December 13, 2005, Dehradun, Press Release

Farmers must have their say on the question of sharing the natural resources preserved by them over hundreds of years. This was emphasized at a capacity building workshop organised in Dehradun by Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), Calcutta and the Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), Dehradun on December 13, 2005. In the context of WTO, the question of Prior Informed Consent of the farmers and the principles of Benefit Sharing by them with any external individual, institution or organisation has become extremely important. Vijay Kumar Dhoundiyal, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Uttaranchal, inaugurated the workshop and said in his address that right to their own space i.e. their own seeds and medicinal herbs and other process, is the most important issue for Indian farmers. They have to make their voice heard at every relevant forum in regard to decision-making.

In his keynote address, S. M. A. Kazmi, Special Correspondent, Indian Express, described the plight of farmers in the mountain regions of the country, especially in the Central Himalayas, inspite of the extremely rich natural resources of the region, and their profound traditional knowledge in this regard. He observed that the WTO regime has put intense pressure on our Government to do away with all kind subsidies and determined by the developed countries regarding agriculture seeds, crops, etc. to be obeyed by our farmers. This is a major problem, he felt and advocated sensitization of farmers and policy makers and developing them as pressure groups.

Shishir Prashant of Deccan Herald moderated the inaugural session and underlined the resourcefulness of Indian agriculture, and emphasized the need for disseminating the implications of the WTO to the grassroots level stakeholders.

Among the other speaker and participants, Dr. Ghayur Alam, Director, Centre for Sustainable Development, Dehradun, discussed briefly the basic issue concerning WTO and its pros and cons in respect of the farmers and their rights. We also discussed the meaning and implications of Access and Benefit Sharing and Prior Inform Consent with respect to the traditional knowledge and resources for the farmers.

Kunwar Prasun of ‘Beej Bachao Andolan’ from Tehri Garhwal shared elaborately the traditional knowledge and practices of the farmers in Garhwal Himalayas, which are now increasingly threatening by the tendencies of monoculture.

A large number of farmers and NGO functionaries from different parts of Garhwal region participated in the daylong discussion. Many of them raised, a number of relevant questions and gave their observations and perception about the external interventions and the extremely inadequate role of the government. In the concluding session they took part in a Group Discussion, which led to a number of significant recommendations asserting the farmers rights to know about the grassroots policies and enhancements in regard to their natural resources, the need for transparency in all commercial transactions in this regard and the strength, weakness, opportunities and threats in regard to the four major aspects of agriculture, namely, seed, water, land and medicinal / forest resources.

Prof. Nabin Sen of the Calcutta University wrapped up the workshop underlining the farmers’ inalienable rights to the natural resources and the dependence of their life and livelihood thereon. This, together with their centuries-old care, attention, preservation and value-addition to the natural resources, gives them their ethical claim to have a major role with regard to any intervention into sharing of their resources and knowledge, and in the formulation of relevant policy decisions.