India farmers risk arrest for sowing unapproved Monsanto cotton seeds

A farm worker sprays pesticides on genetically modified cotton crops in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. The federal environment ministry said last year planting the genetically modified seeds violated the Environment Protection Act, and farmers who did so were risking potential jail terms. (Reuters)
Updated 12 June 2018

India farmers risk arrest for sowing unapproved Monsanto cotton seeds

MUMBAI: Many Indian farmers are openly sowing an unapproved variety of genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds developed by Monsanto, as the government sits on the sidelines for fear of antagonizing a big voting bloc ahead of an election next year.
India approved the first GM cotton seed trait in 2002 and an upgraded variety in 2006, helping transform the country into the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of the fiber. But newer traits are not available after Monsanto in 2016 withdrew an application seeking approval for the latest variety due to a royalty dispute with the government.
The herbicide-tolerant variety, lab-altered to help farmers save costs on weed management, has, however, seeped into the country’s farms since then. Authorities say they are still investigating how that happened.
“I will only use these seeds or nothing at all,” said Rambhau Shinde, a farmer who has been cultivating cotton for nearly four decades in the western state of Maharashtra.
The federal environment ministry said last year planting the seeds violated the Environment Protection Act, and farmers who did so were risking potential jail terms. But many farmers are desperate to boost their incomes after poor yields over the past few years and are willing to ignore the warnings.
A government official in New Delhi, who deals with matters related to GM crops, said it was difficult to keep farmers away from something that they saw benefit in.
“If you don’t allow them to plant legally, illegal planting will happen,” the official said, requesting anonymity, adding that Monsanto had yet to reapply for an approval to sell its latest variety of GM cotton in India.
A Monsanto India spokesman said the company was confident that the government would prosecute those involved in the illegal trade of the unapproved seeds.
Except for GM cotton, India has not approved any other transgenic crop on concerns over their safety, and large foreign companies have been increasingly unhappy at what they say is the infringement of their intellectual property by widespread planting of unapproved seeds.
Farmers say they prefer Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready Flex (RRF) strain of cotton seeds as they can cut input costs by as much as 10,000 rupees ($150) an acre compared with other varieties.
Cotton growers are also getting support from farmers’ unions, who are already at loggerheads with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government amid a fall in prices of many agricultural commodities.
Without new varieties of seeds, they fear being outplayed by other major cotton producers and exporters such as the United States, Brazil and Australia, said Anil Ghanwat, the president of a farmers’ organization in Maharashtra.
“The government is asking us to carry a sword to fight the enemy with AK-56 rifles,” said Ghanwat, who has urged farmers to sow the unapproved GM seed. “We will protect them if government authorities try to destroy the crop or harass them with legal cases.”
Last year, just before cotton harvesting, authorities found plantations of unapproved seeds in key producing states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the south.
In February, authorities in Telangana told two local companies that cotton seeds they sold to farmers may have contained traces of Monsanto’s RRF strain, though the companies denied that.
This year various states have formed inspection teams to curb the sale of such seeds, though farmers have built a parallel network to distribute them without getting caught, said M.S. Gholap, director at Maharashtra’s agriculture department.
The seeds were being produced secretly, mainly in Gujarat and Telangana, and then smuggled to other states, Gholap said.
Maharashtra has seized unapproved seeds worth 12 million rupees ($178,000) in the past two months, enough to cultivate 10,000 hectares, said Gholap.
Farmers are paying as much as a 30 percent premium for the unapproved seeds in Maharashtra and Gujarat compared with seeds of older strains.
The proliferation of unapproved seeds could force the government to grant approval to the new seed technology, as happened in 2002 when New Delhi legalized planting of the Bt Cotton GM strain, said C D Mayee, head of South Asia Biotechnology Center, a New Delhi-based non-profit organization.
The strong demand for the illegal seeds has alarmed some federal government officials.
“Once farmers realize laws are toothless, then they could cultivate GM soybean, corn and other crops,” said one official, who asked not to be identified. “It would have serious impact on our biodiversity.”


Pakistan stays on FATF terrorism financing ‘gray list’

Updated 21 February 2020

Pakistan stays on FATF terrorism financing ‘gray list’

  • FATF urges Islamabad to swiftly complete full action plan by June 2020
  • Says it will ‘take action’ if Pakistan fails to comply

KARACHI: The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global money-laundering and terror financing watchdog, on Friday gave Pakistan until June 2020 to improve its anti-terrorism financing measures.
“The FATF strongly urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by June 2020,” the global body said in a statement issued at a plenary meeting in Paris.
This is the second four-month extension given to Pakistan to implement the agreed action plan.
The global watchdog decided to keep Pakistan on its gray list until the country’s next progress review in June.
The FATF said it would “take action” if Pakistan failed to make progress in prosecuting and penalizing terrorism financing.
In response to the FATF decision, the Pakistani government reiterated its commitment to taking all necessary action required.
“A strategy in this regard has been formulated and is being implemented,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance said in a statement.
“(The) FATF reviewed progress made by Pakistan toward implementation of the Action Plan, while acknowledging the steps taken by Pakistan toward implementation of the Action Plan and welcoming its high level political commitment,” the statement read.
The ministry said that during the last reporting period, Pakistan had made “significant progress” in the implementation of the 27-point FATF plan, which was demonstrated by the completion of nine additional action items.
While noting the improvements, the FATF expressed concerns over Pakistan’s failure to complete the action plan in line with the agreed timelines and “in light of the TF (terrorism financing) risks emanating from the jurisdiction.”
“Pakistan was required to completely ban terror outfits, take measures to control cash flows, and make laws to curb money laundering,” Muzamil Aslam, a Pakistani economist, told Arab News. “Now it is political will to take measures by June 2020 to get the country out of gray list.”
Ahead of the FATF meeting, Pakistan sentenced Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed to five and a half years in prison on terrorism financing charges. The move was seen as a demonstration of compliance with FATF recommendations.
Pakistan managed to avoid the FATF’s balcklisting thanks to support from friendly countries, including Malaysia, Turkey and especially China.
Ahead of the FATF summit, Pakistan’s de facto finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, said that “China and other brotherly countries have supported Pakistan throughout the process in terms of guiding the country to improve its frameworks.”
Pakistan was placed on FATF’s gray list of countries with inadequate control over curbing money laundering and terrorism financing in 2018.

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