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close this bookLife Industry: Biodiversity, People and Profits (WWF, 1996)
close this folderPart 2 - The practice- bioprospecting or biopiracy?
close this folder4. Green gold
View the document(introduction...)
View the document4.1. Equity issues in bioprospecting
View the document4.2. The body shop model of bioprospecting
View the document4.3. Indigenous peoples, responses to bioprospecting
View the document4.4. The losers' perspective

4.4. The losers' perspective


Colonizing the seed

The biodiversity debate is at last receiving some of the attention it deserves. However, within this debate important issues are still being marginalized. One of these is the 'raw material' issue. Northern economic development could never have happened without colonialism, and thus access to the raw materials and markets of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Colonialism is a constant, necessary condition for capitalist growth: without colonies, capital accumulation would grind to a halt.

The industrial revolution required the Northern powers to have their feet firmly planted both in the sites from which they gained raw materials, and in the market. Both aspects had to be controlled, yet the raw material aspect, i.e. the impact of extraction practices on local communities and local economies, was ignored. In fact, destruction of local economies and structures was required to make these practices possible.

The second wave of colonization, the Green Revolution, has now been superseded by its 1990s counterpart, the biotechnology revolution. This third wave of colonization has shifted in focus, and is now overstressing the raw material angle. Everyone is talking about justice and compensation in their prospecting activities, but no one is questioning the technologies being used, the markets they create, or the impact they have on the societies which provided the raw materials in the first place.

The enclosure of life

Over the last few hundred years, capital has moved to wherever it could find sites for accumulation. And now that the world's land, forests and rivers have been exhausted and polluted, capital is looking for new 'colonies' to invade and exploit. The interior spaces of humans (particularly women), plants, animals and micro-organisms present the latest attractions. The technology enabling the colonization of new lands was the gun-boat. The enabling of the invasion and colonization of the life of organisms is genetic engineering, supported by the legal framework of intellectual property rights and patents.

The enclosure of living, self-renewing systems - by placing either legal or technological boundaries around free organisms - prevents free access to biodiversity and knowledge to the original custodians and innovators. Farmers, herbalists, and women - the sources of the biodiversity wealth on which our food and healthcare systems are based - are now being denied the gifts of knowledge and biodiversity.

The metaphor of piracy underlying the IPR debate reverses the roles of giver and receiver. Violence and plunder characterize this piracy, just as before. But now the exploited become the criminals and the exploiters gain protection. The North must be protected from the South in order to safeguard its continued exploitation of the South's resources. Farmers' exchanges of genetic material are treated by industry as theft, but protests by indigenous people over the theft of their genes by industry are not heeded.

Biodiversity: whose resource?

Common property biodiversity recognize the intrinsic worth of biodiversity and indigenous social systems generally use biodiversity according to the principles of justice and sustainability. This involves a combination of rights and responsibility among users, a combination of utilization and conservation, a sense of co-production with nature and of gift-giving among members of the community. As John Todd, a visionary biologist, has stated, biodiversity carries the intelligence of three and a half billion years of experimentation by life-forms.

In contrast, regimes governed by IPRs see value as created through commercial exploitatation. IPR regimes are based on the denial of creativity of nature and the creativity emerging from the intellectual commons. Since IPRs are more a protection of capital investment than a recognition of creativity per se, there is a tendency for ownership of knowledge, and the products and processes emerging from it, to become concentrated in the hands of a few. Biodiversity knowledge and resources are alienated from the original custodians and donors and become the monopoly of the corporate sector. Local knowledge devalued and local rights are displaced. This is being universalized through the TRIPS clause of GATT and certain interpretations of the Biodiversity Convention (see p. 81).

It is sometimes argued that monopolies exist in traditional communities. This is not the case in agriculture, where seeds and knowledge are exchanged freely. It is also not true of medicinal resources. It has been pointed out that in the Ayurveda classic, Charaka Sambita, healers learn about herbs and medicinal plants from cowherds, tapasvis, forest dwellers, hunters, land] gardeners'. In traditional communities, folk knowledge and medical systems, such as Ayurveda, support each other, while in the Northern system peoples' knowledge is devalued and unrecognized as a resource. In addition, monopolies and profits do not guide the practitioners or suppliers of medicine in non-Northern medical systems. Indigenous medical practitioners may not always exchange their knowledge freely, but they gift the benefits of it freely, and do not use knowledge as a means of amassing wealth. They practice what is known in India as gyan daan or the gifting of knowledge.

