“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein
Early this July, a spate of news from pro-GMO camps (which includes IRRI and Mark Lynas) struck the headlines wherein they praised the report made by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine regarding safety of GM crops. According to the news, the elite panel concluded that no ‘substantiated’ evidence exists that genetically engineered crops have caused health problems in humans or damaged the environment. Alongside this is the letter by more than 100 Nobel laureates urging environmental group Greenpeace to cease and desist from its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and food improved through biotechnology in general.
It is as if the earth’s vanguards of ‘science’ has united to finally put an end to the debate on GM crops. As what Mark Lynas has said, the issue on GM crops are now been definitively put to bed.
But let us tell you our experience.
The Philippines is being hailed as the first country in Asia to have commercialized GM corn. To date, GM corn is being grown to more than 700 thousand hectares of agricultural land, more than one fourth of the total area devoted for corn. About 8 varieties of GM corn are approved for planting, which includes mainly herbicide tolerant and insect resistant varieties. Since 2003, the government has allowed the importation of more than 70 kinds of GM products for food, feed and processing. The country has also become the launching pad of IRRI’s Green Revolution, a strategy posed to curb hunger and poverty among rice growing nations in Asia. The Golden Rice Project is also housed in IRRI. Proponents have also hailed the Philipines as the country to emulate having one of the strictest biosafety regulation.
So how is the Philippines faring? We have been a net importer of rice for so many decades. The Green Revolution fostered by IRRI resulted to displacement of traditional and improved rice varieties, changed the culture of self-reliance and food security among farmers while chemical inputs poisoned the land, water and our bodies. Farmers planting GM corn have become more indebted due to high input costs coupled by low incomes. Traditional corn varieties, a staple of farming communities and indigenous groups, are now contaminated with GM corn traits. Every year, millions of liters of pesticide Glyphosate are being used and poured over hectares of GM corn farms all over the country exposing farmer communities to the carcinogen.
The Supreme Court of the Philippines, in its ruling against the field trials of Bt eggplant, said that the administrative order on GMOs failed in meeting the public participation requirement of the Cartagena Protocol and the country’s National Biosafety Framework, having all the badges of a ‘greenwash’: merely an exhibition of symbolic compliance to environmental and biosafety policy. Add to this the lack of independent health and environmental studies to ascertain safety of the GM product. Consultations to create a democratic, science-based and pro-farmer policy on GMOs was railroaded, as the country became hostage to of the import-dependent livestock industry rushing to secure imported GM soya. Proponents have, for years, been pushing for the commercialization of Golden Rice, amidst proven alternatives and interventions leading to a 22.8% decline of VAD cases from 38% in 1998 to only 15.2% cases in 2008.
Thus it should not be a surprise that farmers and consumers in the Philippines are clamoring against the continued promotion and introduction of GMOs.
It is quite ironic that the very same institutions and corporations that basically created the conditions which robbed the farmers of their primary role to produce food for the people, are now putting themselves in the position to impose solutions that will create more dependence, more hunger and poverty for the farmers. Farmers are starving and poor, not because of the lack of technologies to increase productivity, but because companies have so much control of the agriculture system that the farmers lost their ability to decide on how they will produce food. Corporate science is now being used to subdue the powerless and the disenfranchised.
While corporations are spending billions of dollars to develop new GM crops, farmers are slowly realizing their important taks to fulfill their role in securing food. They are now in the forefront of addressing issues on climate change, market-led and chemical-intensive agriculture, and neoliberal policies. Farmer-led initiatives such as breeding climate-resilient varieties, alternative marketing systems, community seed banking and diversification of food crops are far more sustainable, contributes to their empowerment, and addresses the social determinants of health.
It is no surprise that soon, IRRI and its partners in the life science industry will once again renew its push for the commercialization of Golden Rice. Which is why we need to continually engage and expose their distorted paradigm of addressing food security, in turn to also help the people decide to take the path to sustainability and food sovereignty.###
Davao City – Inspired by the courage and determination of the small-scale farmers, especially the Lumads, the participants of the 9th MASIPAG General Assembly strengthened their resolve to push for a just society where farmers and indigenous peoples can genuinely exercise their rights to food, livelihood and self-determination.
