Indian fruit genebank threatened by democracy

by Jeremy Cherfas on October 9, 2007

NB: Update here.

We interrupt this blog for a public service announcement. The Indian Express is reporting a proposal by the government of Jharkand State in northeast India to bulldoze the field genebanks of the Horticulture and Agro Forestry Research Programme. More than 20 years of work and thousands of fruit varieties are set to be destroyed in order to create bungalows for Members of Parliament.

What to do? This makes the UK’s attempts to dump its apple and pear collection look positively suave. We’ve alerted people who might have some influence. But seriously, what else can be done? Is anyone in Jharkand taking this up? How about the rest of India? We’re rank amateurs at activism. Advise us.

We wouldn’t normally repost an entire item, but this is important enough that we’re making an exception. So here goes.

Doomed, say scientists, as MLA-MP bulldozer closes in

m_id_11697.jpg RANCHI, OCTOBER 4: Stunned scientists have begun counting their impending losses: 5253 plants of different varieties of mango and litchi, 6,500 trees more than 30 years old, eight greenhouse nurseries, each with 4000-5000 plants of guava and jackfruit and a gene bank developed over 20 years to have a germplasm base of 239 varieties of mango and litchi.

The Ranchi-based Horticulture and Agro Forestry Research Programme (HARP) — under the aegis of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) — is set to lose all these if the Jharkhand government goes ahead with its plan to acquire land from the institute to build bungalows for over 115 MPs and MLAs.

This also flies in the face of a letter from Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar earlier this year asking Chief Minister Madhu Koda to shelve the plan and instead issue mutation certificate of this land whose title was transferred to the ICAR by the Ranchi Deputy Commissioner in 1976. In 1979, HARP was set up with 100 percent funding by the Union government.

As reported in The Indian Express today, the plan, cleared by the Koda government, envisages taking over more than 288 acres of HARP’s land and slicing away 88 acres (from ICAR’s Farm 2) for the Vidhayal Evam Sansad Grih Nirman Swawlambi Sahkari Samiti Ltd, a housing society registered by the legislators.

‘This will destroy our field laboratory for ever,” says HARP scientist R S Pan. His colleague, senior scientist Vikas Das says: “Our germplasm bank assiduously nourished and grown over the past two decades is the foundation for carrying out our research on the gene order of these varieties. Once we lose Farm 2, we are doomed.”

Not just that. “The gene bank of these valuable fruit-bearing tress will be destroyed for ever. It will seriously affect horticulture prospects of the farmers in this belt,” says HARP’s Principal Scientist Shivendra Kumar.

Even Pawar had underlined the benefits: “This research centre (HARP) has been working on different projects for the past 27 years…It has developed 29 new varieties of fruits and vegetable crops and Jharkhand farmers are benefiting from its techniques developed here. So my request is to settle this land where this institution is situated.”

But Koda clearly ignored this. While he declined to comment, Speaker of the Jharkhand Assembly Alamgir Alam — one of the beneficiaries if the plan goes through — says that the government is committed to taking the land. “The state Land Revenue Department has to transfer the title of this land to the housing society. We have asked officials to do the needful,” said Alam.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ehsan Dulloo October 9, 2007 at 5:24 pm

This is outrageous. This shows again the value that politicians place on genetic resources. There is still a lot to do to create awareness among politicians in a country about the importance of these genetic resources. Do they have any plans to relocate the collection elsewhere and in other collections. I believe that field collections have a big long term sustainability problem. That is why Bioversity is working to develop other conservation strategies that can be more flexible and sustainable in the long term. The collection at Jharkhand should be transferred to NBPGR. But first the cryoprotocols for mango and litchi need to be refined and resources are needed for this.

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Eliseu Bettencourt October 11, 2007 at 8:48 am

Let me express my indignation and bewilderment. Two decades or so ago, the whole matter concerning plant genetic resources were based on the universally accepted principle that PGR were a heritage of mankind and consequently should be available without restriction (International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, 1983).

This paradigm, by pressure of, mostly, developing countries, was radically changed with the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, 1992), which, in its Article 15, recognizes the sovereign rights of States over their natural resources and the authority to determine access to genetic resources resting with the national governments and is subject to national legislation.

In line with this, the Undertaking was revised and harmonized with CBD. The revised text, under the form of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) entered into force on the 29th June 2004 and its Article 10 reads: “In their relationships with other States, the Contracting Parties recognize the sovereign rights of States over their own plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, including that the authority to determine access to those resources rests with national governments and is subject to national legislation”.

Did we come all this way to see one of the countries that during the negotiations most battled for the sovereign rights over PGRFA, decide to destroy valuable and irreplaceable resources for the benefit of a few privileged people and detriment of millions?

India signed and ratified the ITPGRFA in 10/06/2002. The International Treaty is a legally binding instrument for those countries that are Contracting Parties.

The CBD, the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) and the Governing Body of the ITPGRFA are urged to take note of this unjustifiable intention of India. We also challenge and urge the distinguished Delegates of India to the international Bodies e.g. CBD, CGRFA, GB of the ITPGRFA, to denounce and call urgent and decisive action to stop this barbaric act.

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Zareen November 20, 2007 at 10:46 am

I’d like to help – but I can’t ‘take this up’ alone. I am a doctoral student in water-resource management and work in Maharashtra (or rather, that is where my research is). If I may ask, who have you contacted, and what has been the response? Have you followed up in any way? If you can get back to me, perhaps we can do something together.

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Anil Sinha November 2, 2008 at 3:38 am

It is just simply vandalism. It shows that our politicians of whatever hue they are -are simply hell bent on looting the public. May God give these idiots some commonsense.

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