If IPR regimes reflected the diversity of knowledge traditions in different societies, they would necessarily have to reflect a triple plurality - of intellectual modes, of property systems, and of systems of rights - leading to an amazing richness of permutations. However, those being promoted through GATT are a prescription for the monoculture of knowledge. The TRIPs component of GATT is weighted in favour of transnational corporations, and against citizens in general, and Southern peasants and forest dwellers in particular. And yet people everywhere innovate and create. In fact, the poorest people often have to be the most innovative, since they have to create survival while it is threatened daily.

Impact of GAIT on farmers' right to seed

GATT-TRIPs is clearly not just about trade. It also calls into question the ethics of how we relate to other species and what we hold as moral and culturally valuable. It is a tragedy, therefore, that development directly related to the very fabric of society and our options for survival should be left in the hands of ministries of commerce.

IPRs imposed under GATT are highly restricted forms of rights. Firstly, they recognize only private as opposed to common rights. Secondly, they fail to recognize the value of innovation to meet social needs rather than to create profits. Thirdly, and most significantly, they must be 'trade-related', whereas the majority of innovation in the public domain is for domestic, local and public use. These restrictions will have a serious impact on farmers' livelihoods.

The requirement for countries to adopt 'patents or an effective sui generis system' to protect plant varieties (see p. 81) is the part of the GATT agreement that will most directly affect farmers' rights as innovators and plant breeders, and their community ownership of seed and plant material. While the phrase sui generis gives the impression that each country is free to set up its own IPR system, the inclusion of the word 'effective' makes the adoption of a global regime necessary. The use of the term 'effective' in all negotiations relating to IPRs and biodiversity is the result of pressure from the US to globalize IPR regimes to allow the patenting of all life-forms. The draft Plant Varieties Act that will soon be presented to the Indian parliament suggests that countries are under pressure to conform to industrialized country IPR laws as the universal standard.

Apart from patents, the only other IPR system which is considered 'effective' in international negotiations is UPOV's Plant Breeders' Rights (see p. 167). However, under the 1991 amendments to UPOV, farmers now have to pay royalties for saving seed on their own farms, so PBR is becoming as threatening to farmers as patents.

The farmers' movement in India has been protesting against the TRIPs component of GATT because of its far-reaching implications. In October 1992 the farmers of Karnataka State started the Seed Satyagaha movement at a five hundred thousand strong rally. In March 1993 farmers from across the country gathered in Delhi at the historic Red Fort to burn the Dunkel Draft of GATT. Indian farmers are not satisfied with government statements that India will negotiate to allow farmers the right to save and exchange seed non-commercially: for farmers, access to seed is a fundamental right, not a concession.

Plant breeders' rights, like patents, are aimed at weakening farmers as competitors of commercial plant breeders and making them more dependent on commercial suppliers of seed. 'Farmers' privilege' is a concession within this monopolizing system. But a privilege is not a right. Unlike 'Farmers' Rights', it is not a mechanism for recognizing the intellectual contribution of Southern farmers, the economic value of Southern diversity.

The very term 'privilege' implies that Southern farmers' knowledge and resources have made no contribution to the products being used. Seed varieties developed and conserved by farmers are declared to be land races' and 'primitive cultivars', whilst those developed by corporations are called 'advanced' or 'elite'. The tacit hierarchy of language becomes an explicit one in the process of conflict.

India already has experience of what happens when rights are replaced by privileges. During the reservation of forests by the British colonial regime, village communities which were losing their rights to their community forests started 'Forest Satyagraha' throughout the country in defence of these rights. However, these rights were reduced to privileges in the forest laws that were subsequently passed, and these privileges are now given at the whim and fancy of functionaries of the forest department. The original owners of the forests have thus been reduced to criminals and thieves. A similar process is now under way in the arena of biodiversity.

If the South is to retain political and economic control over its biological wealth, farmers' rights must not be reduced to farmers' privileges.

Diversity's choice-empowering local communities

It is often argued that patenting is a way of protecting indigenous knowledge and biodiversity. But is it? Protection of indigenous knowledge implies its continued availability to future generations in their everyday health care and agriculture. If we accept that the dominant economic system- i.e. capitalism - is at the root of the ecological crisis, because it has failed to address the ecological value of natural resources, expanding the same economic system cannot be an appropriate mechanism to protect indigenous knowledge or biodiversity.

