Wheat Biopiracy April 24, 2004
By Vandana Shiva
WILL "GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD"
BECOME A PRAYER TO MONSANTO?
Wheat the Golden grain, is called "Kanak" in North Western India.
It is the
staple of a large majority. Wheat diversity has been evolved by
farmers over millennia for taste, for nutrition, for ecological
to cold climates and hot climates, dry regions and wet regions.
Barely four years after starting work, in December 1909, the book
"wheat in India" was published. By 1924 no fewer than thirty one
exclusively on wheat had appeared. A survey of work was presented
Royal Society of Arts in 1920.
In 1916-1920 indigenous Indian varieties won prizes in International
Exhibitions. Indian Wheat was so important a crop for the British
that an important Resolution of the Government of India no. I -
March 17th, 1877 was passed on the wheat question requiring the
General to provide all information on Indian wheat including "local
for the varieties of wheat cultivated and three description in English".
More than 1000 wheat samples in bags of 2 pounds each were sent
India office, examined by Forbes Watson, and a detailed report provided
the Secretary of the State.
Sir Albert Howard, the founder of Modern Organic Farming and his
G.L.C. Howard started to document and systematize India's wheat
They identified 37 separate botanical varieties of wheat belonging
The Ghoni, Kanku, Rodi, Mundli, Retti, Kunjhari, Sindhi, Kalhia,
Sambhergehna, Sambhau, Kamla, Laila, Dandi, Gangajali, Pissia, Ujaria,
Surlek, Manipuri, Anokhla, Tamra, Mihirta, Munia, Gajia, Mundia,
Dudhia, Lurkia, Jamali, Lalka, Harahwa, Galphulia?..
An amazing diversity of indigenous wheat was evolved by farmers
their indigenous innovation and knowledge. In 1906, the Howards
select and systematize Indian wheat in Pusa (Bihar) and Lyallpur
(now Pakistan) and made Indian wheat known worldwide. Howard's work
wheat paid full tribute to the genius of Indian peasants. As he
his plan to study and improve Indian wheat.
"The present condition of Indian agriculture is the heritage of
handed down from time immemorial by a people little affected by
changes in the government of the country. The present agricultural
practices of India are worthy of respect, however strange and primitive
they may appear to Western ideas. The attempt to improve Indian
on Western lines appears to be a fundamental mistake. What is wanted
rather the application of Western scientific methods to the local
conditions so as to improve Indian agriculture on its own lines."
Millennia of breeding by millions of Indian farmers is however now
hijacked by Monsanto which is claiming to have "invented" the unique
low-elasticity, low gluten properties of an indigenous Indian wheat,
lines derived from such wheat and all flours, batters, biscuits
products made from such wheat.
On 21st May, 2003, the European Patent Office in Munich granted
a patent to
Monsanto with the number EP 445929, with the simple title "plants",
though plants are not patentable in European Law. The patent covers
exhibiting a special baking quality, derived from native Indian
the patent, Monsanto holds a monopoly on the farming, breeding,
processing of a range of wheat varieties with low elasticity. Earlier
patent (EP 518577) filed in 1998 Unilever and Monsanto have claimed
"invention" of an exclusive claims to the use of flour to make traditional
kinds of Indian bread such as "chapattis".
And it is not just in Europe that Monsanto has filed and obtained
based on the biopiracy of Indian wheat. In the U.S on May 3, 1994
number 5,308,635 was given for low elasticity wheat flour blends,
9, 1998 patent number 5,763,741 was given for wheat which produce
with low elasticity, and on January 12, 1999, patent number 5,859,315
another patent was granted for wheats which produce dough with low
Through these global patents based on biopiracy, Monsanto is literally
seeking to control our daily bread. The wheat variety which has
pirated from India, has been recorded as NapHal in the gene banks
which Monsanto got the wheat and in Monsanto's patent claims. The
NapHal is not the name of an Indian variety. Indian varieties were
documented by Howard in Wheats of India. NapHal means "no seeds",
not, and cannot be an indigenous seed variety because farmers bred
They did not breed "Terminator seeds" for which the Indian name
"NapHal". This is clearly a distortion that has crept into the gene
records because the original variety was stolen, not collected.
the name given by W.Koelz, USDA. However Koelz clearly did not make
collections himself, but was handed over the varieties, since the
are inaccurate. The altitudes and longitude / latitudes do not match.
According to our search, W.Koelz made the following collections
Date of Collection Locality
10.4.48 Marcha, Uttar Pradesh, India Elevation - 3050 meters Latitude
mm N Longitude - 80o mm E
10.7.48 Subu Uttar Pradesh, India Elevation - 3050 meters Latitude
- 28o mm
N Longitude - 80o mm E
19.7.48 Nabi, Uttar Pradesh, India Elevation - 2745 meters Latitude
29.50o mm N Longitude - 79.30o mm E
21.7.48 Saro, Nepal Elevation - Not given Latitude - 28o mm N Longitude
84o mm E
The latitude 28o N and longitude 80o E lies in the plains near Shajahanpur.
