During our class discussion of the future of rural and agricultural development, the idea of GMOs as a future means of alleviation of poverty and hunger was advanced. Although a contentious issue, it is an empirical fact that genetically modified crops offer increased food security through drought resistant and higher-yield crop varieties. However, we should not let the promise of the technology blind us to the trade policies of some of the largest GMO producers and pushers. One of the chief problems that has arisen is the patenting of life. Large multinational corporations like Monsanto enter a country, extract the seeds and strains they consider of value, and patent them. They can then claim sole rights over the seeds and sell them back to the community they were taken from, at a premium. Given that multinational corporations have the backing of the WTO, smallholder farmers are unable to export any patented crops unless they pay a licensing fee that cuts deeper into the razor-thin profit margins of the millions of smallholder farmers in India alone. So far in India at least, the result is a surge in bankruptcy and suicide among smallholder farmers, fueled by an acutely increased sensitivity to price fluctuations and poor harvests due to the increased cost of farming for those least able to afford it.
Several developing and developed countries are actively fighting the WTO agreement that patented life (TRIPS Article 273B) and/or the rise of GMOs in general. One of the breakout stars of the resistance movement is Dr. Vandana Shiva, who succinctly and I believe convincingly argues against the WTOs IP legislation in the video embedded below. How we look at agricultural rights has important implications for discussions of globalization and human rights, which I believe makes everyone a stakeholder in the fight for agricultural sovereignty.
I have included several other resources below for learning more about the current seed-war, as well as a link to the website for Navdanya, Vandana Shiva’s organization: