A people’s festival to protest CBD conference

Non-profits to represent united resolve to protect the country’s natural wealth and bio-cultural heritage from powerful economic interests

By M Suchitra
Published: Saturday 29 September 2012

As a protest against the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD-CoP 11) scheduled to begin in Hyderabad from October 1, a group of farmers, non-profits and people’s movements from across the country will hold a People’s Biodiversity Festival from October 13 to October 16.

Based on the theme Unity for Diversity, the festival will be a defiant celebration of India's rich biodiversity of crops, flora and fauna and its vibrant bio-cultural heritage.

“In stark contrast to the CBD and the increasing commodification of genetic resources and knowledge, the People’s Biodiversity Festival will present people’s voices in united resolve to protect our immense natural wealth and rich bio-cultural heritage, free from the ravages of powerful economic interests and monopolistic Intellectual Property Rights (IPR),” says a press release issued by the organisers on September 28.

Festival’s focus:
  • Safeguarding the rights of farmers, adivasis, pastoralists, forest-dwellers, hill folk, fisher folk and future generations

  • Promoting and supporting holistic and bio-diverse ecological agriculture and forestry for local needs and health

  • Conserving and regenerating natural wealth, sustainable livelihoods and traditional knowledge

  • Adopting a people's manifesto for biodiversity as a collective, open-source heritage, free of private Intellectual Property Rights; and reclaiming farmers' crop varieties from institutional germplasm banks

  • Local, regional, national and global networking for policy correction and collaboration

The CBD was born two decades ago as a promising international treaty aimed at conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of its benefits. “But somewhere along the way, CBD has lost its track and is gravely compromised and dominated by industrial lobbies,” says D Narasimha Reddy, environmentalist and policy analyst. It has already bent backwards to accommodate their interests at the cost of the basic needs of people, he adds.

The organisers pointed out that MNCs promote unsustainable monoculture of genetically-modified (GM) crops and commercial hybrids, grown with high inputs of increasingly expensive and scarce fossil energy, chemicals and water, leaving a trail of toxicity and greenhouse gases. “But what we actually need is ecological farming with locally accepted, open-pollinated seeds, for sustainable and wholesome yields,” says G V Ramanjaneyalu of Centre for Sustainable Development.

Recently, the organisers pointed out that the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) offered MNCs 400,000 varieties of germplasm, including drought-tolerant rice, heat-tolerant wheat and salinity-tolerant crop varieties.

The CBD discussion on the access-benefit sharing has been reduced to how big companies and research organisations can access to the biological resources, they say. “How the local communities can access the biological resources in their region is not discussed much,” points out Uma Shankari of Rashtriya Raithu Seva Samithi, an organisation working for the welfare of farmers. Even when India is a signatory to CBD, the national biological diversity rules do not make prior informed consent (PIC) of the local communities mandatory for accessing their biological resources. “The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) can decide access to bio-resources in consultation with the state boards. Consent of local communities comes nowhere in the scene,” says Sagari Ramdas, director of Anthra, an organisation of women veterinary scientists working in the field of livestock development in the wider context of sustainable natural resource use.

As part of the festival, about 60 stalls by different groups will display several thousand varieties of crop seeds. Indigenous breeds of livestock will also be on exhibition, as also books, ecological products, traditional crafts and indigenous foods. A rice mela with several traditional rice varieties from different parts of the country will also be organised as part of the festival.

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