Farmer-scientist group deplore secretive visit of Bill Gates to IRRI, Golden Rice commercialization possible agenda
Los Baños, Laguna – Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG expressed distrust in the recent visit of IT mogul and American billionaire Bill Gates to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) last April 8. Together with his wife Melinda and members of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the visit expectedly has something to do with the IRRI’s various research on genetically modified Golden Rice. Bill Gates has been reported as one of IRRI’s biggest private donor.
“While the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a philanthropic organization, its focus is on high technological solutions like chemical farming and GMOs, thus we believe that the projects that they are funding will only cause further trouble among the poor farmers and consumers,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPAG.
The BMGF has been supporting food biofortification programs, which includes fortifying staple crops such as rice and cassava. It is also supporting the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) which is suspected to repeat the same mistakes of the Green Revolution in Asia. In 2011, the BMGF donated about US$10.3 million dollars to IRRI for the development of Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice that is touted to address Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) problems in developing countries, including the Philippines.
Golden Rice is genetically modified to express beta-carotene, the pre-cursor of Vitamin A. Apart from the donations of BMGF, about US$100 million dollars has already been spent in the development of Golden Rice from 1991 up to 2000. The GM rice is being developed to supposedly combat VAD, a condition that has been successfully addressed in the Philippines through various fortification and supplementation programs by the national government.
Golden Rice has been met with resistance from farmers’ groups and other concerned civil society organizations as its safety to health and environment has not yet been ascertained. Farmers also claimed that Golden Rice will lead ultimately to control of seeds by huge agrochemical companies. In August 2013, more than 400 farmers and consumers uprooted the clandestine Golden Rice field trial in Pili, Camarines Sur as a show of intense protest.
Golden Rice, Tool for Corporate Control
While Bill Gates has been hailed for funding huge amounts of money on IRRI’s climate-tolerant and biofortified rice varieties, speculations about his interest in controlling food and agriculture began to surface. Gates now owns about 500,000 shares worth US$23 million dollars of Monsanto stock. Monsanto, one of the world’s largest agrochemical and lifescience company has been raking huge amounts of profits from selling chemicals and patented genetically modified seeds. It is highly likely that the approval of Golden Rice would facilitate the entry of more GMOs, which in turn would prove beneficial to agrochemical TNCs. Golden Rice, MASIPAG says, is but a ‘Trojan horse’ that will further strengthen corporate control over agriculture.
Studies have also shown that genetically modified organisms and its accompanying chemicals may prove hazardous to health and the environment. To date, there are no studies that will prove safety of Golden Rice to health and the environment.
“We find it distasteful that one of the richest man on the planet invests millions of dollars to a project whose use and efficacy is yet unproven. While in the communities, local and natural foods that are rich in Vitamin A such as malunggay (moringa), kamoteng dilaw (yellow sweet potato), kalabasa (squash), etc. are readily available and can be easily grown. Also, Vitamin A supplementation is very effective and supported by the government and is given free among the children” added Medina.
Dr. Medina added that studies have shown that most of the VAD-affected children hail from the impoverished sectors lacking the capacity to access for a balanced and healthy diet, including safe drinking water. VAD, and the problem on hunger in general, Medina states, is rooted in socio-economic inequalities.
“Poverty and lack of access to basic resources are the main cause of VAD and other malnutrition issues. We think that Golden Rice cannot address these.”
Boosting IRRI’s image
Bill Gates’ visit to IRRI has proven to be a much needed boost in its image, which has been declining in the past decades.
“We still have not forgotten the bitter lessons from the Green Revolution and the high-yielding rice varieties (HYVs) of IRRI that failed its promise of better production and better life for poor farmers,” said Diego Dela Cruz Jr., a farmer from Agusan del Sur. “The HYVs, along with its expensive inputs have put many farmers into further poverty and indebtedness.”
IRRI, which celebrated its 55th anniversary last April 4 has introduced the so-called modern varieties of rice that promised to have better yields and higher income for the farmers. By 1970s, the HYVs started declining and various pests and diseases have developed, significantly reducing rice production in the Philippines and other neighbouring countries. The massive spread of HYVs has also resulted to the loss of traditional rice varieties that are better adapted to the local environments. The intensive application of chemical inputs has resulted to soil degradation, and the monocropping practice of HYVs has affected the biodiversity in the farm.
“After its 55 years of existence, what has IRRI done to the Filipino farmers and the country’s rice productivity? The Philippines has even become the world’s number one net rice importer! The quality of life of poor farmers became worse,” lamented Dela Cruz.
