Every now and then while watching the doings of big agriculture from my catbird seat, I see something that makes me wonder: What in the world could have (insert name of company here) possibly been thinking about?
Such is the case most recently with Monsanto’s tiff with India’s farmers over Bt cotton genetic traits.
Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB) – a joint-venture company – launched its genetically modified cotton in India in 2002. The introduction has since turned the nation from a net importer to a huge net exporter of cotton.
In doing so, Mahyco Monsanto has captured more than 90 percent of India’s cotton seed market, serving some 7 million cotton farmers.
In short, Mahyco Monsanto has something of a monopoly and has reaped huge profits that some would say are extravagant.
So it comes as no surprise that India’s farmers would say they are fed up and aren’t going to take it anymore.
Local seed companies complained to the nation’s farm ministry that MMB was charging fees far higher than warranted. A committee of the farm ministry thinks India’s seed companies have a case, and it has recommended about a 70 percent cut in trait fees for Bt cotton. The committee has also recommended a cap on what farmers would have to pay for Bt seeds. Both recommendations were approved March 9 by India’s full farm ministry.
What happens next has serious ramifications for India’s cotton industry. That’s because prior to the ruling Monsanto India CEO Shilpa Divekar Nirula didn’t take kindly to the possibility of shrinking profits:
“If the committee recommends imposing a sharp, mandatory cut in the trait fees paid on Bt cotton seeds, MMB will have no choice but to re-evaluate every aspect of our position in India… It is difficult for MMB to justify bringing new technologies into India in an environment where such arbitrary and innovation stifling government interventions make it impossible to recoup research and development investments.”
In the interest of the public good, let me translate how India’s farmers more than likely heard that message: If you don’t like that we are ripping you off, dear farmers, we’ll just take our ball and go home.
This from the same Divekar Nirula who two short years ago when named CEO of Monsanto India said, “We are transforming into a solutions company. This means that here’s my farmer; I will look at one of the needs of my farmer. I may not be the sole provider of those needs.”
It appears that Divekar Nirula has changed her public relations tune.
No longer is it about assisting poor farmers to make a livable wage, but rather about MMB’s bulging coffers. This fight over cotton could get very ugly.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.