Farmers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao gathered in the Tugbok District in Davao City for the General Assembly (GA) with the theme “Sulong MASIPAG! Sama-samang harapin ang pagbabago ng panahon sa pagkamit ng makatarungan at maunlad na lipunan” (“Onward MASIPAG! Collectively Confront the Challenges of Climate Change and Push for Justice and Genuine Development in Our Society”). Discussions on the important issues faced by small-scale farmers such as climate change and increased corporate control on agriculture were held, as well as workshops on how farmers can address these issues through sustainable farming practices and advocacies.
Various organizational matters were also settled during the GA, including the election of a new set of Board of Trustees (BOT).
Facing Climate Change
Prior to the GA proper, a conference was held at Ateneo De Davao University to discuss the various measures that small-scale farmers can undertake to build resilience against the effects of climate change. More than 200 farmers, members of the academe and development organizations who attended the said conference agreed that agroecological practices such as farmer –saved seeds, indigenous knowledge, bayanihan (communal work) and education are proven to be practical, low cost and sustainable in ensuring food amidst the changing climate.
“MASIPAG has been supporting and developing sustainable agriculture practices to help farmers cope with the changing climate,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPG. “For 30 years, we have collected more than 1,000 traditional rice varieties, and a thousand more MASIPAG and farmer-bred varieties which are then selected or used as parent materials for breeding rice varieties that will suit their needs. Thru this practice of farmer-led breeding and selection, MASIPAG farmers has identified more than 70 types of climate change resilient varieties that can withstand drought, flooding and saltwater intrusion and pests.”
Apart from climate change resilient seeds that can lessen the impacts of climate change, MASIPAG farmers are also encouraging other farmers to diversify their crops and integrate the different farm components to make their farm sustainable and resilient to the changing climate.
Dr Medina added that “it is high time for farmers to veer away from chemical and capital-intensive agriculture. In our experience, farmers are more resilient from the effects of climate change when they shifted to agroecological practices. Thru the ‘no regrets adaptation’, farmers are ensured of food and income even if the weather is very unpredictable.”
The call to face climate change and prepare against its effects through farmer-led and farmer-centered agroecological solutions resonated through the whole GA.
Farmers challenged by climate change
“Climate change is one of the hardest challenges that poor farmers like us are facing right now,” said Carlito Seguiro, MASIPAG Chairman of the Board during his keynote speech. “We saw the effects of climate change-related calamities such as super typhoons which wiped out our resources and livelihoods, and caused deaths among thousands.”
“The recent drought spell that caused the failure of agricultural production in many areas was particularly fatal to the farmers of Kidapawan in North Cotabato,” Carlito added. “Farmers who were calling for the support and subsidies from the local government were met with violence during their picket rally and resulted to two deaths many injured, and dozens arrested.”
Carlito was referring to the 6000-strong protest in Kidapawan last April where drought-affected farmers trooped to the local government for support and release of subsidies. The province of North Cotabato has declared a state of calamity since early in 2016 due to the intense drought.
Carlito went on to call for a stronger unity against corporations and industries who are the worst polluters but are refusing accountability in cleaning up the environment or reducing carbon emissions.
Stronger organization achieving common goals
“Meanwhile, in 2015, organizational changes have also challenged MASIPAG,” said Carlito, referring to the dissociation of former staff and Regional Project Managament Team (RPMT) members from MASIPAG Mindanao. “As a huge, dynamic network, we have our share of healthy disagreements and differences of opinion. But always, we put our faith and trust on our common vision, mission, goals, objectives and principles in resolving these differences and maintaining a united and solid network that serves the interest of poor farmers and aim for genuine development.”
A new team in Mindanao headed by the Regional Coordinator Leo XL Fuentes Jr. has been established and has since then focused on consolidating POs and NGOs, including indigenous peoples’ (IPs) groups. In particular, initiatives have been undertaken to consolidate IP organizations who fled their homes and farms due to increased militarization in the areas. Among these are the farmers and IPs from the TIKULPA (Tinunanon Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghiusa) PO in White Kulaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon who have long cultivated the fertile soils of Arakan Valley through sustainable means.
New set of BOT
During the organizational meeting , resolutions were also put forward to support ongoing campaigns against GMOs, mining, landgrabbing and landlessness, climate change and corporate control on agriculture. After a thorough and intense discussion on the organizational issue in Mindanao, a unity statement was also drafted, and signed on by the GA.
One of the highlights of the GA is the election of the new Board of Trustees. The new BOT members are: Pepito Babasa, Marcelino Dela Rosa, Tranquilino Pillado Jr., Elpidio Paglomutan and Jofrey Frinal from the farmers; Karen Faith Villaprudente and Casilda Galagala from the NGOs; and Dr. Jaime Cabarles Jr. and Prof. Marion Tan from the scientists.
