Demanding Orissa be declared an Organic State, more than 3000 tribal women today made a bonfire of hybrid and genetically modified seeds of cotton and other crops -- calling it the launch of a seed satyagrah --- here today. Walking through the streets of the city, the tribal women shouted slogans damning the GM seeds and the high-yielding crops that had pushed them into a cycle of poverty, indebtedness and hunger.

The tribals announced that they have already declared 200 villages in the tribal belt of the State as "organic vilages" and are presently cultivating indigenous seeds in more than 17,000 acreas in Orissa.

A delegation of the tribal women and some representatives of NGOs later met the Chief Minister, Mr Naveen Patnaik, who assured them that their demands would be looked into sympathetically. He also promised to convey the anger and feelings of the tribals to New Delhi.

The charter of demands that the tribal presented emphasised that "due to the rampant use of chemical inputs in agriculture and mechanization of agriculture, the unemployment problem has become acute, which in turn may precipitate extremism and violence in our beautiful peace-loving state of Orissa". The demand for organic foods, forest produces and herbal products is increasing at the rate of at least 20 per cent annually in the world market. So, there is a great scope for earning foreign exchange by promoting organic farming in the state and exporting the produces, even if one thinks materialistically; though food should not be produced primarily for commercial purposes as per the cannons of the Vedic culture of India, the charter said.

Organic farming is labour intensive; therefore, to a great extent, it can solve the problem of unemployment, which is one of the most serious problems of today's society. Or else Orissa will go the Andhra Pradesh way, where due to unemployment, arising out of 'modernisation' and mechanization of agriculture as well as destruction of local natural resources; the angry and rudderless youths and farmers voted the Chandrababu Naidu government out of power. They warned the chief minister that a similar process has already been initiated in the State as a result of which the political impact will be severe.

On the other hand, the biodiversity and forest rich state of Orissa can earn lots of revenue by value addition and re-estimation of the cost of forest produces and herbal medicines.

The New Seed Bill in the offing, they said, runs counter to the Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers' Right Act (PVPFA), 2001. The Government had given the right to farmers to sell and exchange their seeds through the PVPFA. But those rights are now being taken away through the Seed Bill. This clearly demonstrates that the government is being run by the multinational seed companies. Orissa Nari Samaj (ONS), the tribal women organisation with a membership of close to 200,000 demanded the scrapping of the proposed Seed Bill, and wanted to government to recognise the rights of the people in respect of indigenous seeds.

As the hybrid seeds lose their vigour after one crop, the farmers have to buy the seeds every year from the seed companies. Further, neither the farmers can keep the hybrid seeds or produce it, nor the farmers can exert any control over the prices of hybrid seeds and hence they have to completely depend on the companies for these seeds. The Genetically Modified (GM) seeds are more dangerous, since there is every chance of cross-pollination of GM seeds induced crops with similar indigenous seeds based locally grown crops. As a result the local varieties may in the process get genetically modified and become like terminator plants. There is therefore every possibility that the GM seeds will completely render infertile the local crops/seeds and therefore the food security of the state will be put into danger.

Highlighting the fact that an individual has to consume 9 kg of GM rice to get the required amount of Vitamin A (as required by Golden Rice) for the body where as it is possible to get the same amount of the Vitamin from one carrot only, grown organically, they demanded to ban these pro-commercial and harmful hybrid and GM seeds in Orissa.

They also demanded establishment of an Organic Bank, which will promote and give financial and technical incentives to the organic farmers and support the farmers during the transition period of converting their lands from chemical stage to organic stage. The government should provide the necessary support for marketing of the organic produces which includes the opening up of shopping complexes and retail outlets for exclusively for sale of organic produces in all the district headquarters and cities and further to provide rent free shops for the tribal farmers, through any of the supporting organizations.

Earlier, the tribal women exhibited over 1000 indigenous seeds and over 550 varieties of paddy at an exhibition held at Siddharth Vilage, some 20 kms from here. The conference was jointly organised by the Orissa Nari Samaj, Team for Human Resource Education and Action for Development (THREAD) and the Women’s Institute for Development Education Network -- Orissa.