Since then, IRRI has shifted its research focus to genetically modified rice (“Gene Revolution”) that is also proving to be problematic.
“Why insist on a potentially harmful technology if there are safer means to address VAD and malnutrition?” asked Dela Cruz.
“We believe that Golden Rice is being promoted to clean up and sugar-coat the image of GMOs, which have been proved by many independent studies to be harmful to health and the environment. By touting the Golden Rice as a humanitarian project, it makes GMOs more acceptable among farmers, governments and consumer” added Medina.
Alternative Measures to Malnutrition
“Poverty and hunger are the main culprits in malnutrition cases, which include Vitamin A. Therefore to address VAD, we should address the lack of resources to ensure that people have access to proper nutrition,” said Dr. Medina.
“Farmers should have their own land to till, and sufficient appropriate technology and post-harvest support to ensure better productivity,”said Dela Cruz.
MASIPAG has been pushing for agroecology and sustainable agriculture (SA) to improve food security in the communities. SA entails diversification of the farms which should also provide more safe and nutritious food for the family and community. Along with several local governments, MASIPAG has also been working on strengthening local markets so that more consumers can avail affordable organic foods and support the local producers.
“Global and international studies such as the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food have recognized agroecology and other farmer innovations as a means to address food security and rural development. We hope that Bill Gates and his foundation likewise recognize that providing safe and more contextually appropriate technologies will better serve the farmers and consumers of developing countries, rather than a potentially harmful technology such as Golden Rice.”###
Golden Rice will endanger Filipino
farmers and consumers
Los Baños, Laguna – Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG today exposed the impacts of Golden Rice saying that it is nothing more than a tool to deceive people into accepting genetically modified foods in people’s farms and tables. According to the network, Golden Rice proponents and lobbyists are merely using the malnutrition issue to sell their technology at the risk of the Filipino peoples’ health and the country’s agrobiodiversity. The network also denounced the visit of Allow Golden Rice Now!, a Canada-based advocacy group which is currently in the Philippines promoting the adoption of Golden Rice.
Golden Rice is a genetically engineered rice that has been modified to express beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A, which is one of the essential micro-nutrients that the body needs. Golden Rice, which is being developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), will supposedly address Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) in developing countries such as the Philippines. A known pro-Golden Rice lobby group, the Allow Golden Rice Now! headed by Dr Patrick Moore, is in the country at present to promote the technology amidst the intense rejection and resistance of farmers and consumers.
MASIPAG however, believes that Golden Rice is only intended to project a clean and wholesome image for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and make it acceptable, since Golden Rice is aimed for so-called “humanitarian purposes.”
“Proponents claim that the high case of VAD in poor countries like the Philippines can be solved by Golden Rice, and that it is a crime against humanity not to allow it,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPAG. “We believe however, that the only crime being committed is subjecting rice, a staple food of millions, to an unsafe and yet unproven technology.”
Dr. Medina cites recent studies and pronouncements of various scientific bodies and authorities that point to the possible negative impacts of genetic modification. According to several studies, genetic modification alters the original genetic make-up of the organism, producing new chemical products that can have negative, unintended and uncontrolled consequences.
“Golden Rice has not been tested for safety,” said Dr. Medina. “The only testing that the proponents have done was to determine its agronomic traits thru open field testing, which has failed miserably.”
In 2014, IRRI has announced that it has pushed back the commercialization of Golden Rice due to its very low yield performance. At present, there have been no studies on allergenicity and toxicity of Golden Rice, which should be first established in animal feeding trials before feeding trials on humans commence. So far, the only feeding test of GM rice conducted were in China, which was met with ethical issues as the project leaders failed to inform the children and their parents that it was GM rice they were feeding them with.
A guise for corporate control
MASIPAG believes that while VAD is a serious concern, there have been cheap, practical and viable ways to address the issue that have contributed to its decline. In fact, the percentage of children aged 0-5 years with VAD have already decreased to about 15% in 2008, mainly from the Department of Health (DOH) interventions such as Vitamin A supplementation and food fortification.
“We have many traditional food and crops that are rich in Vitamin A,” said Virgie Nazareno, a MASIPAG farmer from General Nakar, Quezon. “We do not need Golden Rice, what we need is access to these nutritious and safe foods.”
MASIPAG has been at the forefront of the sustainable agriculture movement in the country for almost 30 years putting emphasis on developing food security among the resource-poor farmers in the country.
