We’ve been trying to keep an eye on the threat to the fruit tree genebank built up by the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Programme (HARP) in Jharkhand State, India, with limited success.
A quick recap: State parliamentarians plan to force HARP off its land and bulldoze the field genebank of more than 5000 trees, to build themselves fancy bungalows.
The Indian press has mostly been concerned with the whiff of corruption. A couple of days after the original report, the chief Minister of Jharkhand was busy denying that any decision had been taken over the land; the Indian Express quoted documents that suggested otherwise. A week later, the paper had more documents, claiming that the HARP land was worth about 25,000 times more than some previous land that had been earmarked for the bungalows but rejected by the parliamentarians. The research station was more or less ignored, save for a claim by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, in a letter to Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, that scientists had been threatened, an incident Pawar described as “very sad” and “objectionable”.
Then came a bombshell, a leaked email from Cary Fowler, the Executive Secretary of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, to the Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, HARP’s parent organisation, who serves on the Board of the Trust.1 According to the Indian Express, Fowler asked informally whether “something can be done”.
And this, for us, is the nub of the matter.
Politicians enriching themselves by taking advantage of their position is business as usual, and a matter for the local electorate. And believing that fancy bungalows are more valuable than a collection of tropical fruit diversity is further confirmation that these politicians are nothing out of the ordinary.
As far as I’m concerned, they can have their land and their bungalows. That’s between them, their voters and the local constabulary.
What I want to know is: what are the plans for the collection? It takes time to graft trees and to strike cuttings, if, indeed, those are feasible options. It takes time to find new land. Is there time? Or, as the headlines insinuate, are the bulldozers already moving in on the land?2