By Pavitar Pal Singh Pangli: Panglian, Punjab, India
As people of the land, farmers understand the value of property rights. As a farmer in India, traditional property rights are intact and at the center of our social and economic lives.
It is simple: Property rights are to be protected at all cost for India to move from a developing country to a developed nation.
Intellectual property rights are very much similar to traditional private property rights. It is based on this knowledge that farmers like me are so worried about a case that the Supreme Court of India will hear on July 18.
When the justices rule on the case, which involves a patent for Bt cotton, they are determining the future of agriculture in India. Their choice is stark. We can be a serious country that honors intellectual property rights and allows farmers to make the most of modern agriculture technology. Or we can be a country of bandits who ignore this important safeguard of innovation and condemn farmers to the primitive practices that have held back our nation for so long.
Farming is hard work, full of physical labor. But it also depends on creativity and the life of the mind. Without the thoughtful contributions of Dr. Norman Borlaug, India and the developing world never would have seen the Green Revolution that allowed us to become self-sufficient in food grains in the 1970s and 1980s.
Now we find ourselves in a Gene Revolution, powered by new plant technologies. Indian farmers have welcomed its arrival. Those of us who have grown Bt cotton, as I did from 2002 to 2014, realized the benefits of GM right away. My experience, and that of our Farmer Association, with GM seeds was fantastic and memorable. We were able to harvest great profits by reducing the agro chemical costs of the farmer and boosting yields and income.
The benefits are so obvious that more than 95 percent of Indian cotton farmers choose to plant GM cotton. Studies reveal that GM technology even deliver to social benefits: Women in agro technology farm families enjoy more prenatal care. Their children receive more vaccinations and stay in school longer.
My only complaint about GM technology is that we do not have enough of them. By the default of Indian policy makers to give permission for Bt brinjal, we’ve watched our neighbors in Bangladesh get the opportunity to cultivate Bt brinjal (you know this as eggplant) and harvesting huge profits without chemical use and higher production per hectare. We still wait also for the opportunity to cultivate GM mustard—a fully developed technology that continues to wait for political approval.
We’re on the threshold of growing more food on less land than ever before.
The protection of intellectual property rights makes these advances possible. They provide incentives for scientists and researchers to work on the next generation of seeds, which will grow into plants that have the power to overcome not just weeds but also pests, disease, drought, and more.
Patents for these plants draw investment capital from both public and private sources. To eradicate nutritional hunger and feed India’s population—about 1.3 billion people right now, with more every year—we must inspire our best and brightest minds to work on solutions.
To support scientific agricultural growth, we must defend what they do by providing the basic protections of intellectual property rights.
Earlier this year, India’s High Court of Delhi put all of this at risk. On April 11, in a case about a patent for a pest-fighting variety of Bt cotton, it came up with a new standard for issuing patents that virtually eliminates their value.
If the Supreme Court of India now accepts this approach, advances in plant-related technology will decrease dramatically as there will be no motivation for agricultural researchers. I’m concerned also that the next generation of agricultural researchers will be diverted to other professions. We’ll continue to watch other countries innovate, adapting their own agriculture to the challenges of the day, such as climate change. Rather than catching up to the developed nations of the world, India will fall even further behind.
The bad result will be entirely our fault. We wouldn’t be able to blame our troubles on the legacy of colonialism or the greed of capitalists. Instead, it would come entirely from our own refusal to recognize that intellectual property rights are the building blocks of success in the 21st century.
I support the governments key agrarian agenda of doubling Indian farmers income by 2022. As PM Modi and others focus on the strategies necessary to achieve this important goal, I am concerned it will be difficult to reach without research and technology innovation.
This is not what I want for my country. It is not what I want for my farm, my family or the farmers and Farmers Associations across India and around the globe.
The responsibility of the Supreme Court of India is clear: It must reverse the lower court’s faulty legal decision and defend the intellectual property rights that are essential to our future.
Mr. PPS Pangli grows wheat, rice, basmati non-scented, corn, pulses, garlic, onion, mustard and seed production for fodder and seasonal vegetables on a farm located at his ancestral village Panglian, District Ludhiana in the State of Punjab located in North India. Mr. Pangli chairs India’s United Farmer Empowerment Initiative, is a farmer leader of the Borlaug Farmers Association for South Asia and is a member of the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org).