What is needed is a transition to an alternative economic paradigm that does not reduce all value to market prices, and all human activity to commerce. Ecologically, this approach involves the recognition of the inherent and non-monetary value of all life-forms. At the social level, the values of biodiversity in different cultural contexts need to be recognized. Sacred groves, sacred seeds and sacred species have been the cultural means for treating biodiversity as inviolable. Community rights to biodiversity must be honoured, as must communities' roles in protecting and nurturing biodiversity.

At the economic level, if biodiversity conservation is to he aimed at conserving life, rather than enhancing profits, then the incentives given to biodiversity destruction, and the penalties that have come to be associated with conservation, have to be removed. If a framework for protecting biodiversity guides economic thinking rather than the other way round, it becomes evident that intensive monoculture of crops and animals is an artificial construct. Productivity and efficiency need to be redefined, reflecting the multiple input/multiple output systems characterized by biodiversity.

In addition, the perverse logic of financing biodiversity conservation by using a small percentage of the profits generated by biodiversity destruction should be questioned. This logic encourages destruction, and reduces conservation to an exhibit, not the essence of living and producing.

Women as nurturers of biodiversity

Neither ecological sustainability nor livelihood sustainability can be achieved without a just resolution of the arguments about who controls biodiversity Until recently it has been local communities, especially women, who have used, developed and conserved biological diversity. It is their control, their knowledge and their rights that need to he strengthened if the foundations of biodiversity conservation are to be strong and deep.

The marginalization of women and the destruction of biodiversity go hand in hand. Loss of diversity is the price paid in the patriarchal model of progress which pushes inexorably towards monoculture and uniformity. In contrast, women's work and knowledge is based on the principle of diversity, and is central to biodiversity conservation because women perform multiple tasks and work across the sectoral boundaries that characterize the patriarchal world-view (the boundaries between work and family, and between forest, livestock and crops).

In the production and preparation of plant foods, women need a wide range of skills and knowledge. To choose appropriate seeds they need to know about seed preparation, germination requirements and soil choice. To sow and strike seeds demands knowledge of seasons, climate, plant requirements, weather conditions, micro-climatic factors and soil enrichment. It also requires dexterity and strength. Nurturing plants calls for knowledge about the nature of plant diseases, pruning, staking, water supplies, predators, companion planting, growing seasons and soil maintenance. Harvesting requires judgements about weather, labour and grading; and knowledge of preserving, immediate use and propagation. It is because of this diversity of knowledge and an understanding of the interconnectedness of life that a woman farmer does not see rice simply as a food grain, but also as a source of cattle fodder and straw for thatch.

In most cultures women have been the custodians of biodiversity in agriculture. However, in common with other aspects of women's work and knowledge, this crucial role is often treated as non-work and nonknowledge, even though it is based on sophisticated cultural and scientific practices. Women's biodiversity conservation differs from the dominant patriarchal notion, where the conservation of diversity is seen as an arithmetical concept -'the number and frequency of ecosystems, species and genes in a given assemblage'.

In contrast, biodiversity is seen by women as a web of relationships which ensures balance and sustainability. Each element acquires its characteristics and value through its relationships with other elements. Biodiversity is ecologically and culturally embedded. Biodiversity cannot be conserved in fragments, as scientists and industrialists would have us believe. Diversity is reproduced and conserved through the reproduction and conservation of culture, in festivals and rituals which not only celebrate the renewal of life, but also provide a platform for subtle tests for seed selection and propagation. The dominant world-view does not regard these tests as scientific because they do not emerge from a laboratory or the experimental plot, and because they are carried out not by men in white coats, but by village women.

When women conserve seeds, they conserve diversity, and in doing so they conserve balance and harmony. Navdanya or 'nine seeds' are the symbol of this renewal of diversity and balance, not only of the plant world, but of the planet as a whole. The seed is sacred and is perceived as a microcosm of the macrocosmic world.

On the more earthly level, biodiversity implies co-existence and interdependence of trees, crops, people and livestock, maintaining the cycles of fertility through biomass flows. Mixtures of cereals and pulses create nutrient balance; crop mixtures maintain pest-predator balance; and diverse plant mixtures maintain the water cycle and conserve soil fertility. In the invisible spaces between all these flows and elements is women's work and knowledge.

