June 23, 2021
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Monsanto Responds To Outlook's Interview With Vandana Shiva

Trait fees are an inherent component of scientific development

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Monsanto Responds To Outlook's Interview With Vandana Shiva

The interviewee has pointed out to the trait fees that are accrued to Monsanto in a very negative manner. It would be worth noting that there are six insect-tolerant technologies in cotton have been approved by the Government of India, out of which two belong to Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB). Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Limited (MMB) offers farmers the choice of its innovative insect protection Bollgard technologies. During the course of the last decade, the Government of India with respect to technology in cotton seeds has approved commercial release from four sources namely, Metahelix (Cry1C), Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences through Nath seeds (modified Cry1Ac), JK seeds (Cry1Ac) and Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Private Limited (Cry1Ac and Cry1Ac + Cry2Ab). Indian seed companies are free to choose any of the approved technologies for inclusion in their seeds.

In such a competitive landscape, the choice of any particular technology by a seed company depends on the effectiveness of that particular technology in the field and farmer preferences.

Farmers have consistently chosen MMB's Bollgard® technology on account of its superior performance, despite having the option to choose from over 6 different technologies that have been approved in India. Since the year 2002, Bollgard® technologies have helped increase cotton yields by over 1.8 times from 302 kg/ hectare in 2002 - 2003 to 552 kg/ hectare in 2013 - 2014. This has led to significant increase in farmer incomes from higher yields and reduced usage of insecticides thereby helping generate an additional farm income of over Rs. 42,300 crores.

MMB has partnered with over 45 Indian seed companies to provide their hybrid seeds with insect tolerant Bt technology to farmers and collects trait fees in return. Trait fees are based on agreed bilateral terms and through extensive negotiations taking into consideration prevailing cotton seed price control realities. These agreements have been in place for many years now, based on a mutual understanding of the economic landscape and an appreciation of the value addition the technology provides.

Furthermore, since the launch of Bollgard® technologies, MMB has also consciously reduced trait fees so that farmers can readily access this technology and benefit from it. A well-established mechanism for trait fee has been in place for years. The trait fees have been developed keeping the needs of the farmers paramount while recognising the business imperatives of the seed companies.

It is pertinent to note that the trait fees in India are also amongst the lowest in the world and comprise only about 1-2 % of the total cost of cultivation for farmers, while the benefits have been transformational.

Monsanto has never indicated that a patent existed in India

In the interview, there has been a reference to the absence of patent in India on the MON531 Event, more commonly known as Bollgard® I. Monsanto has never indicated that a patent existed in India covering the MON531 Event, and was reiterated as early as 2012 in an article in Mint newspaper which quotes a wide range of stakeholders, including a Monsanto spokesperson who has publicly stated, "While Indian law recognizes patents on events, MON531 isn't patented in India." This news report can be accessed here — ICAR probing govt scientists' claims on Bt cotton version.

Monsanto does, however, claim certain proprietary rights applicable to the MON531 Event. Monsanto enjoys proprietary rights in regulatory data, biological materials, trademarks, know-how and the like, and has proprietary rights and corresponding obligations over cotton seeds containing the MON531 Event commercialized under Monsanto's registration / approvals in India, which have been granted by Indian regulatory authorities such as GEAC and applicable Indian laws. Thus, a company's rights to its transgenic plant products should be viewed from a holistic perspective rather than through a singular patent lens.

Bt cotton technology has revolutionized the cotton sector in India

As evident in the case of Bt cotton in India, the farmers have adopted the technology whole heartedly because they saw a solution in it on their biggest problem of pink bollworm. In the last decade in India, over 70 lakh farmers created India's cotton revolution by doubling cotton production using higher-yielding hybrid cotton seeds with in-the-seed insect protection Bt cotton technologies making India the world's second largest producer and exporter of cotton. Before Bt cotton, the case was reverse.

Indian farmers' choice to plant hybrid cotton seeds with insect-protection Bt cotton technologies on over 90 per cent of cotton acres, and increased cotton production, is testament to the value created by better seeds, technologies and farming practices, when compared with the alternative of seed and insecticide sprays. This itself speaks volumes about the success that crop biotechnology has brought to the farmers in the country.

Guidance on agronomic practices is one of our core offerings to farmers

Dr Shiva has further pointed out to Monsanto's stepping into the climate and soil data domains. It needs to be understood that improved agronomic practices are a key lever to increasing yield. While seed is one of the critical inputs in farming, India's farmers face numerous uncertainties and crop management challenges, which affect farm yield and incomes. Knowledge of cultivation and correct agronomic practices make a significant impact.

To assist farmers and cater to these challenges, in 2010 we launched the Monsanto Farm AgVisory Service (MFAS). This full-fledged mobile-based value added service offers farmers free crop management and agronomic practices and now over 13 lakh farmers have access to this service. This is a free of cost service that Monsanto provides to the farmers for a better output, and there are no financial takeaways for us out of these services.

Ruchi Sharma

Sr. Manager - Public Affairs

Monsanto India

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