is a confirmation to the power of people. The government will listen, it has to listen when what is being demanded is something as basic as safe food.

The hold on the commercial introduction of Bt Brinjal comes after key brinjal growing states announced their own state bans. The states of West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar which account for 60% of brinjal production announced a ban earlier this year. This was followed by bans in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand etc. The massive public pressure on the Environmental Ministry also has played an important role. Through a Greenpeace campaign alone; 40,000 emails landed up in Jairam Ramesh's personal inbox protesting the introduction of Bt Brinjal. These two important factors have worked together to lead to this triumph. It is a day of celebration for anti-GM campaigners, every sane politician (Sharad Pawar does not qualify), brinjal farmers, consumers and the glorious heritage of Indian agriculture.

Brinjal, eggplant or aubergine is indigenous to the sub-continent and India grows over 2000 varieties of brinjal in over 500,000 hectares of land. It has been doing so for almost 4000 years. I do wish the Indian government will take a cue from the outcome of the campaign and devise methods to change agri-policy by pushing for more organic food, less pesticide/fertilizer use and definitely no GM. The humble brinjal has become India's most talked about vegetable and I predict; the symbol of the country's anti-GM movement and hopefully from here, a desperately needed agricultural revolution. Jairam Ramesh has kept his promise for a "fair outcome", he is indeed the man of the hour and has restored a little faith in Indian bureaucracy.

However celebrations cannot last long and there is much to be done on the GE front. Currently there are several indigenous crops reaching the last stages of testing like rice, okra, tomatoes - all of which are widely cultivated and consumed. These GM 'events' are sitting in line waiting for approval. So the battle may be over, but the war still remains.

No comments: