IT HAS taken the civil society years of struggle to ensure that the plant genetic resources (PGR), which is essentially the preserve of farmers, are not passed on freely into the hands of multinational corporations/seed companies. After the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed in 1992, and plant varieties were for the first time accepted to be a national sovereign resource, the battle to seek control over PGR had of course intensified. Several agreements were signed at subsequent international treaties, including material transfer agreements that ensured no IPRs were taken on plants that the private seed companies collected from the public sector gene banks.
While the focus remained at the global level, I was startled to read a news report in the Wall Street Journal captioned: India Institute Seeks Expertise in Global Seed Business quoting the deputy director general (crops) of Indian Council of Agricultural Research who appears more than keen to sell off India's massive collection of plant resources to MNCs. "Mr Datta said collaborating with MNCs would be hugely profitable ... We really wouldn't mind taking a small share of profits. What would be more important is if we could use such collaborations to bring high-yielding seeds to our farmers at 50% of the cost."
According to the news report, ICAR has sought the approval of Ministry of Agriculture. What is shocking is that while the effort globally is to preserve and protect the plant genetic resources under public sector, despite several attempts to seek private control, India somehow seems oblivious of the threat.