By Vandana Shiva
April 27, 2004
the Golden grain, is called "Kanak" in North Western India.
It is the staple of a large majority. Wheat diversity has been evolved
by Indian farmers over millennia for taste, for nutrition, for ecological
adaptation to cold climates and hot climates, dry regions and wet regions.
Barely four years
after starting work, in December 1909, the book entitled "wheat
in India" was published. By 1924 no fewer than thirty one papers
exclusively on wheat had appeared. A survey of work was presented to
the Royal Society of Arts in 1920.
In 1916-1920 indigenous
Indian varieties won prizes in International Grain Exhibitions. Indian
Wheat was so important a crop for the British Empire that an important
Resolution of the Government of India no. I - 39-50 of March 17th, 1877
was passed on the wheat question requiring the Governor General to provide
all information on Indian wheat including "local names for the
varieties of wheat cultivated and three description in English".
More than 1000 wheat samples in bags of 2 pounds each were sent to the
India office, examined by Forbes Watson, and a detailed report provided
to the Secretary of the State.
Sir Albert Howard,
the founder of Modern Organic Farming and his wife G.L.C. Howard started
to document and systematize India's wheat diversity. They identified
37 separate botanical varieties of wheat belonging to 10 sub-species.
The Ghoni, Kanku,
Rodi, Mundli, Retti, Kunjhari, Sindhi, Kalhia, Sambhergehna, Sambhau,
Kamla, Laila, Dandi, Gangajali, Pissia, Ujaria, Surlek, Manipuri, Anokhla,
Tamra, Mihirta, Munia, Gajia, Mundia, Merdha, Dudhia, Lurkia, Jamali,
Lalka, Harahwa, Galphulia¬Ö.
An amazing diversity
of indigenous wheat was evolved by farmers through their indigenous
innovation and knowledge. In 1906, the Howards began to select and systematize
Indian wheat in Pusa (Bihar) and Lyallpur in Punjab (now Pakistan) and
made Indian wheat known worldwide. Howard's work on wheat paid full
tribute to the genius of Indian peasants. As he wrote in his plan to
study and improve Indian wheat.
condition of Indian agriculture is the heritage of experience handed
down from time immemorial by a people little affected by the many changes
in the government of the country. The present agricultural practices
of India are worthy of respect, however strange and primitive they may
appear to Western ideas. The attempt to improve Indian agriculture on
Western lines appears to be a fundamental mistake. What is wanted is
rather the application of Western scientific methods to the local conditions
so as to improve Indian agriculture on its own lines."
Millennia of breeding
by millions of Indian farmers is however now being hijacked by Monsanto
which is claiming to have "invented" the unique low-elasticity,
low gluten properties of an indigenous Indian wheat, rice lines derived
from such wheat and all flours, batters, biscuits and edible products
made from such wheat.
On 21st May, 2003,
the European Patent Office in Munich granted a patent to Monsanto with
the number EP 445929, with the simple title "plants", even
though plants are not patentable in European Law. The patent covers
wheat exhibiting a special baking quality, derived from native Indian
wheat. With the patent, Monsanto holds a monopoly on the farming, breeding,
and processing of a range of wheat varieties with low elasticity. Earlier
in a patent (EP 518577) filed in 1998 Unilever and Monsanto have claimed
"invention" of an exclusive claims to the use of flour to
make traditional kinds of Indian bread such as "chapattis".
And it is not just
in Europe that Monsanto has filed and obtained patents based on the
biopiracy of Indian wheat. In the U.S on May 3, 1994 patent number 5,308,635
was given for low elasticity wheat flour blends, on June 9, 1998 patent
number 5,763,741 was given for wheat which produce dough with low elasticity,
and on January 12, 1999, patent number 5,859,315 another patent was
granted for wheats which produce dough with low elasticity.
Through these global
patents based on biopiracy, Monsanto is literally seeking to control
our daily bread. The wheat variety which has been pirated from India,
has been recorded as NapHal in the gene banks from which Monsanto got
the wheat and in Monsanto's patent claims. The name NapHal is not the
name of an Indian variety. Indian varieties were fully documented by
Howard in Wheats of India. NapHal means "no seeds", and is
not, and cannot be an indigenous seed variety because farmers bred seed
to produce seed.
They did not breed
"Terminator seeds" for which the Indian name could be "NapHal".
This is clearly a distortion that has crept into the gene bank records
because the original variety was stolen, not collected. NapHal is the
name given by W.Koelz, USDA. However Koelz clearly did not make the
collections himself, but was handed over the varieties, since the locations
are inaccurate. The altitudes and longitude / latitudes do not match.
