People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 02

January 10, 2010

THE MARARIKULAM BRINJAL FESTIVAL

 

Kerala Celebrates Agricultural

Biodiversity and Resists Bt Brinjal

 

   Archana Prasad

 

THE Mararikulam North Grama Panchayat is a model grama panchayat of Kerala. It has a population of 8000 families who own an average land holding of 0.5 to 2 acres of land and have been earning an income of Rs 2000-3000 per month. Most of the families in the grama panchayat are BPL families and live on coconut production, fishing and agriculture. However after the intrusion of foreign fishing trawlers into their waters, fishing has declined. At the same time coconut was afflicted root wilting disease thus resulting in the decrease in employment and income. In this situation, the panchayat under the leadership of the grama panchayat president, D Priyeshkumar successfully promoted vegetable production under adverse ecological conditions. The panchayat also has a traditional indigenous Brinjal variety which has become very popular in local and non-local markets. Popularly designated as “Mararikulam Brinjal”, the panchayat has been promoting eco-friendly cultivation, integrated pest management systems and conservation of this variety. All vegetables, including Brinjal, are bought and supported by the panchayat and floor price is declared in the beginning of every season. In seasons when the panchayat incurs a loss, the Panchayat Development Society (a non-profit organisation of the farmers) is subsidised by the government. In addition, a nursery and seed bank of indigenous Brinjal varieties is maintained under the NREGS scheme. This cultivation has also been linked to value-added activities in which women's groups are involved under the Kudumbshree Programme of the government of Kerala.

 

MARARIKULAM

BRINJAL FESTIVAL

In this context, the Mararikulam North Panchayat saw the clearance given to Bt Brinjal as a major threat to innovative initiatives taken for the promotion of livelihoods of people and the protection of their agricultural biodiversity. Immediately after the announcement of clearances given by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the central government, its farmers took an oath in which they gave the slogan “Stop Bt Brinjal, Save Mararikulam Brinjal” under the leadership of their local MLA, Dr Thomas Isaac who is also the finance minister in the state. A widespread campaign was planned and a decision was taken to hold a 'Mararikulam Brinjal Festival' from December 27, 2009 to January 3, 2010. The objective of the festival was to educate the public and capture their imagination so that broad support base could be mobilised for this issue.  The festival was conceived as a large event in which an exhibition, cultural programmes and a documentary film festival were used for spreading the message against the introduction of Bt Brinjal. Two huge exhibition pandals displayed agro-biodiversity of the area, different varieties of Brinjal and the methods of sustainable agriculture. Students and faculty of the Kerala Agricultural University also put up an impressive and vast display of the different aspects of ecological agriculture. Daily, the panchayat hosted people from all over the state and its educational institutions and conducted 'panchayat tours' explaining their work. The response to the exhibition and its associated programmes was overwhelming and over one lakh people participated in the programmes.

The most important event in the festival was a day long national seminar on 'Bt Brinjal' on January 2, 2010. The seminar focused on current debate on Bt Brinjal. The seminar was held in collaboration with the member organisations of All India Peoples' Science Network and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. Among the member organisations the co- sponsors of this seminar include Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad, Tamilnadu Science Forum, Paschim Bengal Vigyan Manch and Delhi Science Forum. It addressed the central concerns and issues with respect to the ownership and bio-safety aspects of Bt Brinjal. The seminar was attended by experts from all over India like P M Bhargava, T R Gopalakrishnan, G M Nair, Dinesh Abrol, Suhas Paranjpe, Ramajeylu, Prathib Basu, Suman Sahai and others. It was also attended by more than 150 participants from Kerala, especially students and faculty of Kerala agricultural university and presidents of different panchayats. The festival was inaugurated on the 27 December 2009 and three branches of Marari Marketing Limited (a non-profit company of the Kudumbshree groups) was also opened on that day. The 'Maari Brinjal Pickle' was released commercially in front of a vast audience of women.

 

HASTY

RELEASE

The seminar was inaugurated by eminent scientist Professor P M Bhargava and was presided over by Thomas Isaac, Kerala finance minister. In his inaugural speech, Professor P M Bhargava gave a detailed history of the genetic engineering processes and its contributions to scientific progress. But such genetic engineering had taken place in a lab controlled situation which had minimal environmental and health impacts. This is not the case with respect to GM foods which are released in uncontrolled and open environmental conditions where environmental and health risks need to be considered on a rigorous scientific basis. In the case of Bt Brinjal such all norms have been flouted and therefore there is a need to build a movement against the hasty release of Bt Brinjal. He further stressed the need for the establishment of a national laboratory that has independent procedures and data collecting methods for GM testing. Further the nexus between the industry (in this case Monsanto) and the scientific establishment needs to be broken if the sovereignty of the country is to be protected. For these reasons there should be a moratorium on all GM foods and the immediate withdrawal of permission for introduction of Bt Brinjal whose premature release will open the flood gates for all GM crops. Thus our present fight is for our national sovereignty and self reliance.

Initiating the discussions, Dr T M Thomas Isaac pointed that the Mararikulam North Panchayat was proving to be a potentially model local self government. By intervening in a national public policy matter, this panchayat has taken a conscious decision to protect the livelihood security of its own members. As its agriculture and livelihood is being threatened by multi-national driven science and technology programmes it is protesting against the hasty introduction of Bt Brinjal. Its protest against the introduction of Bt Brinjal has been driven by its practical concerns rather than a theoretical understanding of the issues involved in Bt Brinjal. This national seminar presents an opportunity for the panchayat to interact with experts and strengthen the process for mobilising people against the hasty and unscientific introduction of Bt Brinjal. The discussions that followed discussed different scientific aspects of Bt Brinjal, genetic engineering and transgenics, and alternatives in Indian agriculture. The lively debate resulted in a statement that was adopted by the participants.