Gene Campaign is a research and advocacy organisation dedicated to food and livelihood security of rural and adivasi communities, rights of farmers and local communities, rights of farmers and local communities. It works with communities in villages as well as at policy making levels to ensure rights of farmers and local communities over their biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. Our field work is focused in Jharkhand, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Gene campaign was set up in 1993 by Dr. Suman Sahai and a group of scientists, environmentalists and economists who were alarmed by the impact of international developments on the genetic resources of the developing world and livelihood security of rural and tribal communities that depend on them. Today Gene Campaign is recognized as a leading research and advocacy organisation working with farmer groups and rural and adivasi communities along with the research and scientific community, students and youth, cultural activists, environmental groups, consumer groups, women’s groups and social justice groups to influence and change policy and laws on the ownership and use of bio-resources. In addition to a national network, Gene Campaign has linkages with civil society groups working in developing and developed countries.
Gene Campaign’s main activities are making agriculture sustainable and climate resilient; improving household food and nutrition; agrobiodiversity conservation and use; community-led seed production; integrated farming for village development; rights empowerment, training and capacity building; documentation & protection of indigenous knowledge; public education and awareness generation; and policy advocacy.
20 Years of Gene Campaign
Gene Campaign’s work on conservation of agro-biodiversity has been a tireless effort to collect, characterize and conserve the agro-biodiversity of rice and other crops. Traditional varieties of rice are being collected from Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Meghalaya and Assam and conserved in Gene-Seed Banks in that are maintained by village samitis. We have also conducted training and capacity building programs among village youth, school and college students and Mahila Samuhs of Jharkhand and Uttarakhand about the importance of village level gene banks and how they should collect, characterize, store the seeds and maintain the gene bank. For this Gene Campaign had received the Genome Saviour Award in 2009. Apart from conservation, the campaign has continuously been working on making agriculture sustainable and climate resilient thus helping farm families better stabilize their food production. Gene campaign is also training these farming communities to produce bioorganic fertilizers and plant based pesticides from local flora.
The organisation has been responsible for raising the national debate on the dangers of seed patents and its threat to food sovereignty. Its long and sustained struggle for Farmers Rights culminated in legislation that grants legal rights to farmers. The Campaign has been involved in the fight against the patents granted on Basmati rice, at the national and international level, and was the first to expose the existence of the turmeric patent. GC has campaigned for a law to protect India’s biodiversity and provided the first draft of a Biodiversity legislation in 1997, a law that was finally passed in 2002.
The Campaign is working for the recognition of Indigenous Knowledge as an important technology and its potential for increasing incomes for rural and adivasi communities. Gene Campaign also intervened successfully in the Patent Amendment Act, 2005, to ensure protection for indigenous medicines and practices.
The Campaign had set up about 30 Core Groups in 17 states after conducting over 400 district and village level meetings. These large-scale awareness generation programs were supported by simple literature in regional languages explaining the process of globalisation and the national and international developments that could threaten food and livelihood security.
Publications have been a very important feature of our activities. Leaflets, handbills, brochures in local languages describing the issues have been made available to civil society groups, government agencies and individuals.
Our views on GM Crops
Gene Campaign has not taken a ‘for’ or ‘against’ position in the highly polarized debate on GM crops. It demands stringent biosafety transparency and democratic decision making in this crucial field that has significant implications for food, livelihoods and environmental security. It seeks accountability and greater competence in the regulatory systems. Gene Campaign’s writ petition of 2004 requested the Supreme Court that unless the regulatory system is made demonstrably more competent, transparent and responsive to public concerns, there should be a moratorium on commercial release of GM crops. Gene Campaign took legal action in October 2007 by filling an application in the Supreme Court to stop the government from deregulating the import of GM foods and lifting regulatory oversight from this sector.
The way forward
Gene Campaign’s agenda is especially relevant today when food prices are going through the roof and the annadata who feeds the nation is not able to feed his own family. Malnutrition is acute and rampant. 50% of children are underweight, 98% of adolescent girls and 96% of pregnant women are anaemic, according to government data. Losses on the farm are leading to extreme rural poverty.
To address these concerns, Gene Campaign organized a brainstorming session on its 20th anniversary to launch a campaign on making farming profitable and farmers prosperous. A charter of demands was formulated and presented to the media. The demands include among others, increased annual budgetary outlays for agriculture by the Union and State governments to 10 per cent of India’s gross domestic production for the next ten years. We also want the programs for food security to include nutrition security and provide support to children for registering in schools and receiving regular health checkups. It is important that credit and insurance facilities are provided to all those who cultivate land and keep livestock by revamping the kisan credit card and making insurance more widespread. Given the growing feminization of agriculture in India, there an urgent need to enforce joint ownership of productive assets and invest in agriculture equipment suitable for women. Agricultural extension services must be restored to promote diversified and ecologically sustainable agriculture backed by research support and indigenous knowledge. A comprehensive soil testing program must be launched across India to implement location specific measures to restore and across India to implement location specific measures to restore and improve soil health. We need a policy and research framework for the development of agriculture in the mountainous regions of India. The Public Distribution System (PDS) must be decentralised and include a range of locally produced foods. Reliance on chemical inputs in agriculture should be reduced and bio-organic farming systems should be encouraged.
A water literacy campaign should be launched at policy and implementation levels as water management is the entry point to improve livelihood. All government policies must be geared towards enabling the Indian famer to be entrepreneur. Only then can those who are in the riskiest profession in the world be empowered, making farming profitable and farmers prosperous.