Sunday, January 9, 2011

Home gardeners become gene custodians

Throughout the history of our planet natural selection has led the existence of life through some pretty dire situations. There have been ice ages, meteor collisions, earth quakes and all manner of catastrophic occurrences but through them all, some forms of life have adapted and evolved to take us to where we are today.

Where are we today? We are verging on taking the role of natural selection and exchanging it for man-made selection, which I call man-ipulation. In so doing, mankind is choosing to manipulate the earth's genes only for a perceived benefit to itself, and even then, only for a very short term gain to some very short term people.

Today I read this clear, concise and important article on Kitchen Gardeners International by Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty. I have copied some of it below but please find the rest of this excellent expose here.

Coincidentally, I also had written along the same lines, but not with any authority, for the January edition of the Kitchen Gardeners International Newsletter. You can read "Saving the seeds of civilisation" here.

India, like most countries around the world, is facing an onslaught from the biotechnology industry to introduce genetically modified(GM) crops .The first and only commercially approved GM crop, in India, is Bt cotton, genetically engineered with bacillus thuringiensis (BT), developed by Monsanto, which according to them makes it resistant to a major cotton pest , the bollworm. However the Bt cotton story, in India, like in other places, is very controversial.  Suicides among farmers in the cotton belt continue unabated (1). Death of sheep that foraged on Bt cotton was reported (2). The targeted pests which are supposed to be killed by the Bt engineered in the plant have in many cases developed resistance to the toxin (3). Many minor pests have evolved into major threats in the cotton fields, consequently increasing the usage of pesticides. There have been numerous reports of variable performance causing economic losses to farmers (4).

Within eight years of its introduction, Bt cotton has become very prevalent dispossessing indigenous cotton varieties. This is partly due to lack of availability of non Bt cotton seeds as seed companies have stopped producing non Bt cotton seeds. Traditional cotton varieties have almost disappeared. Organic cotton farmers and producers are struggling to find indigenous seeds; many parent lines have been contaminated by Bt cotton (5). It was also discovered that organic cotton exports from India were contaminated by Bt cotton......

Devi goes on to describe what is happening to eggplant and other food genes in India

......At this juncture it is critical to identify, conserve and propagate our indigenous seed varieties. In a world which on one hand is rapidly urbanizing and on the other is ceding control over agriculture into the hands of a few agri-business corporations, it is time for home gardeners to take on the mantle of farmers - food providers and seed keepers of the world.

Rapid introduction of genetically modified varieties into the natural environment would lead to contamination of indigenous varieties and irreversible loss of bio diversity (already being experienced in the areas where GM crops are rampant). Home gardeners around the world can play an important role in cultivating and popularising heirloom varieties, learning to save seeds, and growing and eating traditional plant foods . This would be a great first step to conserve bio diversity. We need all hands on board to preserve our plant genetic bio diversity and our future!


1) 17,368 farm suicides in 2009,

2)  Bt cotton and livestock: health impacts, bio-safety concerns and the legitimacy of public scientific research institutions, Dr.Sagari Ramdas (

3) Bt cotton ineffective against pest in parts of Gujarat, admits Monsanto - The Hindu March 6, 2010

4) Bt Cotton and the Myth of Enhanced Yields,  (30th May , 2009),Kavitha Kuruganti, (

5) Organic cotton farmers left in the lurch,

6)  A documentary film made on the issue of Gm foods and Bt brinjal can be viewed online at

7) The campaign was to say that we Indian do not want to become lab rats for testing Gm foods. Face book page of the campaign:

8)  Decision on commercialization of Bt brinjal, Ministry of Environment and Forests,

9) NPM method is being practiced by farmers across 2 million hectares in the state of Andhra Pradesh, resulting in pesticide free food, better health and economic security for farmers.


AlexF said...

Natural selection is extremely brutal -- pain, death, and all manner of suffering are fundamentally necessary for it to operate. Being "natural" does not automatically make natural selection the most desirable state of affairs. Man-ipulation is worse in many ways, but unlike natural selection, it *could* be better.

Kate said...

I am looking forward to more discussions this week Alex! See you tomorrow at the airport.