Earth Grab: Geopiracy, the new Biomassters and Capturing Climate Genes

Published on Pambazuka News, by Vandana Shiva, October 27, 2011.

Where men seeking to grab power once looked to acquire territories and slaves, now the entire globe and its productive capacity’ is up for grabs, writes Vandana Shiva, in the foreword to Pambazuka Press’ latest title, ‘Earth Grab’. The book’s ‘three groundbreaking reports pull back the curtain on disturbing technological and corporate trends that are already reshaping our world and that will become crucial battlegrounds for civil society in the years ahead. 

It has now been 50 years since a human being first glimpsed the whole of Planet Earth, shimmering alone in the blackness of space. “The earth is blue. How wonderful. It is amazing,” reported Yuri Gagarin as the planet appeared in his porthole for the first time on 12 April 1961. Environmentalists subsequently argued that seeing the Earth as small and fragile, rather than large and unfathomable, would transform humanity’s relationship with our common home and give renewed impetus to the movement to save nature – and for some it did … //

… It is the South also that is firmly in the sights of the new Biomassters, as described in Part 2 of this book. Once again the illusion of a technological fix – switching our petroleum-fuelled economy to a plant-based one – is music to the ears of northern technocrats searching for a way to resolve planetary crises to their advantage. Yet the plants themselves – now recast as lumpen “biomass” – are mostly in the global South. “The New Biomassters” details clearly why any shift to a biomass economy amounts to an assault on the peoples, cultures and ecosystems of the South that already depend on those plants. It links the current wave of land grabs in Africa, Asia and Latin America with this new bioeconomy agenda. It explains how the (again sci-fi sounding) new technology of synthetic biology in which geneticists reprogram living organisms to behave as microbial factories will facilitate the liquidation of ecosystems and the theft of livelihoods that the world’s poorest people depend upon. Capturing the planet’s plant life without tipping us deeper into ecological crises will require geoengineering of another kind – the formation of vast synthetic ecosystems that maximize biomass production to the detriment of everything else.

This last report, which makes up Part 3 of the book, “Capturing Climate Genes,” explores one strategy by which the Biomassters hope to secure that biomass production. The world’s largest agribusiness players, including Monsanto, BASF, DuPont and Syngenta, are pouring billions of dollars and claiming hundreds of patents on what they euphemistically call “climate-ready crops” – plants genetically engineered to withstand salty soils, hotter weather, flooded fields and other environmental stresses. Far from helping small farmers adjust to a warming world (something peasant farmers can organize to achieve by themselves), these crops will enable industrial agriculture to expand its plantation monocultures into lands currently not considered productive enough for that economic model – lowlands, wetlands, savannah lands and more. Such lands are not empty of people or nature. They are exactly the places where the world’s peasants, pastoralists and fisherfolk now survive, thrive and steward biodiversity. In truth these are not climate-ready crops – they are biomass-ready, land-grabbing crops. And in this case the grab goes deep. Amid the 261 families of patent claims made by the biomassters over “abiotic stress tolerance” are ownership claims that cut across all crop species, including claims on the very biomass itself. My own organization, Navdanya, has documented how farmers have already developed their own salt-resistant, drought-resistant and resilient traits in traditional crops. It is these traits and the farmers’ knowledge that the gene giants are endeavoring to steal. Piracy, once again, is actively underway. (full text).

Links:

Ghana: Wikileaks exposes fight in government control of oil, Sept. 13, 2011;

Malawi: Could a leaked cable lead to hunger? June 2, 2011.

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