'Climate resistant crops should not be patented'

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi | Updated: Jun 14 2009, 02:19am hrs
Biopiracy of traits of climate resilient crops by leading seed multinationals can endanger the income and livelihood of farmers, more particularly in the developing world said a report compiled by a civil society organization, Navdanya.

In tune with the proposals made by the Group of 77, China and other developing countries at the recently concluded 30th meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 30) at the climate change talks in Bonn, Navdanya has appealed that climate-friendly technologies should be excluded from patenting.

The report Biopiracy of Climate Resilient Crops has documented drought resistant rice varieties grown by farmers from generations to generations in different parts of India, including Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Kerala, Karnataka and flood resistant rice varieties grown in Assam, West Bengal, Orissa, Kerala and Karnataka. Quoting the Guinness Book of Record, the report mentioned Mehite Kenye La rice as the tallest grown paddy in the world which grows up to 2.55 metre or 8.5 feet.

The report documented salinity resistant rice varieties grown in the Sunderban area of West Bengal alongwith the mangroves, Orissa, Kerala, northern Karnataka. It also mentioned some of the diverse aromatic rice varieties and rice varieties having therapeutic values and unique characteristics.

The Navdanya report expressed concern over the biopiracy being done by leading seed multinationals by getting broad patent rights over climate-resistant traits of conventional crops from different patent offices across the world. German company, BASF has acquired 21 such patent rights. Another German company, Bayers has five such patent rights. Ceres Inc of US which partners with Monsanto holds four such patent rights. The reports also mentioned other seed companies holding such patent rights like Dow, DuPont, Evogene, Mendel Biotechnology, Monsanto, Syngenta, Agrigenetic, Mycogen, Agrinomics, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Plant Research International BV.

Climate resistant traits are found in many crops conventionally grown across the world, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical countries. These crops are traditionally bred by farmers. The seed multinationals are robbing the farmers of this traditional knowledge and patenting the traits. Some of them are trying to develop second generation genetically modified (GM) crops based on these traits, alleged Vandana Shiva of Navdanya.

According to Shiva GM crops have failed to provide food and nutritional security. The claim of pest control has turned out to be a hoax. The failure of Bt cotton was an example she said and added that Bt cotton cultivation has placed farmers in heavy losses and brought them to acute point of distress.

In 1994 Navdanya along with its sister organization, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) filed a legal opposition against the USDA and WR Grace patent on fungicidal properties of neem (no 436257 B1) in the European Patent Office (EPO) at Munich, Germany. The patent on neem was revoked in May 200 and it was reconfirmed on March 8, 2005 when the EPO revoked in entirety the controversial patent and adjudged that there was no inventive step involved in the fungicide patent.

In 1998 Navdanya opposed the patent right given to the US company, RiceTec over basmati rice vide patent no 5663484. On August 14, 2001 the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) revoked the patent on basmati rice. On January 27, 2004, RFSTE alongwith Greenpeace and Indias leading farmers organization, Bharatiya Krishak Samaj the patent right given to Monsanto over the Indian wheat landrace, Nap Hal wide patent no EP 0445929 B1. The patent was revoked by EPO in October, 2004.