By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Genetically-modified rice with vitamin A, anyone? Thanks, but no thanks.
Scientist and agriculturalist group Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) is against the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) latest product, the so-called “Biofortified Golden rice,” a rice variety that has been genetically-modified to produce more beta-carotene or vitamin A.
Masipag is a national network of farmers, scientists and development workers advocating for a farmer-centered approach in dealing with food security.
Dr Chito Medina, Masipag national coordinator, said the IRRI is now focusing on the production of such genetically modified (GM) rice as a strategy to supposedly address climate change and malnutrition.
According to reports, IRRI is undertaking confined field tests of vitamin A rice in Laguna. The GM rice will also be field tested in Munoz, Nueva Ecija. The National Committee on Biosafety in the meantime has already permitted the confined field trials and they are now waiting for the approval of the Bureau of Plant Industry for the multi-location field trials. After two cropping seasons, it has been said that the GM rice will be ready for commercial distribution and sale by 2013.
Medina, however, assailed the assertions of IRRI that the new rice variety will be beneficial to farmers and the rest of the public.
“We should understand that vitamin A deficiency is not a problem that has to do with our food having low vitamin A content. The problem of vitamin deficiency has to do with the problem of general lack of food inaccessibility due to poverty and its associated conditions. Filipino families are too poor to have access to food that’s necessary to form a nutritionally-balanced diet. It is also important to point out that the problem on ‘hidden hunger’ is exacerbated by loss of other food sources due to mono-cropping agricultural technology through the IRRI’s so-called ‘Green Revolution’”, Medina said.
According to Medina, the production and sale of GM rice such as the new vitamin A rice will only result to more poverty.
“GM technology is expensive, and could pose danger on peoples’ health and the environment. GM rice also prevents farmers from sharing and exchanging seeds as the technology and genes that make up the GM rice is being owned by numerous corporations. What our farmers need is not expensive technology but a sustainable one that helps the environment recover and put the farmers interests, needs and aspirations at its center,” he asserted.
Masipag scientists joined some 200 farmers, peasants, scientists, students, and various employees and workers in a protest in front of the IRRI offices in Los Banos and reiterated its long-standing call for IRRI’s closure. The foreign-funded research agency recently marked its 51st anniversary of establishment – an event, Masipag said, that should not be celebrated.
To combat GM rice and Vitamin A deficiency, the protesters ate foods known to be rich in vitamin A and other nutrients such as “pinakbet” and stir-fried vegetables in front of IRRI’s gates.
Close down IRRI
Masipag has consistently been the biggest critics of IRRI. Through the years, the scientist and agriculturalist group has been demanding IRRI’s closure, saying that IRRI’s operations and products have been destructive both to the livelihood of farmers, their health, and the environment.
“Because of IRRI’s Green Revolution program, farmers went bankrupt. Many have been forced to sell their land when synthetic farm inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides in which IRRI varieties are designed to be more responsive, spiked in the past years,” said Medina.
According to Medina, IRRI has always served the interest of the agrochemical transnational corporations.
”For the last few decades, these corporations have been profiting from farmers here in the Philippines and in every rice-growing nation in Asia. IRRI has been collaborating with private seed companies such as Du Pont andBayerCropSciences in areas of hybrid rice production,” Medina said.
“For 51 years, the IRRI did not provide relief from farmers’ woes. IRRI’s rice technology is meant to benefit wealthy farmers, agricultural suppliers and multinational corporations in agriculture. Small farmers did not benefit from IRRI’s research and its products. Through the years it has proven to be a loyal servant to the interests of corporations in agriculture, proof of which are the consortiums between IRRI and private corporations. The need for the immediate closure of IRRI is a must because it has relinquished its task in promoting and protecting the interests of the rice farmers. ”
Masipag was established in 1985 as an alternative program to farmers who fell victim to IRRI’s Green Revolution program. The Green Revolution is IRRI’s program in increasing rice yield through high yielding varieties and modern means such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Groups like Masipag,however, said farmers who were convinced to use the new varieties were pushed into greater debt and poverty due because of the very high cost of inputs. Masipag also said IRRI’s Green Revolution is also responsible for the the exposure of farmers to poisonous chemicals, loss of biodiversity and traditional seeds, legitimization of corporate control in agriculture, among other crimes.
Last year, to mark IRRI’s 50th anniversary, Masi[ag and RESIST! Agrochemical TNCs, an alliance of farmers, scientists and nob-government organizations came up with 50 compelling reasons why IRRI must be shut down. They fell into the following categories:
* IRRI has changed the nature of rice research in Asia; research that should be geared to genuinely address the needs of Asia’s people.
* IRRI has systematically deceived farmers by introducing high yielding varieties (HYVs) of rice to boost crop yields. But HYVs are a threat to the environment and agriculture of the Philippines and all countries where HYVs are planted.
* IRRI has declared its Green Revolution a success in increasing crop yields. But the Green Revolution has also led to the poverty of farmers and the people.
* IRRI cannot deny its influence on government policies on agriculture. It has never been neutral. Governments have used the Green Revolution as an effective instrument to divert the clamor of farmers for genuine agricultural development to fake development focused on high crop yields.
* From the establishment of IRRI, agrochemical transnational corporations (TNCs) have been the sole beneficiaries of IRRI’s programs and technologies. IRRI is a stamp pad for technologies created by TNCs.