Amid a lush backdrop of rice paddies and palm trees, the Deccan Development Society (DDS) concluded its eleventh annual biodiversity festival in the village Mahnoor of the Medak district. Having travelled through more than 55 villages to spread their message of food sovereignty, the DDS stopped in Mahnoor to show their solidarity with the women farmers of the village.
Bullock carts with lavish decorations held showcases with a variety of indigenous seeds, demonstrating what these farmers have to lose if genetically-modified crops enter India's agriculture.
The village, comprising more than 500 residents, is largely self-sufficient, with its own schoolhouse, event center, and the capacity to produce and process quantities of food for its residents. Five hundred villagers gathered in the open-air event platform to hear representatives of the DDS speak on "food sovereignty", an issue that weighs heavily upon India's farmers today.
Deccan Development Society also stressed the benefits of millets, both as an eco-friendly crop and for dietary nutrition. Millets can grow with a minimum of water and over a wide array of climates, and they also replenish depleted soil.
An 8-year-old girl from the village Mayuri in Pastapur showed a short film she shot herself. The film featured her grandmother, Ratnavva, who was able to cultivate her two-acre farm without using any pesticides or taking any seed from the government. Her farm is completely self-sufficient, and produces an excess of 1200 kilograms of grain in addition to vegetables, peppers, and milk. The pride she felt in her work was palpable even through a television screen; with a touch of emotion in her voice, she said "When I look at how my plants have grown, when I think that they were once little seedlings, I can sleep easily at night."
The keynote speaker, Dr. Shiva Chopra, worked for the Government of Canada for 35 years before he was dismissed for blowing the whistle on the harmful nature of Genetically Modified Foods. He is the author of "Corrupt to the Core", a book which explains how government corruption leads to public health hazards.
In his address, he emphatically warned against the dangers of allowing genetically modified crops into India, and brought into question the prevailing narrative of India's Green Revolution, and highlighted several paradoxes.
Rice is now grown in Punjab, a predominantly arid country. Water-intensive crops like rice should not be grown in low-rainfall countries, Chopra said. Wheat and millets should instead grow there, as they have traditionally.
"If the Green Revolution succeeded, it was not because of chemicals and pesticides," he explained, "It was because of hard work, free electricity, and improved irrigation. The idea that India needed pesticides for its Green Revolution is false, and it plays into the hands of the multinational corporations who wish to take advantage of us."
He expressed in comments after his address that "Who controls the food production controls everything. Food is more important than oil. We must attain food sovereignty if we are to progress as a nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be in the pockets of the Monsantos of the world.