According to our search, W.Koelz made the following collections :
Date of Collection
a.. 10.4.48 Marcha, Uttar Pradesh, India Elevation - 3050 meters Latitude
- 28o mm N Longitude - 80o mm E
a.. 10.7.48 Subu Uttar Pradesh, India Elevation - 3050 meters Latitude
- 28o mm N Longitude - 80o mm E
a.. 19.7.48 Nabi, Uttar Pradesh, India Elevation - 2745 meters Latitude
- 29.50o mm N Longitude - 79.30o mm E
a.. 21.7.48 Saro, Nepal Elevation - Not given Latitude - 28o mm N Longitude
- 84o mm E
The latitude 28o
N and longitude 80o E lies in the plains near Shajahanpur. The elevation
here is clearly not 3000 meters. This altitude is in the higher Himalayan
ranges with different latitude and longitude. In any case Marcha is
not the name of the village but a sub tribal category of the Bhotias
who are Tibetans speaking Buddhist living in the upper regions of the
Himalayas. The terms Bhotia came from Bo which is the native Tibetan
word for Tibet.
in the location and in the name indicate that the variety referred to
as NapHal was pirated, not collected. Probably the name is a distortion
of Nepal, since one sample was from Nepal and indigenous varieties names
Nepal are in the NBPGR collection.
We have challenged Monsanto wheat biopiracy both in the Indian Supreme
Court and in the European Patent Office in Munich with Greenpeace. As
our challenge submitted to the EPO on 17th February, 2004, stated,
is a blatant example of biopiracy as it is tantamount to the theft of
the results of endeavours in cultivation made by Indian farmers. In
the countries of the southern hemisphere, it is frequently the small
farmers who make a decisive contribution to agricultural diversity and
secure sufficient food supplies by freely swapping seeds and breeding
regionally modified forms of crops.
Monsanto is now unscrupulously exploiting the fruits of their labour.
The company is able to restrict not only the farming and processing
of crops, but also trade in them, in the countries for which the patent
has been granted. At the same time it can block the free exchange of
the seed, thus preventing other growers and farmers from working with
the patented seeds.
The wheat exhibiting
these special baking qualities is the result of the labours of cultivators
and farmers in India who originally grew these plants for their own
regional requirements, growing them to bake traditional Indian bread
(chapatis). As it is natural for these farmers to freely swap seeds,
it comes as no surprise that this wheat seed has been stored in various
international gene banks outside India for many years.
Thus, samples of
the seed can be found in the collections held by the US agricultural
administration as well as in Japan and Europe. The patent owner uses
these features to achieve his own business goals in a way which can
only be regarded as indecent.
Unilever and Monsanto
also have unrestricted access to these seed banks. They took the wheat
to their laboratories, where they searched for the genes responsible
for the special baking qualities. And, indeed, they were able to find
the gene sequences which they had been looking for in the plant. In
this connection, they were aided by the research results of various
scientists as the corresponding gene regions had been undergoing examination
for quite some time. It is this natural combination of genes which has
now been patented by Monsanto as an "invention"."
This patent needs to be challenged on the following grounds :
The traits of low
elasticity, low gluten which are being patented are not an invention,
but derived from an Indian variety. The crossing with a soft milling
variety is an obvious step to any breeder. The patent is based on piracy,
not on non-obvious novelty, and hence needs to be challenged to stop
legal precedence being created on false claims to invention.
The broad scope of the patent covering products made with Indian wheat
robs Indian food processes and biscuit manufacturers of their legitimate
export market and could in future affect our domestic food sovereignty.
The Governments 2020 vision refers to making India a "global food
However if Monsanto has the patent based on piracy of Indian wheat,
India's "food factory" will be controlled by Monsanto, not
Indian food processors and producers. The governments policy if it has
to be successful, must have the Monsanto patent revoked in order to
bring market benefits for our unique food products to the country's
producers - both farmers and food processors.
With an estimated
annual turnover of US$ 1.5 billion, the baking industry in India is
one of the largest manufacturing sectors in India, production of which
has been increasing steadily in the country. The two major bakery industries,
viz. Bread and biscuit account for about 82 percent of the total bakery
products. With overall annual growth estimated at 6.9%. According to
ASSOCHAM India, a business support services firm, there are almost 85,000
bakeries in the country. Approximately 75,000 of these operate in the
unorganised sector, which has a 60% market share. The remaining 1,000
bakeries operate in the organised sector, which has a 40% market share.
Packaged Food in
India, a recently released report from Euromonitor, recorded year 2000
volume sales of the organised biscuit sector at 500,000 MT, or approximately
US$492 million in value terms. The unorganised sector, which supplies
60% of total production, has an annual turnover of nearly US$718 million.
If combined, the two sectors would bring overall biscuit sales to more
than US$ 1.2 billion annually, or 1.3 MMT, making India the world's
second largest biscuit manufacturer and consumer behind the US.
Further, the patent
covers not just biscuits but all edible products and flours with low
elasticity. India Chapatis are in effect covered by the patent.
If such biopiracy
based patents are not challenged, and crop lines and products based
on unique properties evolved through indigenous breeding become the
monopoly of MNC's, in future we will be paying royalties for our innovations
especially in light of the Patent Cooperation Treat and upward harmonization
of patent law.
biopiracy patent should be a wake up call to citizens and governments
of the world. It is yet another example of why the Trade Related Intellectual
Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) of W.T.O needs to be changed, and
why traditional knowledge and community rights need to be legally recognized