A tribute was paid to the late MASIPAG leaders and members, including former BOT member Francis Morales. A seed exchange and a cultural night also took place during the GA.#
In the wake of ‘El Nino Massacre’ in North Cotabato
IRRI’s 2nd Green Revolution a failure, Filipino farmers still hungry and poor
Los Baños, Laguna – On IRRI’s 56th anniversary, farmer-scientist group MASIPAG called on the institution to immediately shut down its operations in the Philippines as it failed miserably to address the impacts of climate change resulting to deeper hunger and poverty. Last Friday, farmers coming from North Cotabato and nearby provinces in Mindanao held a barricade in Kidapawan City to call for rice subsidy as most of the farms were affected by the drought brought about by El Nino. Instead of addressing the farmers concerns, the protest was met by gunfire, with three farmers confirmed dead and scores of farmers, and possibly women and children, wounded.
“IRRI for 56 years fave failed the Filipinos! For many decades it has lured the farmers in using modern but high-input rice varieties that will supposedly ease the hunger of farmers. It did not even contented itself with its first Green Revolution, it is now promoting a Second Green Revolution purpotedly to address the effects of climate change on rice. But none of these grandiose projects has really lifted the lives and livelihood of the farmers. The Filipino farmers are still among the poorest and hungry among Asia” said Dr Chito Medina, national Coordinator of farmer-scientist group MASIPAG.
MASIPAG calls for the immediate closure of IRRI stating that the first Green Revolution wreaked havoc among the Filipino farmers. Thru the Green Revolution, farmers incurred huge amouts of debts as IRRI shifted the farmers sustainable agriculture practices into dependency to expensive external inputs such as modern seeds and chemical fertilizers. The small farmers were left behind, as huge agrochemical TNCs and local businessmen gained and reaped the profit from the sale of seeds and other off-farm inputs such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides. With the Green Revolution, the farmers became entrapped with the high-cost and chemical-intensive agriculture system made worse by the abuse of loan sharks and huge rice cartels. In the end, the farmers who have been feeding the nation are food and financially poor.
“Erosion of rice genetic diversity was drastic, with rice varieties in Philippines totaling to more than 4,000 were wiped-out and replaced by a few high-input varieties with narrow genetic bases. Rice varieties that have been part of the Filipino culture, whose traits that we as a country may benefit in this worsening climate, are now secured and controlled by IRRI. They are the ones who are profiting and gaining from our rice varieties” said Carlito Seguiro, MASIPAG’s Chairperson and farmer-leader in the province of Negros.
The Green Revolution also affected the soil’s capacity to regenerate. “In the advent of the Green Revolution our healthy soil, which is the foundation of our food production, is becoming sterile as farmers are trying to raise yield by putting more and more fertilizers. Now the soil is acidic and very much degraded. We have to apply more and more fertilizers just to achieve the yield that we need in order to recover from our expenses” added Seguiro. Studies have also shown that the use of fertilizers, such as urea, greatly contributed to the release of greenhouse gases (GHG) contributing to global warming.
IRRI’s Second Green Revolution – the failure of the First Green Revolution continues
MASIPAG criticized the Second Green Revolution as a rehash of the First Green Revolution. IRRI is at it again by prescribing rice varieties with a narrow genetic base, but this time with selected climate tolerant traits such as ‘submarine’ rice. These varieties, and the way it is being promoted, are likely to fail as it is very prone to selective pressures due to the unpredictability of the weather. Apart from high-input climate tolerant varieties, it will also promote genetically modified rice varieties such as Golden Rice and C4 rice, a GMO whose energy production can be found in corn supposedly making it more efficient and tolerant to drought. With this new program, IRRI is geared to reach farther and wider that it did during the first Green Revolution.
“With the unpredictability of the changing climate, farmers have no means of telling whether or not their farms will be affected. IRRI, however, is at it again by using ‘high-science’ by transferring climate resilient traits derived from existing rice varieties into high-input varieties. As no one can really tell when or where the impacts of climate change will hit, aside from identifying climate tolerant varieties farmers are also using nature’s strength by relying on diversity. They are planting several varieties of rice with different traits and characteristics as insurance on whatever impacts the climate may bring them. This is farmer-led agriculture coping with the changing climate” added Medina.
