Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific, August 10 2009
The Rice Crisis of 2008 saw rice stocks at their lowest in 30 years and rice prices increase by up to 40 per cent. While agrochemical transnational corporations (TNCs) found the situation the perfect scenario to increase sales of their products, the world's poorest, mostly dependent on rice as their staple, were severely affected as the grain became unaffordable. Concern on how to feed the world's hungry has been touted as the main reason for promoting a New/Second Green Revolution, known as the Gene Revolution with the use of genetically engineered seeds.
The True Colours of Green Revolution
The Green Revolution, largely promoted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), was the beginning of the industrialisation of food production and the erosion of sustainable agriculture practices observed through generations. In less than half a century, high-input varieties and hybrid rice have replaced most of the traditional local rice varieties. With it, much of the rice cultivation wisdom of farmers and the biodiversity of rice have also disappeared from Asian rice fields.
Although the Green Revolution did substantially raise production, it was only for a short period of time and at a heavy price. Soon, it became evident that the chemical pesticides and fertilizers that came with the promoted technological package also degraded the lands and poisoned the water resources””fields turned saline; ground water levels dropped because of the intensive use of water and soil fertility and productivity started to decline.
Chemical pesticides are responsible for the annual poisoning of 25 million workers while others suffer chronic diseases linked to the use of synthetic pesticides. These include cancer and diseases of the immune, endocrine, reproductive and neurological systems as well as abnormalities and damage to the brain of foetuses.
The Green Revolution effectively shackled the agriculture sector with dependence on commercial seeds and agro-chemical inputs, driving farmers into vicious debt cycles and deeper poverty.
The World Bank itself, which had strongly pushed the Green Revolution, acknowledged in a 1986 study that ‘a rapid increase in food production does not necessarily result in food security’ for small-scale farmers and the landless.
By the 1990s, a slow-down in farm productivity and severe environmental damages had become a general phenomenon in many developing countries. In Asia, average productivity growth rates for periods 1977-86 and 1987-97 dropped from 3.35 per cent to 1.5 per cent for rice.
The “New Green Revolution”
In the last decade, the ills of the Green Revolution were shamelessly utilized by the agri-business sector to push for its successor””the Gene Revolution””dubbed as the second-generation Green Revolution. To tighten their grip and continue to reap profits from the production of food to meet a basic human need, these businesses are peddling their solutions of genetic manipulation and patenting of food crops.
Whilst the Green Revolution opened a profitable market to agro-chemical corporations, the seeds remained largely in the hands of farmers or the public. But with about 3 billion people consuming rice globally, the promise of high profits awaited any company that could acquire proprietary rights over the rice seed.
Genetic engineering then became these companies’ important tool to claim ownership over the ‘new seeds’ they ‘invented’, giving them a legal basis to control its sale and use.
Bio-technology companies, many of which had morphed from the same agro-chemical Transnational Corporations (TNCs) like Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta, are introducing their genetically-modified seeds to soothe the collapse of the (first) Green Revolution.
Ironically, genetically-modified rice such as Bayer Crop Science’s Liberty Link and Monsanto’s Bt Rice are engineered to be herbicide-tolerant and pest-resistant respectively””trapping in one go, the rice-farming system into an absolute dependency package.
According to the ETC Group, an international advocacy organisation that has been monitoring corporate power and movement in the field of industrial life sciences for the past 30 years, 10 companies now control more than two-thirds of global proprietary seed sales as compared to thousands of seed companies and public breeding institutions three decades ago. Its latest report, ‘Who Owns Nature?’ also highlights how from dozens of pesticides companies 30 years ago, 10 now control almost 90 per cent of agrochemical sales worldwide.
Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) has a dedicated Save Our Rice Campaign. In 2007, it spearheaded the Week of Rice Action (WORA), which garnered over a million signatures for The People’s Statement on Saving the Rice of Asia.
WORA 2008 took place the following year with the theme “No to GE Rice in Asia”. It was held across 13 countries in Asia to resist the incursion of GE rice into Asia, and to promote biodiversity-based ecological agriculture and the preservation of traditional rice varieties. Various activities were implemented and participation came from all sectors of society especially small rice farmers. WORA 2008 paved the way for the declaration of GE-free zones and secured strong commitments from policy-makers to protect local lands from GE Rice.
PAN AP also brought in Dr. Michael Hansen, geneticist from Consumers Union, New York, to speak at six locations””Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Orissa, West Bengal, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India. The audience included local scientists, academicians, research institutions, policy-makers, CSOs and the public. Parliamentarians attended his talks in a number of localities and some are using his presentation/information to lobby against GE rice in their local contexts.
While there were gains from WORA, PAN AP and its partner organisations committed to a more extensive campaign that was launched in April 2009. Dubbed as the Year of Rice Action (YORA), these organisations, together with other local people’s movements, are campaigning through festivals, training, exhibitions and protest actions to assert the theme: RICE FOR LIFE AND LIVELIHOOD.
“The campaign will culminate on 4th April 2010 in the Philippines, where IRRI is based, on its 50th anniversary, with the call ‘50 Years of IRRI is Enough!’ The people are calling for the closure of IRRI because of the irreparable damage it has caused to the food/rice sovereignty of Asia by replacing the ecological, cultural and sustainable system of rice cultivation of old with its Green-Revolution (corporate) model of rice production. As a result, most of our traditional local rice varieties have been lost, our rice lands have been poisoned and degraded by chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and our small rice farmers have been driven into worsening poverty. Now, IRRI is promoting a gene revolution, which will even be more disastrous,” says Clare Westwood, Coordinator of PAN AP’s Save Our Rice Campaign.
IRRI has also formed alliances/partnerships with private seed corporations, which facilitate their access to hundreds of thousands of rice accessions it holds in its seed bank, supposedly in trust for the countries and farmers it purports to serve. Yet it has promoted the propagation of high-input, hybrid and genetically engineered seeds””all facilitating agri-business””at the expense of native local varieties and small rice farmers.
A statement endorsed by about 100 people’s organisations in the region has been declared, calling for IRRI to return the seeds it has collected from farmers and countries. Indeed, Asia has had more than enough of IRRI and its so-called (old or new) Green Revolution. It is high time IRRI closed for good and gave back the farmers and countries their rice seeds. The best seed conservation is on-farm by the farmers themselves, not in icy seed banks owned or funded by profit-motivated seed corporations and the research institutions that support them.
(Note: To sign on to the statement, visit: panap.net/irrclosure )
Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) is one of five regional centres of PAN, a global network which aims to eliminate the harm caused by pesticides and promote biodiversity-based ecological agriculture. It is committed to the empowerment of people especially women, agricultural workers, peasants and indigenous farmers. The Save Our Rice Campaign was launched in 2003 by PAN AP with its network partners in Asia in recognition of the critical role of rice, the world’s most important and political crop being the staple food of half its population. The foundation of the Campaign is the Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom: (1) Rice Culture, (2) Community Wisdom, (3) Biodiversity-based Ecological Agriculture, (4) Safe Food and (5) Food Sovereignty. The Campaign is dedicated to saving traditional local rice, small rice farmers, rice lands and the rice heritage of Asia through defending and advancing the cultural and food sovereignty of the grassroots and opposing the powerful threats to rice.(Bulatlat.com)