Asian peasants and scientists: NO to Genetically-engineered Rice; YES to Genuine Land Reform!
By Ilang-Ilang D. Quijano
Manila, Philippines--- Peasants and scientists celebrated Asia’s most treasured rice culture by issuing a strong statement that they hoped would reverberate among peoples for the challenging years to come: NO to genetic engineering; YES to genuine land reform.
In culmination of the Week of Rice Action (WORA) led by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), more than 300 participants attended a forum on genetic engineering (GE) and rice in Balay Kalinaw, University of the Philippines last April 3.
The event also became a local highlight when a prominent Filipino activist and lawmaker, newly released from political detention, visited to extend solidarity to WORA participants.
In her welcoming remarks, Dr. Angelina Briones, board member of Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) or Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development, Inc. said that scientists are one with farmers in celebrating the rice culture of Asia, one "that preserves traditional rice varieties, knowledge and practices."
She recounts that as a chemist, she used to conduct scientific researches that were estranged from the real plight of Filipino farmers, until the NGO community made her aware of the destructive effects of the Green Revolution.
"In my barrio, the farmers used to have decent living, they had seed granaries and plenty of food for the people. After I finished my studies, I came back and saw little huts and farmers no longer have plenty of food," she said.
Dr. Giovanni Tapang, chairperson of AGHAM or Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, gave participants an overview of the threats of GE rice, the movement against it, and the objectives of the WORA. "This is not only about protesting GE and transnational corporations (TNCs), but also about celebrating the commonalities of the people in Asia," he said.
GE threats and TNC control
Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of PAN AP, made a presentation on "GE and TNC control in agriculture". She explained the consolidation of power of seeds and agro-chemical TNCs, only three of which will control the market in 5 years. These TNCs, led by Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta, reap around $21 billion in profits per year.
She warned that because of collusion between U.S. and other governments in the world, GE seeds are gaining market share, even wit the lack of public acceptance.
Rengam told of how Monsanto controls most of GE soybeans, maize, cotton, and canola, and how these seeds are linked with particular herbicides that Monsanto also produces. She told of the recent contamination of U.S. rice stocks with Liberty Link 601 GE rice, the way the U.S. Department of Agriculture rushed to help Bayer by deregulating it, and how Bayer refuses to pay compensation for affected farmers. She also said that health and safety questions have not been addressed by Bt rice and Golden Rice.
She cited a study by Charles M. Benbrook that shows that GE crops did not lessen but instead increased the use of pesticides, contrary to the claims of TNCs. According to the study of GM crops in U.S. from 1993 to 2004, pesticide use has increased by 4.1%.
Rengam also talked about the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project, which is a TNC endeavour to own the rice genome that rightfully belongs to everybody.
"To stop the destruction of our rice culture, the spirit of WORA has to continue throughout the years," she said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumer Policy Institute in the U.S. talked of the potential problems associated with each step of the GE process, the possible health and environmental issues associated with GE rice, and the economic impact caused by GE contamination.
Dr. Hansen cited a household survey of 481 farming families in 5 provinces in China, which showed that farmers of Bt cotton spent 40% more on pesticides for secondary pest outbreaks. "GE is acting like a classic pesticide-a silver bullet that fails in the long term," he said.
He presented studies which show that GE crops non-target organisms like pollinators and earthworms. Studies that prove GE's high allergenicity potentials on consumers and adverse health among farmworkers was also shown.
He told Filipino farmers that the Philippine government will be a fool to approve Bayer's 2006 application to import LL 62, because no other country has accepted the GE product. He said that there are already 41 major rice-producing countries in the world which has declared a "no-GE rice" policy.
Afterwards, WORA participants from Cambodia, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan, U.S., Indonesia, and Thailand gave solidarity messages and an account of highly successful WORA activities in their own countries.
"We will go home with hope and confidence that we are doing the right and good thing," said Montawadee Krutmechai of the Foundation of Reclaiming Rural Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Action (RRAFA).
Yi Kim Than of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) said that 1,700 farmers joined in their WORA activities. Aside from strengthening the network against GE rice, Cambodian farmers also shared their experiences in seed collection and seed preservation, he said.
Haekyung Woo of Consumers Korea said that the WORA campaign in South Korea, mainly of symposia and petition campaigns, were a triumph.
