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Bihar bans Monsanto from selling seeds

Editor's note: A CropChoice reader pointed out an inconsistency in Monsanto's claims made in the following story: "If the poor corn crop was due to unusally cool weather and also affected other hybrids, as the company claims in other articles, then why isn't Bihar banning other companies' seeds? Monsanto, Pioneer, and others have been trying hard to get third world farmers addicted to hybrid corn like we in the United States are. While its hard to tell what went wrong in Bihar, I hope somehow third world farmers can get access to improved open pollinated varieties."

I suspect it has to do with the fact that hybrids typically yield more than open pollinated varieties. So, hybrids are the way to go when you want to turn developing countries with lots and lots of family farmers into export machines that pump out a few monoculture commodity crops, all of which benefit the interests of transnational corporations. -- RS

(Tuesday, April 8, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Hindustan Times, 04/05: Monsanto India Ltd, a subsidiary of the US multinational, has been barred from selling seeds in Bihar for allegedly marketing substandard products.

The action came after farmers complained that Monsanto's Cargill hybrid 900M maize seeds were substandard or contaminated as they failed to germinate and much of the winter crop failed, Agriculture Minister Shivshankar Yadav said.

Monsanto is believed to have sold 700 tonnes of seeds for the winter crop, promising farmers yields of 80 to 85 quintals per acre. The actual yield was not even 10 percent of this, according to figures available with the government.

Bihar has 180,000 acres under maize. Monsanto seeds were planted over 140,000 hectares.

The company has been asked to explain its conduct. Experts from the Rajendra Agriculture University (RAU) would study its reply before the government decides on cancelling the company's licence to operate in the state, Yadav added.

Monsanto officials contend the poor yields were due to the unexpected cold weather earlier this year that had affected all hybrids across much of Bihar as well as nearby regions.

They pointed out that seed trials during the summer crop of 1996, 1997 and 1998 had produced adequate yields, after which they had been recommended to the central seed committee for notification in 1999.

Sources in the Bihar government said it was under tremendous pressure to cancel Monsanto's licence because thousands of farmers were demanding compensation after being reduced to penury following the failure of the winter crop.

While the loss has not been quantified, B.N. Jha, a specialist with the Agriculture Technology Management Agency, said it would run into millions of rupees.

"Farmers sowed Cargil seeds over hundreds of acres in Muzaffarpur district but the low output has devastated us. We had not faced such a problem earlier," said an upset Aawadesh Singh, a farmer of Meenapur village in the district.

His tale is similar to that of hundreds of farmers in over a dozen districts of north Bihar including Samastipur, Darbhanga, Madhubani and West and East Champaran.

Monsanto has said it would send its teams to the affected districts to study the situation on the ground.