MASIPAG has been establishing local seed banks and trial farms protected and cared by small farmers to help them cope with climate change. It has also been teaching farmers to diversify their crops, promote organic agriculture, and to strengthen farmers’ network so that they may help each other in times of difficulties and calamities.
MASIPAG said that IRRI is repeating its mistake by making farmers dependent on modern but input-dependent technologies controlled by huge multinational companies in agriculture.
“The truth is while IRRI at one level may have succeeded in increasing the yield of rice, but it failed in eradicating poverty and hunger as these technologies are very much expensive for the farmers. Most of the time they don’t even have rice for their families, such as what happened to farmers in North Cotabato. They are dying of hunger. We are thus calling for the immediate shut down of IRRI and no to another Green Revolution for failing the Filipino people” added Dr Medina. ###
Farmer-Scientist Group Condemns Kidapawan Carnage, Demands for Immediate Relief to Farmers affected by El Nino
DAVAO CITY PHILIPPINES — Farmer-Scientist group MASIPAG seriously condemns the violent dispersal of the four-day farmers’ barricade in Kidapawan City last April 1, 2016. Also dubbed as the ‘El Nino Massacre’, the carnage in Kidapawan North Cotabato claimed at least three lives, seriously wounded ten people, and injured more than a hundred with more still missing due to the violent dispersal.
“We condemn in strongest terms this state brutalities inflicted against our poor farmers and indigenous peoples who asked for rice amidst the hunger brought by El Nino” in a statement by Leo XL Fuentes, MASIPAG Mindanao’s Regional Coordinator.
As early as January various provinces in Mindanao, including North Cotabato, declared a state of calamity as El Nino severely scorched farmlands leaving farmers without harvest or food for their families. Farmers from different municipalities of North Cotabato called for the release of 15, 000 sacks of rice and access the calamity fund to provide immediate relief for their hungry families. While it is reported that millions of pesos were available for the said calamity, these however did not reach the needy farmers.
The network also criticized the national government for its neglect and inaction, saying that as early as 2015, weather advisories have already warned about El Nino and the severe impact it may bring to the agriculture industry.
“The demand for calamity assistance and rice subsidy is more than legitimate and in fact it is the state’s duty and responsibility for its people. The consistent neglect and inaction of the local government unit and various government agencies to address the impacts of El Nino had forced the farmers to put-up a barricade in order to call the attention of the local officials” Fuentes added.
As the negotiations collapsed due to the refusal of the government to provide rice to hungry farmers, a five minute ultimatum was given by the police and subsequently dispersed the protesting farmers with water cannons and truncheons. After which, farmers heard gunshots and saw some of their companions already wounded or dead. To date, about 6,000 farmers and their families are now holed up at the United Methodist Church compound as police forces have reportedly cordoned the area.
“This only exposes how the government and its policies are detached to the plight our people. Why is it so hard for this government to provide food to our tillers in times like this? If they can fire bullets, which cost as much as a kilo of rice, why then that they cannot simply release the rice intended for calamity victims? It is with deep sadness to see state forces shooting at our hungry and needy farmers, the sector we owe for our daily food. We are calling for an impartial and independent investigation on the matter and that justice may be served to the farmers” said Fuentes.
MASIPAG also expresses its condolences to the victims and their families and solidarity to the remaining farmers that are reported to be unjustly detained in a church in Kidapawan. The network is also calling for the immediate resolution of the matter. ###
MASIPAG stands solid and true to its mission of serving the small-scale farmers in Mindanao. Helping to ensure the steadfast commitment of empowering farmers and their communities for a better society are Marlon Recidoro, MASIPAG-Mindanao’s Regional Project Management Team (RPMT) Chairperson and Leo “XL” Fuentes, Regional Coordinator.
Marlon is an organic farmer from South Cotabato and is currently the Vice-President of the farmer’s organization Sto Niño Integrated Farmers Association (SINFA). Marlon practices diversified farming in his San Isidro hometown.
Leo, or more commonly known as XL, is an advocate of Sustainable Agriculture. He earned his degree in Agriculture at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. Aside from being an organic food enthusiast (he manages an organic café in his hometown Compostela Valley), XL also currently writes for DavaoToday.Com in the column GreenMinded: Thoughts on Philippine Agriculture Today.
Along with the rest of the RPMT, Marlon and XL are focused on further strengthening the peoples’ organizations (PO) members of MASIPAG. Already, they have conducted several trainings and orientations among the POs to fortify their sustainable agriculture production and reinvigorate their commitment for genuine rural development.#