Recovery of the biodiversity commons

Biodiversity prospecting is increasingly being promoted as a mechanism that will allow an equitable sharing of the benefits between a prospector and countries or communities where the biodiversity resides. Consequently, indigenous groups are being encouraged to enter into benefit-sharing agreements.

Biodiversity prospecting is the first step towards accepting the dominant system of monocultures and monopolies, and thus accepting the destruction of diversity. Taking knowledge from indigenous cultures through bioprospecting means developing an IPR-protected industrial system which must eventually market commodities that have used local knowledge as an input but are not based on the ethical, epistemological, or ecological organization of that knowledge system. This industrial system uses biodiversity fragments as 'raw material' to produce biological products protected by patents that displace the biodiversity and indigenous knowledge which it has exploited.

The issues of equity, fairness and compensation need to he assessed in a systemic way, both at the level of taking indigenous knowledge, as well as at the level of pushing it out through marketing of industrialized products. The key question to ask is: can the planet afford to have biodiversity and the 'alternative' lifestyles that conserve biodiversity swallowed up as raw material for a globally-organized corporate culture which produces only cultural and biological uniformity?

Recovering the biodiversity commons entails three levels of recovery and regeneration. It involves recognition of the creativity intrinsic in the diversity of life forms; it involves a recognition of common property regimes in the ownership and utilization of biodiversity; and it involves a recognition of intellectual commons - public domains in which knowledge of the utilization of biodiversity is not commoditized.

The first public demonstration in favour of the recovery of the biodiversity commons took place on India's Independence Day, 15 August 1993 when farmers declared that their knowledge and biodiversity is protected by a Samuhik Gyan Sanad. According to the farmers, any company using their local knowledge or local resources without the permission of local communities is engaging in intellectual piracy.

This concept has been developed further by the Third World Network. The positive assertion of 'collective intellectual property rights' (CIRs) creates an opportunity to define a sui generis system of IPRs centred on farmers' rights arising from their role in protecting and improving plant genetic resources. It requires the 'effective' clause in the TRIPS agreement (see p. 81) to be interpreted to mean effective in the specific context of different countries. IPR diversity that has room for a plurality of systems, including regimes based on CIRs, would reflect different styles of knowledge generation and dissemination in different contexts. Sui generis systems would develop a protection system for farmers' rights as plant breeders and for indigenous medical systems. Further, it would have to develop a relationship between Southern peoples' concerns and Northern IPR regimes which are unsympathetic to the style of inventiveness common in Southern societies. This relationship would need to be effective in preventing the exploitation of indigenous resources and knowledge, while maintaining their free exchange.

Sui generis systems that protect CIRs must necessarily be based on the assumption of biodemocracy - that all knowledge systems and production systems using biological organisms have equal validity whereas TRIPs is based on the assumption of bioimperialism. If unchallenged, TRIPs will become an instrument for displacing and dispensing with the knowledge, the resources and the rights of Southern people, especially those who depend on biodiversity for their livelihoods, and who are the original owners and innovators in the utilization of biodiversity.

Understanding and education are prerequisites for empowerment. The debate on the labelling of genetically engineered foods illustrates how ignorance is cultivated and the public is disempowered. The corporations fear that if people know the truth, their monopolies will be destroyed. So food goes unlabelled and consumers are denied access to information and the chance to make informed choices. Monopoly is first achieved in the mind, and then in the marketplace.

We can easily betray ourselves to the politics of uniformity. We can disempower ourselves by seeing the TRIPS route as the only way, and separating ourselves from other options. What we need is a politics of pluralism, in which we recognize our differences without dividing ourselves. We have to act together. Empowerment requires mobilizing local people in the South and consumers in the North. Acting together is not difficult: we have alternatives to build on and to share widely. But in examining our various solutions the key is to assess how many people can make use of the strategy and how many will he excluded from it.

The violence of the Green Revolution-the tragedy of Punjab

India's state of Punjab is the country's most prosperous region, with incomes 65% above the national average. Yet the region is seething with discontent and has suffered the largest number of killings in peacetime in independent India. The Punjab tragedy has commonly been represented as the outcome of conflict between two religious groups, but this view is misleading. Looking more deeply, the conflict also has political and economic roots, reflecting social breakdown and tensions between a disillusioned farming community and a centralizing state. At the heart of the conflict lies the Green Revolution.