Keisuke Amagasa of the NO! GMO Campaign in Japan said that they were able to stop the field tests of GE crops. He acknowledged that the Japanese government is one of the leading supporters of the International Rice Research Institute and had to be stopped.
Muhammad Asim Lasin of the Lok Sanjh Foundation in Pakistan denounced their government's approval of Bt cotton and said that their farmers do not have the capacity to implement "biosafety measures" put into place.
"I congratulate all the farmers who participated in the WORA, especially Filipino farmers-you have made the leap and for that I salute you!" he also said.
Frederick Fajardo of Gita Pertiwi in Indonesia told of the promising sustainable agriculture efforts in their country and said that the WORA activities raised public awareness on GE rice.
Afterwards, Dr. Gene Nisperos, chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy, presented on basic issues and concerns on health and GE rice. He said that while GE rice has mainly been promoted as a solution to hunger, illness, and malnutrition, it will achieve the opposite.
Dr. Nisperos stressed the unmonitored consequences of GE rice such as diseases, and cited several studies to prove his point. He scored the lax government regulation on GE rice. "We are eating it without computing how much of those fortifications stay in our body and how it will exit," he said of the so-called Vitamin A rice. He also said that GE rice for oral rehydration is an "unnecessary distraction" from existing solutions such as providing access to safe water and improved sanitation.
Finally, Danilo Ramos, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) or Peasant Movement of the Philippines, said that imperialist globalization, through the World Trade Organization, is the driving force behind the promotion of pesticides and GE.
Yet he said that the campaign against GE and TNCs is getting stronger in the grassroots level, with the farmers protecting their community through various means, such as direct uprooting of Bt crops, mass protests, lobbying and policy advocacy, and adopting sustainable agriculture.
According to Ramos, the primary solution to ending hunger and exploitation of rice farmers in Asia is genuine land reform, especially in a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country like the Philippines where the vast majority of land is controlled by local landlords and foreign agri-businesses.
"The struggle for land reform can only be won by strengthening the mass movement in Asia," he said.
Peasant leader and congressman Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) party-list delivered the closing remarks, saying that the "resounding voice of resistance" heard throughout the WORA gave much hope to millions of rice farmers and other rural peoples.
Afterwards, a solidarity dinner of various Philippine rice cakes and vegetables were served. An invigorating cultural performance was also held, wherein participants sang, danced, and recited poetry to celebrate rice culture and the people’s struggle.
From Jail to WORA
In an unexpected but much welcome visit, newly released congressman Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna (People First) party-list took time out to express support of the WORA campaign. Ocampo, only that morning, was granted bail by the Supreme Court after finding a murder suit filed against him by the Arroyo government highly dubious and ill-motivated.
Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, and other progressive party-lists have consistently upheld the struggle against feudal and imperialist domination of Third World agriculture. With a membership deeply rooted in the Philippine mass movement, they have been victims of intense political repression, even extra-judicial killings.
"We are one with your campaign to liberate farmers from all forms of exploitation. Long live international solidarity!" said Ocampo.
With everyone in high spirits, a toast of local rice wine served in bamboo cups formally ended the event.
The Week of Rice Action (WORA) 2007 brings together farmers, rural communities, and other sectors of society to celebrate and protect rice culture. To be officially launched on March 13 in Bangladesh, the main WORA events will take place in 13 countries across Asia from March 29 to April 4. Culminating in India and the Philippines, WORA will be an unprecedented mobilization of Asians "Celebrating and Protecting Rice Culture"! A key feature of WORA will be its one-million signature campaign calling on policy-makers to take immediate steps to save the rice of Asia.
WORA is organised by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) and its partner organisations in thirteen countries in the region. Anyone interested in being a part of WORA 2007 can log on to the WORA page at www.panap.net
Contact at PAN AP:
Home Page: www.panap.net
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is a global network working to eliminate the human and environmental harm caused by pesticides and to promote biodiversity based ecological agriculture. PAN Asia and the Pacific is committed to the empowerment of people especially women, agricultural workers, peasant and indigenous farmers. We are dedicated to protect the safety and health of people, and the environment from pesticide use and genetic engineering. We believe in a people-centered, pro-women development through food sovereignty, ecological agriculture and sustainable lifestyles.