“So if we have an abundant source of Vitamin A-rich foods, and that the government has so far successful in addressing VAD, why push for Golden Rice?” asked Nazareno. “We believe that Golden Rice, whose research has been hijacked by agrochemical company Syngenta, is meant to gain control over our rice and agriculture.”
Golden Rice is largely tied with patenting issues, which could jeopardize millions of farmers who rely on free sharing, saving and improvement of seeds. Syngenta, while claiming that the Golden Rice will be made royalty-free for farmers earning ten thousand dollars or less a year, has not yet relinquished their more than 70 patents to the Golden Rice technology.
“That alone is highly suspicious, and which should serve as caution to us farmers,” said Diego Dela Cruz, Jr. a farmer from Agusan del Sur, and a prolific rice breeder of MASIPAG. “When these companies get hold of our seeds, poor farmers will have to buy seeds again and again, leaving us dependent on these TNCs. We cannot trust these corporations who are willing to endanger millions of farmers and consumers just to gain profit.”
Golden Rice will not solve hunger and malnutrition
“Micronutrient deficiencies are largely observed among children in poor families since they cannot afford a well-balanced diet,” asserts Dr. Medina. “In that case, Golden Rice is not the solution; what is needed rather is the peoples’ access to resources.”
MASIPAG further asserts that the solution to hunger and malnutrition lies in comprehensive approaches to ensure food security and not thru market or profit-oriented approaches. Golden Rice will never solve VAD but would only strengthen this status quo, benefiting only those interested in controlling the nation’s agriculture sector. ###
MASIPAG is a farmer-led network of people’s organizations, non-government organizations and scientists working towards the sustainable use and management of biodiversity through farmers’ control of genetic and biological resources, agricultural production and associated knowledge. Our main mission is to improve the quality of life of resource-poor farmers.
We are looking for a regional coordinator for our unit in Mindanao who will manage the operations of MASIPAG in Mindanao together with the Regional Project Management Team. The Regional Coordinator coordinates and oversees the activities of member-organizations, provincial bodies, non-government organizations and local scientists. S/he reports to the Regional Project Management Team and the National Executive Committee of MASIPAG.
Duties and Responsibilities
- Coordinate region-wide activities of POs, NGOs, local scientist and members of MASIPAG in the region
- Build network and link with other Sustainable Agriculture advocates and partners.
- Facilitate quarterly meetings of the Regional Project Management Team (RPMT).
- Monitor, evaluate and feedback on the status of the network plan implementation with the RPMT.
- Represent the region in the Executive Committee meetings and other national and regional activities of MASIPAG.
- Supervise regional staff.
- Catalyze/facilitate/oversee day-to-day implementation of the Regional Plan.
- Submits quarterly report to the Regional Project Management Team and the Executive Committee.
- Perform tasks delegated by the chairperson of the RPMT.
Knowledge, Skills and Abilities
- Pro-farmer; must be familiar with MASIPAG’s work.
- Knowledge about sustainable agriculture, a degree in Agriculture or related fields is preferable.
- Knowledge and appreciation of the issues being promoted and confronted by MASIPAG.
- A team player
- With excellent organizing and facilitation skills
- With excellent project administration and management skills
- Must have technical skills on Report and Proposal writing
- Must have networking and negotiation skills
- With proven dedication to her/his work
- Willing to travel to different provinces within the region
Interested parties please email applications and CV directly to:
Dr. Chito Medina
November 13 – MASIPAG Board Member Francis Morales (fondly called Tatay or Father Francis) passed away Wednesday night due to acute lymphocytic leukemia. An environmental activist, 63-year old Francis has tirelessly worked for environmental protection, climate justice, sustainable agriculture and peoples’ rights.
According to Mindanews, Francis has just came home from Tacloban City where he participated in a conference commemorating the first anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda. He was supposed to share the situation of the survivors of Typhoons Pablo and Sendong, but was already suffering from fever and chills.
Francis was the Executive Director of Balsa Mindanao which was formed after the succession of super-typhoons in Mindanao and was aimed to mobilize people’s networks for relief and rehabilitation, and calls for people’s disaster response and climate justice. He also served as the Advocacy Officer for the MASIPAG Mindanao regional office until 2006 where he helped in the various campaigns against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), development aggression projects such as mining and plantation and aerial spraying among others. In 2007 he was selected by the MASIPAG General Assembly as one of the NGO representatives in the Board of Trustees.