The Green Revolution began in the early 1960s, gathered momentum rapidly and by 1968 nearly half the wheat planted in India came from Green Revolution seed. The key to the so-called 'miracle' varieties of wheat and rice that responded to intensive inputs of chemical fertilizers was the introduction of a dwarf gene. The taller traditional varieties tended to fall over with high applications of chemicals because they converted the nutrients into overall plant growth, causing lengthening of the stems. The shorter, stiffer stems of dwarf varieties allowed more efficient conversion of fertilizer into grain.

Worldwide, the revolution was promoted as a strategy that would create abundance in agricultural societies, thereby reducing the threat of communist insurgency and agrarian conflict in developing countries. Science and politics were welded together in order to change the agrarian relationships that had previously been politically troublesome. However, in Punjab, as in many other Green Revolution areas, the strategy failed. This in turn meant that, at the political level, it turned out to be conflictproducing instead of conflict-reducing. At the material level, production of high yields of commercial grain generated new scarcities in ecosystems and among rural people, which in turn generated new sources of conflict.

The Punjab crisis can be viewed as arising from a basic and unresolved conflict between diversity, decentralization and democracy on the one hand and uniformity, centralization and militarization on the other. The Green Revolution was based on the assumption that technology is a superior substitute for nature, and hence a means of producing growth unconstrained by nature's limits. Its proponents argued that nature is a source of scarcity and technology is a source of abundance. But at an ecological level, the Green Revolution produced scarcity, not abundance.

Two decades later Punjab has been left with diseased soils, pest-infested crops, waterlogging, and indebted and discontented farmers. Green Revolution technology required heavy investments in fertilizers, pesticides, seed, water and energy. This intensive agriculture generated severe ecological destruction, created new kinds of scarcity and vulnerability, and resulted in new levels of inefficiency in resource use. Instead of transcending the limits placed by the natural endowments of land and water, the Green Revolution introduced new constraints on agriculture by destroying land, water resources and crop diversity.

'Miracle' seeds and the destruction of diversity

The introduction of the Green Revolution 'miracle seeds' signaled the start of the privatization of agricultural genetic resources. After 10 000 years of producing and selecting their own seeds, peasants gave way to scientists as plant breeding specialists. Plant breeding strategies of nurturing genetic diversity and fostering the self-renewability of crops were substituted by new strategies centred on uniformity and non-renewability.

The bold claims made about the inherent superiority and productivity of the 'miracle seeds' belie reality. These claims are based on a reductionist analysis, in which the costs and impacts of using Green Revolution seed are externalized and misleading comparisons are made. The yield increases of the Green Revolution crops were at least partly counteracted by decreases in the yields of other crops in the farming system. In indigenous agriculture, cropping systems are based on a symbiotic relationship between soil, water, farm animals and plants. Green Revolution agriculture introduces a new element and eliminates some of the traditional inputs. In the reductionist analysis the interaction between the new seed/chemical package and soil, water, plants and animals is not taken into account in the assessment of yields.

Moreover, this analysis wrongly compares yields of single crops grown in a monoculture system with those of the same crop grown in a diverse, mixed farming system. Realistic assessments are not made of the yield of the diverse crop outputs in the mixed systems. And even where the yields of all the crops are included, it is difficult to convert a measure of pulses into an equivalent measure of wheat, because they have distinctive functions and values in the diet and in the ecosystem. The protein value of pulses and the energy value of cereals are troth essential for a balanced diet, hut one cannot replace the other. In Punjab, wheat has spread at the cost of pulses, barley, rape and mustard, which were usually sown as mixed crops with traditional wheat varieties. Rice spread at the cost of maize, pulses, groundnut, green fodder and cotton.

The term 'high-yielding' - often used to describe Green Revolution seeds is a misnomer because it implies that the new seeds are inherently highyielding. Palmer has suggested that the term 'high-response varieties' is more accurate since, in the absence of additional inputs of fertilizer and irrigation, the new seeds can perform worse than indigenous varieties. The gain in output is insignificant once the increase in inputs is accounted for (see Table 4.3).

