By Najma Sadeque
Wikileaks run into so many millions that it takes months or years to ferret out specifics relevant to one’s own country or other linked-up nations.
One leak regarding corporate agricultural goings-on in Pakistan from 2008, was fished out. It refers to Monsanto’s aggressive attempts to force Bt cotton into Pakistan, now stalled because, after the 18th Amendment, it is no longer a federal decision but a provincial one. But are the provinces technically equipped to deal with it? Is it even urgent or important? Knowledgeable people don’t think so, which gives strong reason not to rush it.
This particular Wikileak provides a clear picture of the overall situation. It was sent out by Bryan Hunt, the then Principal Officer (PO), US Department of State, based at the Lahore Consulate, after a meeting between him and the Monsanto head in Pakistan. It says:-
“In an October 20 meeting with PO, Monsanto Country Manager Amir Mirza described his firm’s strategy to introduce Bt Cotton in Pakistan while protecting the seed’s intellectual property. Mirza has started separate negotiations with the Punjab province government and the federal government to determine a mechanism in which the government would pay Monsanto for the use of the technology according to the acreage planted.”
“….. he surmised that they (the government) could leverage a tax on land owners, growers or millers to pay for BT cotton. If the government refused to cooperate, Mirza proposed that Monsanto could sell BT cotton directly to private growers, but this option raises concerns about leakage of the technology. He also thought that a hybrid system combining government-controlled distribution with private sector pricing was possible.
“..… Mirza stressed that even if Monsanto signed an agreement today, the global shortage of seed stocks would mean that BT cotton is widely available in Pakistan in 2011 after small trials in 2009 and 2010.”
The leaked communication can be read in its entirety on the Internet.
The negative implications are enormous. Is this how foreign corporations are supposed to deal with sovereign governments? As far as is known, no government in the world has ever taxed citizens to directly pay off a multinational corporation on the latter’s self-serving terms.
Governments come into the picture with respect to laws pertaining to trade, investment, and taxation of the foreign party, not the other way round. How could Monsanto even harbour such outrageous expectations? Has officialdom shown itself to be so meek and ingratiating?
Just as agro-multinationals have been falsely blaming food shortages on the failures of traditional agriculture rather than diversion of acreages to biofuel production, lack of purchasing power, and artificial shortages by hoarding, a similar fiction is promoted about seeds. There is no shortage of seed; but making countries believe so encourages awarding seed multinationals the task of filling the gap – reaping profits while wiping out local diversity and non-dependant natural farming.
For untold thousands of years, the planet’s mind-boggling biodiversity in the millions has fed populations and civilizations. To keep it going, all farmers had to do was to save and share free seed. It never needed a ‘professional’ or ‘formal’ seed industry and helped maintain near-full employment.
What the local and national seed markets needed was procurement and administrative support to streamline and grow — never forthcoming until outsiders arrived. This devious mechanism was cooked up by a handful of biotech corporations in the last few decades to systematically undermine indigenous seed production and markets, make farmers totally dependent on purchased GM seed, thereby monopolizing the supply of seed globally. They don’t consider the one-third global share they already enjoy to be enough.
Under the so-called “Material Transfer Agreement”, Monsanto is supposed to provide designated agricultural research and development institutes with gene material so that government bodies can ‘test’ them out. The purpose this serves is unclear, because ultimately, all that the exercise boils down to is an indigenous seed unnaturally ‘modified’ with an alien gene or two, and ‘Wallah!’, it miraculously becomes a new Monsanto ‘creation’. It is then rushed for patenting as their own, to be shoved down our throats for a hefty price, whether we want it or need it or not. Nothing mentioned or paid to the public kitty for the free use of our local species plus damages — since they will ultimately end up badly contaminated in the field. Scientists and regulators will be kept busy doing whatever, and then pressurized to concede to Monsanto’s terms.
And since when is it the US embassy’s job to be directly involved with the dealings of Americans abroad? It’s always been the case, albeit unofficially, from a century or so ago when naval and other officials were charged with acquiring seeds from whichever countries the Americans charged into, for their seed banks and farm labs back home, stealing if necessary, since many countries disallowed it.
Most people have heard about Blackwater, the largest mercenary army in the world. Earlier, The Nation of New York obtained explosive documents and information that exposed its chilling face and activities. In 2010, Jeremy Scahill reported in detail about services Blackwater provides to governments and corporations in the form of terrorism, enabling their clients to deny involvement. It is also the largest private contractor of the US Department of State. It boasts two companies ‘Total Intelligence Solutions’ and the ‘Terrorism Research Center’, both owned by Erik Prince; also some 30 shell companies and subsidiaries. It was renamed ‘Xe Services’ following their large-scale massacres and brutalities in Iraq that shocked the entire world.
While Scahill’s report should be read and re-read, what has all this to do with undesirable Bt seeds that Monsanto is trying to bulldoze into Pakistan? Internal ‘Total Intelligence Solutions’ communications revealed that Monsanto, the world’s largest supplier of GM seeds, hired the company in 2008–09 after it had offered to infiltrate activist groups working anywhere against Monsanto. Blackwater’s personnel include former top CIA officials, having developed “a rapidly growing, worldwide network of folks that can do everything from surveillance to ….. disruption operations.” Are they here?
The immediate worrying news is that the government is now seeking to roll back devolution of agricultural matters to provincial governments (and therefore the decisions on Monsanto) by reviving the defunct Federal Committee on Agriculture. To date, there’s been no initiative as in India and elsewhere, to document indigenous species and traditional knowledge to prevent theft.
Like everywhere else, the struggle is between people’s agricultural sovereignty and unacceptable global corporate control, but it is being fought between proxy players that exclude the citizenry.
This article was published in The Nation on 14 January, 2014