Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Dire Straits : Brinjal

We are a country with a huge diversity of people, religions, weather, communities, languages, fruits, vegetables, fish, birds, animals, philosophies, music, musical instruments, handicrafts, textiles, art, vehicles, vehicular habits, medicinal systems, political parties, diseases. You get the general idea.

Somehow, with all these slots into which we can be neatly put, we remain, always in a state of undefined , sympathetic flux, basically happy, tolerant and enjoying what little we have.

But some of us, are incredibly stupid,naive and greedy.

These are of course, universal traits, but one worries about their local manifestation.

Along comes a company like Monsanto, and tells us there is something wrong with Brinjal. Eggplant to some. Aubergine to others.

To be very specific, its growth.

Mind you, brinjal has a history of 4000 years of growth in India. It is the country of its origin. Given the range of temperatures across India, it has been widely grown anywhere the temperature did not dip below 5 degrees C. Which is almost everywhere with the exception of the Himalaya regions. We grow the widest variety of brinjals here, and cook it in numerous ways, and even use the raw variety in Ayurvedic medicinal systems.

Among the various pests that trouble this plant, one of them is called the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (BFSB). This pest spends a dedicated lifetime on this plant, and the larva/caterpillars eat all over the leaves, flowers and fruit, spoiling existing as well as potential fruit. Usual pesticides dont work. And any stronger poisonous treatment would make the brinjals dangerous to eat, for you and me.

So what has been happening in the last 4000 years ? The sensible Indian farmer has been using natural solutions. The BFSB has some natural enemies, like the an entire army (ordinary, 3 striped, seven striped) of ladybird beetles, and a bug called, Campyloneura sp.

For one thing, brinjal is a 90-120 day crop. So the farmer takes different types of veggie crops to give BFSB a break. He also inter crops this plant with things like coriander, cow peas and maize, which have a typical odor that attracts the various spiders and ladybirds. This essentially confuses the BFSB, and also makes the unconfused ones face some ladybird fighters. Farmers know that the small and stout brinjals are more affected by the BFSB, so he gives preference to planting the long and slender variety. They also sometimes use Neem Seed extract on the plants, like Neem cakes applied at the root, which affects the BFSB life cycle.

Also the larvae of the BFSB, after all that eating and chewing , become pupas and silky cocoons, and fall down along with the wilted stems of the plant on the ground, along with other dead plant tissue. So the farmer basically burns up all this rot, or composts it to chemically change it.

Since male BFSB moths are stupider than the females, farmers also use pheromone water traps, across their fields, which are bottles with a solution that attracts and catches males, who are then unavailable for fertilising the eggs.

And this is how, we have been enjoying decent brinjals all along. Literally for thousands of years. Without any problems.

Earlier we had colonizers. Now we have Monsanto.

Earlier we had the East India Company. Now we have Ministers.

They (Monsanto) fool around with plant structure, introduce genes that alter the plant. One such is called Bacillus Thuringiensis. Immortalized these days as BT. This results in protein crystals in the plant, and when the BFSB's come for a bite, the meal turns out to be their last supper, as these proteins destroy their digestive tract. Of course the protein is not just in the fruit, leaves or flowers or stem, but all over the plant, and by contact, surely , in the soil. You also need to worry about pollination of ordinary old style plants by these plants, say in neighboring fields.

But what you need to worry the most is that everytime you plant a crop now, you need to buy new seeds from Monsanto. You cannot keep aside some seeds from the latest crop for replanting the next time around, as has been the age old custom.

The amazing thing is, the authorities are smitten by Monsanto. They are about to allow the introduction of BT Brinjal in India. Although there is something called the Cartagena Protocol, which does not allow genetic alteration of something in its country of origin. The authorities and Monsanto couldn't care less.

With the vast amount of public sector enterprises in India, there is no independent safety testing of these BT products being done by the government, which is again, blind to the conflict of interest that is clear as the majority of tests are being done by a company promoting the BT-brinjal.

With just 90 days worth of testing in fields in India. With glaring objectionable facts in the reports, such as the BT protein being found in crops from non-testing areas. Such as change in the composition of cowmilk in cows who grazed in those areas; diarrhea, higher water consumption, liver weight decrease in rats fed on BT; change in blood clotting time, for the worse, in goats; and the BT protein generating new proteins that are resistant to the antibiotic kanamycin, used in humans.

This is just to name a few of the findings.

The Supreme Court appointed an independent scientific expert who is going hoarse about various tests and the way they were conducted, but authorities play deaf. There is a charade being enacted to ensure smooth entry of the BT-brinjal.

We haven't learned anything from those that fought for our independence. Life isn't about kowtowing to those that celebrate power, money, and control. It is about improving the lot of someone who has less, so that he can look back, and feel happy , that he is bringing his children into a better world. Someone born at Independence, retiring now, at 60, must now look forward, disgusted, with a government that has learned nothing.