The elevation here is clearly not 3000 meters. This altitude is
higher Himalayan ranges with different latitude and longitude. In
Marcha is not the name of the village but a sub tribal category
Bhotias who are Tibetans speaking Buddhist living in the upper regions
the Himalayas. The terms Bhotia came from Bo which is the native
word for Tibet.
The discrepancy in the location and in the name indicate that the
referred to as NapHal was pirated, not collected. Probably the name
distortion of Nepal, since one sample was from Nepal and indigenous
varieties names Nepal are in the NBPGR collection.
We have challenged Monsanto wheat biopiracy both in the Indian Supreme
Court and in the European Patent Office in Munich with Greenpeace.
challenge submitted to the EPO on 17th February, 2004, stated,
"The patent is a blatant example of biopiracy as it is tantamount
theft of the results of endeavours in cultivation made by Indian
In the countries of the southern hemisphere, it is frequently the
farmers who make a decisive contribution to agricultural diversity
secure sufficient food supplies by freely swapping seeds and breeding
regionally modified forms of crops.
Monsanto is now unscrupulously exploiting the fruits of their labour.
company is able to restrict not only the farming and processing
but also trade in them, in the countries for which the patent has
granted. At the same time it can block the free exchange of the
preventing other growers and farmers from working with the patented
The wheat exhibiting these special baking qualities is the result
labours of cultivators and farmers in India who originally grew
plants for their own regional requirements, growing them to bake
traditional Indian bread (chapatis). As it is natural for these
freely swap seeds, it comes as no surprise that this wheat seed
stored in various international gene banks outside India for many
Thus, samples of the seed can be found in the collections held by
agricultural administration as well as in Japan and Europe. The
owner uses these features to achieve his own business goals in a
can only be regarded as indecent.
Unilever and Monsanto also have unrestricted access to these seed
They took the wheat to their laboratories, where they searched for
genes responsible for the special baking qualities. And, indeed,
able to find the gene sequences which they had been looking for
plant. In this connection, they were aided by the research results
various scientists as the corresponding gene regions had been undergoing
examination for quite some time. It is this natural combination
which has now been patented by Monsanto as an "invention"."
This patent needs to be challenged on the following grounds :
The traits of low elasticity, low gluten which are being patented
an invention, but derived from an Indian variety. The crossing with
milling variety is an obvious step to any breeder. The patent is
piracy, not on non-obvious novelty, and hence needs to be challenged
stop legal precedence being created on false claims to invention.
The broad scope of the patent covering products made with Indian
Indian food processes and biscuit manufacturers of their legitimate
market and could in future affect our domestic food sovereignty.
Governments 2020 vision refers to making India a "global food factory".
However if Monsanto has the patent based on piracy of Indian wheat,
"food factory" will be controlled by Monsanto, not Indian food processors
and producers. The governments policy if it has to be successful,
the Monsanto patent revoked in order to bring market benefits for
unique food products to the country's producers - both farmers and
With an estimated annual turnover of US$ 1.5 billion, the baking
in India is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in India, production
of which has been increasing steadily in the country. The two major
industries, viz. Bread and biscuit account for about 82 percent
total bakery products. With overall annual growth estimated at 6.9%.
According to ASSOCHAM India, a business support services firm, there
almost 85,000 bakeries in the country. Approximately 75,000 of these
operate in the unorganised sector, which has a 60% market share.
remaining 1,000 bakeries operate in the organised sector, which
has a 40%
Packaged Food in India, a recently released report from Euromonitor,
recorded year 2000 volume sales of the organised biscuit sector
MT, or approximately US$492 million in value terms. The unorganised
which supplies 60% of total production, has an annual turnover of
US$718 million. If combined, the two sectors would bring overall
sales to more than US$ 1.2 billion annually, or 1.3 MMT, making
world's second largest biscuit manufacturer and consumer behind
Further, the patent covers not just biscuits but all edible products
flours with low elasticity. India Chapatis are in effect covered
If such biopiracy based patents are not challenged, and crop lines
products based on unique properties evolved through indigenous breeding
become the monopoly of MNC's, in future we will be paying royalties
innovations especially in light of the Patent Cooperation Treat
harmonization of patent law.
Monsanto's wheat biopiracy patent should be a wake up call to citizens
governments of the world. It is yet another example of why the Trade
Relate and why traditional knowledge and community rights need to
legally recognized and protected.