The Shivraj Singh Chauhan government recently formed a separate “Agriculture Cabinet” and passed a comprehensive “Organic Policy” to make Madhya Pradesh an organic State, an important priority and poll promise under the Bharatiya Janata Party's Swadeshi ideology.

However, the “pro-organic” noise doesn't seem to be translating into action. Concerns are being raised over the government massively subsidising a seed distribution programme involving the U.S.-based seed giant Monsanto and two other biotech companies.

The hybrid maize expansion project, currently being implemented under public-private partnership in seven tribal districts in the State, is an extension of “Project Sunshine.”

“Project Sunshine” is the name of Monsanto's hybrid maize expansion programme seeking to bring about a “Yellow Revolution” in tribal areas of India and is being implemented under various names in Gujarat, Orissa and Rajasthan, among others.

In Madhya Pradesh, the project provides 90 per cent subsidy for Monsanto's Dekalb hybrid-maize seeds, a move which many fear will lead to the death of the traditional non-hybrid “white maize,” also known as the Open Pollinated Variety (OPV) seeds currently in use reducing farmers' control over their seeds.

“It is a pilot project covering the major tribal districts and it seeks to address the food security problem in these areas,” Agriculture Secretary M. M .Upadhyay told The Hindu.

“I don't understand the concerns some people are raising. Hybrid maize has been used in the State and across the country for decades now and has proved to be highly effective in boosting production,” he said.

Monsanto's Dekalb hybrid maize seeds are being distributed in the State with 50 per cent subsidy from the Rashtiya Krishi Vikas Yojana fund, while the Tribal Welfare Department is subsidising another 40 per cent.

However, pro-organic agriculture activists in the State have recently written to the Chief Minister, asking him to scrap the project, now being implemented in Jhabua, Dhar, Seoni, Chhindwara, Ratlam, Khargone and Alirajpur districts.

“Traditional farming practices in these areas are extremely cost-effective. The farmer uses his own seeds every year, he uses home-made organic manure, employs his family as labour, and the stem and other parts of the crop can be used as cattle feed,” says G.S. Kaushal, former Director, Agriculture Department.

“The high-input hybrid maize will make farmers dependent on the market as they will have to buy new seeds every year along with fertilizers, etc, resulting in increased production cost. And how will they afford that once the subsidy is discontinued?” asks Dr. Kaushal.

The project has also drawn criticism for being at odds with the State's newly announced Organic Policy, which seeks to promote organic agriculture.

“It is hard to understand why the State government is using taxpayers' money to provide ready market for corporations like Monsanto even when an organic policy is in place,” says Nilesh Desai of the Madhya Pradesh Beej Swaraj Abhiyan (Seed Sovereignty Campaign).

There have been consistent protests against similar projects in Orissa (Project Golden Days), Gujarat (Project Sunshine) and Rajasthan (Project Golden Rays).

“Farmers in Orissa are beginning to realise the dangers of this yellow maize. This year, local customers in some areas didn't even buy yellow maize and the farmers had to go dry it so it looked more like the smaller, white maize,” says Debjeet Sarang, a pro-organic agriculture activist from Orissa.

“Some areas of Kalahandi district are completely under hybrid maize now. This so-called Yellow Revolution is coming about at the cost of nutritious millets. It's a worrisome trend,” he says.