Table 4.3. External input farming system

Genetic uniformity and the creation of new pests

The narrow genetic base of the Green Revolution varieties led to increased vulnerability to pests and diseases, whereas indigenous farming strategies are more resilient to pests and diseases because of rotational cropping practices and the inherent resistance and diversity amongst the crops grown. Planting the same crop over large areas year after year encourages pest build-ups. Before 1965, rice was an insignificant crop in the Punjab, but the percentage of cropped area under rice increased from 5.5% in 1966-67 to 23.73% in 1985-86, when semi-dwarf varieties accounted for 95% of the rice produced.

Table 4.4. Outbreaks of rice insect pests and diseases in the Punjab


Insect pests/ diseases appeared in outbreak form


District affected by outbreaks



Basmati 370, IR8



Root weevil

IR8, Jaya


Whitebacked plant

Sabarmati, Ratna,


Palman 579, RP5-3



Brown plant hopper

IR8, Jaya

Kapurthala, Patiala,

Ludhiana, Ropar


Brown plant hopper

IR 8, Jaya



Whitebacked plant

IR 8




Bacterial blight

IR8, Jaya, PR106

Gurdaspur, Amritsar


Whitebacked plant

PR558, PR559,




Sheath blight

IR8, Jaya, PR106

Amritsar, Jalandhar,


Kapurthala, Patiala

Sheath rot

PR 106, IR8

All rice-growing



Bacterial blight

PR106, IR8, Jaya,

All rice-growing


PR103, Basmati 370

Stem rot

PR106, IR8, Jaya

Amritsar, Gurdaspur

Patiala, Kapurthala,



Whitebacked plant

PR107, PR 4141

Kapurthala, Patiala,




Whitebacked plant

PR107, PR 4141

Patiala, Ferozepur




HM95, PR103



Yellow stem borer

PR4141, PR106



Brown plant hopper,


PR 196, PR4141

Patiala, Ferozepur

plant hopper

Pusa-150, Pusa-169


Yellow stem borer

PR4141, PR106

Basmati 370


Punjab Basmati 1



PR106, Jaya, IR8


PR106, PR414,


Punjab Basmati 1

All rice-growing



PR 103, PR 106,

PR 4141, IR8, Jaya,

Basmati 370,



Basmati 1


Source: Shiva, v. (1991), The Violence of the Green Revolution, Zed Books.

New varieties had to be introduced in rapid succession because of their susceptibility to diseases and pests (Table 4.4). The first dwarf variety introduced in 1966, the Taichung Native I variety, was susceptible to bacterial blight and whitebacked plant hopper. In 1968 it was replaced by JR-8 which was thought to be resistant to stem rot and brown spot, but proved to be susceptible to both. Later varieties were bred specifically for disease resistance, but few have held their own. PR 106, which currently accounts for 80% of the area under rice cultivation in Punjab, was selected for its resistance to whitebacked plant hopper and stem rot disease. Since its introduction in 1976, it has become susceptible to both, and also to several other insect pests.

Poisoning the soil

Twenty years of Green Revolution agriculture have seriously damaged the fertility of Punjab soils, because it was mistakenly believed that chemicals could replace the natural fertility of soils. The nutrient cycle from soil to plant and back again has been replaced by a non-renewable flow of phosphorus and potash derived from geological deposits, and nitrogen from petroleum.

The erosion and degradation of land in the Punjab is a direct consequence of the rapid change in land-use patterns, irrigation practices and the use of chemical inputs resulting from the Green Revolution. Croplands are now kept constantly under soil-depleting crops like wheat and rice, rather than being rotated with soil-building crops like pulses. As Kang has cautioned, 'This process implies a downward spiralling of agricultural land use - from legume to wheat to rice to wasteland'.

There are also micronutrient deficiencies and excesses. Organic manuring replaces trace elements such as zinc, iron, copper and manganese, but chemical fertilizers supply only nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. More than half of 8000 soil samples taken exhibited zinc deficiency, which has reduced yields of rice, wheat and maize by up to 3.9, 1.98 and 3.4 tonnes per hectare respectively. Meanwhile, fluorine toxicity from irrigation has affected large areas and 26Mha of land is affected by aluminium poisoning. As a result of micronutrient problems, the increase in chemical fertilizer application has not produced a corresponding increase in the output of rice and wheat: productivity has been fluctuating or declining in most regions of the Punjab.