“We in MASIPAG, farmers and staff alike, are saddened by Francis’ sudden demise,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator for MASIPAG. “His wholehearted dedication to fighting for peoples’ rights will serve as inspiration to us all.”
Francis is survived by his wife Nena Morales and daughter Raray. #
Farmer-Scientist Group Call for Safe Food and Organic Agriculture Support
October 16 – Smallholder farmers from various provinces in the country will be commemorating World Food Day by expressing their rejection of genetically modified food while drawing attention to the valuable impact of organic agriculture. Members of the farmer-scientist group MASIPAG will be holding a wide range of activities from Luzon to Mindanao including mass actions, public forum, media conferences and organic food and products display, among others.
“This year’s World Food Day theme is about family farming, and their significant role in achieving food security, sustainable livelihoods and rural development,” said Cris Panerio, regional coordinator for MASIPAG-Luzon. “Yet, our very own small-scale farmers continue to face threats from genetically modified organisms such as the GM corn and Golden Rice.”
MASIPAG is a 29-year old network of farmers, scientists and non-government organizations pushing for farmer-led sustainable agriculture and farmer empowerment. Member farmers of MASIPAG have achieved varying degrees of success in organic agriculture where members have been able to improve farm production through the combination of using locally adapted rice varieties, farm diversification and advocacy for better community legislations and programs.
“Through sustainable agriculture and organic farming, not only were we able to improve our farm production, but it also helped us farmers become an important part of community development,” said Carlito Seguiro, MASIPAG Chairman and a farmer from Negros Occidental. “We are able to assert our inherent rights against technologies and projects that could harm our farm, our health and our livelihood.”
MASIPAG has also figured in the campaign against Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice that will supposedly address Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. Golden Rice has been field tested in the Philippines in anticipation of its eventual commercialization. After the intense opposition from various farmers and consumers groups, including the uprooting of the clandestine field trial in Camarines Sur, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) postponed the commercialization, citing the failure of Golden Rice to produce better yields.
“Genetically modified crops such as the Golden Rice are direct threats to sustainable agriculture,” said Mamerto Pado, Chairman of MASIPAG in Camarines Sur. “GM crops can potentially harm our environment, from which poor farmers are dependent for natural resources; and GM foods can harm our health.”
No benefits from GMOs
GMOs are considered by many experts as potentially harmful due to the possible unintended effects that could occur. Incidences of GM crops contaminating non-GM crops have been documented in several countries, including the United States and Canada. Scientific studies on the health impacts of GM crops have also been conducted showing alarming effects among laboratory animals. These studies have been largely ignored and discredited by GM transnational companies.
“GMOs are a technological fix that is meant to address complicated problems with just a single solution,” said Dr. Chito Medina, MASIPAG National Coordinator. “Consider the Golden Rice – it is only meant to address Vitamin A Deficiency when in fact, the problem on malnutrition involves other nutrients as well, which is caused by the lack of access to safe and sufficient food.”
Speaking from the ongoing Organic World Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, Dr. Medina claimed that only the giant agrochemical companies benefit from the profits of GMO seeds and chemical inputs, while leaving the smallholder and family farmers poorer and hungrier.
“It is not enough to celebrate the essential role of smallholder farmers during World Food Day,” said Dr. Medina. “What is more urgent and important is to address the threats to their food security.”
Filipino farmers against GMOs
In Luzon, farmers from Camarines Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan and Quezon will be putting up “GMO-Free” signboards in their organic farms, to encourage farmers and communities to protect their rice and other crops from the expansion of GMOs. Farmers also encourage communities to call for ban GM crops and products in their food and agricultural farms.
In Iloilo City, a trade fair of organic products will be conducted to showcase the food diversity of Ilonggos that are sure sources of vitamins and minerals.
Simultaneous mass mobilizations in different rice-growing areas in Mindanao are slated to call on the Department of Agriculture not to allow the commercialization of golden rice. Other activities in four municipalities in Mindanao include forum on golden rice and organic agriculture, organic food and products fair, press conference, concert, cultural presentations (reading of poems on organic agriculture composed by farmers), t-shirts printing, dissemination of campaign materials, sharing of farmers’ practices and innovations, boodle fight, and opening of organic trading post.
“We decided to conduct these activities on the occasion of the world food day celebration because we want to generate a strong public opposition against golden rice which we believe is a poison disguised as food,” said Diego Dela Cruz, chairman of the advocacy committee of MASIPAG. “We are also maximizing this popular global event to popularize further organic agriculture, the future of food,” he added. ###