Monsanto has earlier done the same with BT Corn, and BT Cotton. The latter has contributed majorly in the compete destruction of the life of the Vidarbha farmer. Not to mention causing physical and medical problems for those in contact with it. And soil sterility.

Countries like Zambia have refused food aid from the US when it was found that the corn would contain unknown percentage of BT corn, preferring to starve, than feed dangerous food to thelr citizens. Europe has refused genetically modified food. Austria said no, after looking at tests conducted over 20 months.

But Monsanto must be thrilled to bits as our government offers them a billion free guinea pigs to test the effect of BT -veggies on humans. In the meanwhile , they will control the seeds, the pricing, and the growing of food in India, and create dedicated pesticides , which they themselves will produce and market. (Reminds me of what someone told me about software anti virus companies having a special new virus creation section, that ensures them a perennial market).

While reams are being written about costs and benefits in money terms for farmers, there has been no study on long term comparisons between other organic methods of pest control vis-a-vis this hi-fi-genetic fiddling. There is a planned ignorance of the small and marginal farmers, and their capacity to raise required resources.

That's colonization of the modern type. The humiliation of the Indian farmer. By a chemical seed capitalist. Notice, how nobody wants to do genetic fooling with fancy things like asparagus, different types of fancy lettuce, artichokes, grapes, mangoes, and the concentration is on the proletarian items, like brinjals, bananas, corn, tomatoes, what , rice, and I hear, maybe cauliflower. The BT-brinjal, incidentally, is banned in the European Union.

There have been no independent tests done by the Ministry of Health, and the whole thing is being pushed through by interested parties with great force, with some helpful grunts from, Cornell University, USAID, and of course, the villain of the piece, Monsanto.

So, the next time you go to the neighborhood vegetable vendor, and see the super smooth, similar shaped, one size, brinjals, start worrying about whether it is BT or non-BT. I am sure, no one , including the government knows. Or wants to know.

Maybe the Reserve Bank needs to get into the act. Introduce BT-Money. Whenever, someone "swallows" it instead of earning it by working honestly and hard, it should affect the digestive system of the swallower and destroy it. Those that shut their eyes to the dangers will open them when they are "BT-fied" themselves by "BT-Money".

Now why didn't anyone think of that !

Stupid me.

Maybe someone did, and unlike bt-brinjal , it it was nipped in the bud, (by the loot and shoot borer), due to the overriding concerns of several worthies, and we never got to hear about it.

Like the unhappy results of some tests.

Baingan bharta anyone ?


  1. Monsanto and companies like them have done the same thing here. They are destructive to quality life and do it in the name of greed or maybe paternalism-- they know best. It's very difficult to find seeds that can reproduce but we still can get them but not in big stores. They would like to block us all from them. Such a shame and I don't understand such destructive greed.

  2. Again this is a prime example of the greed of big corporations. It's all about short term profit.

    The quest for the 'bottom line' will destroy the world, I fear.

  3. You didnt put BT cotton in that pic... !!! Monsanto... !!!

    Monsteranto !! its pretty similar.. maybe I should write about BT cotton... ! but guess that has to wait till i leave this cotton industry... !!

  4. We are a country smitten by anything that is fair or foreign - even if it is poison. after all the poison is being doled out by sahibs and memsahibs. so it must be good!Better than the desi variety. In an overpopulated country this would make sure that half of us would be unfit for employment. And as for those who push this forward, the less said the better.

    you do blog about socially relevant points.Thanks.

  5. There are very many issues in the country. Politics, economics and life... so much governs us all !

    Life has to roll on. Despite the potholes. Potholes is again...economics,politics and life !

    So much for brinjal !

  6. Wonderful post!

    I have been reading with interest and dismay, the news reports about the possible introduction of BT brinjal in India, but had not really understood the extent of the problem. This post of yours has made all the issues so clear!

    Our agricultural minister is batting for BT brinjal and the environment minister is now vacillating. Perhaps they will not even make it public if they do allow it!

  7. hitchwriter, i would really like to read your thoughts on BT cotton .

  8. Carlyle group put countries into debt, created civil wars and made africa into africa. Now Monsanto will be the ultimate clincher - it will disable people with its new diseases consuming their food - if this is not warfare than what is?

  9. Rain, DarleneThank you for the comments. I am just amazed at how this company can go around interfering and messing around with the lives of people in so many countries, and gets paid for it ....

    HW I thought I'd leave BT-cotton to the expert. But I did include it Here... :-)

    HHG What you say is so true. The West will say BT is bad, and then we will all blindly follow and agree. Something that is being yelled from the rooftops and no one is listening.

    Kavi Rolling needs energy. That means food. And this growing BT stuff saps it. But as in everything else, we all tolerate, and carry on. Jai ho...

    Manju isnt it strange. IPL is important so that the agri minister makes a special trip to threatenening types. But BT is just one of those unimportnat things, which can be ignored, so the agri minister ignores the protests. Money talks, and sometimes also keeps quiet.

    AnroshThank you for the comments and now I need to go read up on these Carlyle types...

  10. , i would really like to read your thoughts on BT cotton .

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