HARI DEVI ROKAYA
USAID's Nepal Economic, Agriculture, and Trade Activity (NEAT) has got the Department of Agriculture and Monsanto to set up test plots to promote the new seeds in Chitwan, Nawalparasi and Kavre districts. This pilot plan will train 20,000 farmers in hybrid maize production methods and help in marketing the seeds.
Last month, Monsanto India's Amitabh Jaipuria was in Kathmandu for a promotional launch in which he said the project would improve Nepal's food security and enhance income of Nepali farmers. USAID Mission Director in Nepal, David C Atteberry also said: "Most maize farmers are unaware of the health and financial benefits that high-yielding hybrid seeds can provide. Improved seeds and targeted capacity building on crop management will allow maize producers in Nepal to reap the full benefit of their labour."
Nepal only grows half its current annual requirement of 270,000 tons of maize for human and animal consumption, the rest is imported. USAID says the project will help make Nepal self-sufficient and save Rs 200 million in imports.
Not everyone is convinced. Activists are worried about Monsanto's history of being a "Trojan horse" to "infiltrate" agriculture in countries around the world and making them dependent on their seeds, agro-chemicals and other inputs.
They are also apprehensive about Monsanto's interest in genetically-modified crops and suspect the company will use its test plots to propagate seeds that will contaminate the gene pool of local heirloom seeds. (
Organic farmers and activists have a whole list of negative side effects of hybrid seeds: the increase of inputs that put farmers in debt and lead to suicides, the promotion of unsustainable monoculture, hybrid seeds demand more and more fertiliser and pesticides with each season to maintain yields.
Sterile "terminator seeds" smuggled from India which will not germinate after one use ruined farmers in the Tarai last year. These seeds are now contaminating local varieties of maize which are openly pollinated, scientists say, and eroding seed diversity. Activists believe Monsanto's long-term agenda is to introduce its GMO maize into Nepal.
Monsanto has an international reputation for pushing genetically modified organisms (GMO) in agriculture, often with the support of US trade and aid missions abroad. It introduced DDT in the 1950s and is now the biggest producer of the herbicide known as glyphosate. Critics say it uses GMOs and hybrids to also boost the sales of its environmentally-destructive agro-chemcals. In India, the company has been sued by the Andhra Pradesh government for pushing genetically modified cotton which led to thousands of suicides by indebted farmers.
Agriculture scientist and rice specialist Rajendra Uprety in Morang says hybrid maize was introduced into Nepal long ago, and adds that most farmers have learnt to ensure that they have to intercrop and balance the use of organic fertilisers. "As far as I know GMO maize has not yet come into Nepal, although there is some genetically-modified cotton and brinjal," he told Nepali Times.
No matter what Nepal does, he says, if India opts for GMO seeds Nepal will not be able to stop its infiltration from across the open border.