Cultural costs

Perhaps the least recognized of all the Green Revolution's impacts are its cultural costs. The rapid and large-scale introduction of its technologies dislocated the social structure and political processes at two levels. It created growing disparities among classes, and it increased the commercialization of social relations. In Punjab, rather than sweeping away communal conflicts as expected, modernization and economic development hardened ethnic identities and intensified conflict.

The Punjab crisis resulted from three kinds of conflicts:

o Conflicts arising from the very nature of the Green Revolution, i.e. conflicts over river waters, the use of labour-displacing mechanization, the decline in the profitability of modern agriculture, etc., all of which led to a disaffected peasantry engaged in farmers' protests.

o Conflicts related to religious and cultural factors revolving around the Sikh identity. These were rooted in the cultural erosion of the Green Revolution which commercialized all relations and eroded traditional ethics. Religious revivalism, which emerged to correct the moral and social crisis, crystallized finally in the emergence of a separatist Sikh identity.

o Conflicts related to the sharing of economic and political power between the centre and state. The shift from local organization and internal inputs to centralized control and external, imported inputs undermined farmers' power and shifted power to the state.

To a large extent, the movements for regional, religious and ethnic revival are movements for the recovery of diversity. The ecological crisis of the Green Revolution is thus mirrored by a cultural crisis caused by the erosion of diversity, changing structures of governance and the emergence of centralized external control over the daily activities of food production.

Biotechnology- the third wave

In Punjab, the financial and ecological problems created by the Green Revolution necessitated new initiatives. Two options were available. The first involved moving away from capital- and resource-intensive agricultural technology to low-input and low-impact agriculture. The second was to move away from growing staple foods for domestic markets to producing luxury foods and non-food crops for export markets, with a new dependence on imports of high technology inputs like seeds and chemicals. This latter option was officially adopted as the strategy for the second agricultural revolution in Punjab.

The main elements of this second revolution are:

o substitution of wheat and rice with fruits and vegetables to be processed for export markets

o substitution of Green Revolution technologies, with biotechnologies more dependent on chemical inputs and designed for food processing

o total neglect of staple food production as a primary objective of public policy.

The first major project under this new policy, the Pepsico project, was justified on the grounds of diversification of agriculture, increases in agricultural income and employment, and the restoration of peace and stability in Punjab. However, like the Green Revolution before it, the project looks set to aggravate the existing crisis by introducing new vulnerability in agriculture.

The new plant biotechnologies being introduced in Punjab and elsewhere will follow the path of the earlier high-yielding varieties in making farmers ever more dependent on external technology. Biotechnology will probably increase the use of capital and external inputs, further marginalizing the poor and destroying the natural ecological rhythm. The use of chemical inputs will increase, since the dominant trend in research is not for fertilizer and pest-free crops, but for pesticide- and herbicide-resistant varieties (see Chapter 2.2).

Biotechnology fundamentally changes the perceived value of biodiversity. By transforming the richness of the planet's genetic resources into a strategic material for the industrial production of food, pharmaceuticals, fibres and so on, biodiversity conservation becomes the conservation of the 'raw material' rather than conservation of a 'means of production'.

There is a belief that biotechnology development will automatically lead to biodiversity conservation. However, corporate strategies can lead to diversification of commodities, but they cannot enrich nature's diversity.

Similarly, the nature of seed is changed from being both a 'product' (the grain) and a 'means of production' to being just a 'raw material'. In the past, the penetration of capital into agriculture has been prevented by a simple biological obstacle: the nature of the seed is such that, given appropriate conditions, it can reproduce itself manifold. Therefore in order to be able to create a market for it, seed must he transformed materially.

Biotechnology renders seed inert without inputs, so that it cannot produce by itself. Modern plant breeding techniques also render it nonreproducible. In this way, biodiversity is transformed from a renewable to a non-renewable resource. The cycle of regeneration is replaced by a linear flow of free germplasm from farms and forests into corporate laboratories and research stations, and the flow of modified uniform products as commodities from corporations to farms and forests.


1. In LappF.M. and Collins, J. (1982), Food First, London, Abacus.

2. Kang, D.S. (1982) Environmental problems of the Green Revolution, with a focus on Punjab, India,' in Richard Barrett (ed.) International Dimensions of the Environmental Crisis, Boulder, Westview Press, p. 204.

3. Punjab Agricultural University (1985). Department of Soils, mimeo.