Protect Farmers’ Rights, End Rice Crisis Now!

The BIGAS Conference is a historical event where farmers gather to look for solutions to address agricultural crises. The first BIGAS Conference in 1985 gave birth to the MASIPAG network.

Quezon City – Around 150 farmers, scientists and NGOs from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao gathered together for a week-long series of activities that raised the call to address the current rice crisis and stop the attacks on farmers and development workers that are vital in the realization of food security in the country.

From April 2 to April 6, MASIPAG members, along with partners and friends exposed the various challenges that farmers and food producers all over the country are facing, including persistent landlessness and the vicious attacks to peasants and farmers. MASIPAG likewise condemned the Rice Tariffication Law, believing that it will cause the downfall of the local agriculture sector, particularly the rice producers, from the onslaught of cheap, imported rice. It is expected also that that this deluge of imported products might include possibly unsafe genetically modified rice that will be made available to the consumers.

MASIPAG along with its allies likewise hit the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its relevance to the Filipino small-scale farmers. IRRI was established in the 1960s to supposedly bring development to the agricultural production in the Philippines and Asia. Yet, from the high-yielding varieties to the genetically modified Golden Rice, their technologies still fail to address the most basic problems of the poor farmers.

Farmers are also currently facing worsening drought, a manifestation of climate change that will also kill off the farmers and the industry. Already, more than Php 4 Billion pesos worth of damages were reportedly incurred with the onset of drought in many agricultural areas.

Hope in the Hands of the Farmers

Despite this bleak reality, a farmers-scientists network remain committed to promoting alternatives that will improve the agricultural productivity of resource-poor farmers and protect the peoples’ rights to safe food and balanced environment.

The week-long series of activities showcased not only these programs and practices on sustainable agriculture, farmer-led research, climate change resiliency and farmer empowerment, but also to express their solidarity to farmers, human rights defenders and development workers who work tirelessly to achieve food security and protect the country’s food sovereignty.

The following activities were held to much success:

APRIL 2: Book launching of Stories of Struggle: Experiences of Land Reform in Negros Island
Written by researchers and academician from Australia and the Philippines, the book features the experience of farmers assisted by theorganization of Atty Ben Ramos, the slain human rights defender.

APRIL 3: 3rd Bigas Conference (Bahanggunian ng mga Isyu Hinggil sa Bigas)
Response of farmers, scientists and NGOs on the ongoing rice crisis and ways forward.

 

 

APRIL 4: Mass Action against IRRI and the rice crisis
Farmers trooped to protest against the rice crisis and IRRI (International Rice Research Institute), which was celebrating their 59th anniversary.

APRIL 5-6: MASIPAG 10th General Assembly
An organizational activity to celebrate MASIPAG’s more than 30 years of service to Filipino farmers through its sustainable agriculture programs.

Rep. Ariel Casilao served as the Keynote Speaker during the opening program of the 10th General Assembly.

Community dance during the solidarity night

During the GA, a new set of Board of Trustees (BOT) was elected with the following results:

BOT Chair: Elpidio Paglumotan (Farmer from Negros)
Secretary: Karen Faith Villaprudente (NGO rep)
Treasurer: Marion Tan (Scientist)
Members: Pepito Babasa (Farmer from Camarines Sur)
Joffrey Frinal (Farmer from South Cotabato)
Casilda Galagala (NGO)
Ramile Jagodilla, (Farmer from Capiz)
Virginia Nazareno (Farmer from Quezon)
Dr. Rose Sambo (Scientist)

MASIPAG pays tribute to the farmers and leaders who recently passed away.

Archbishop Stephan Burger blesses the seeds that were shared and exchanged among the farmers.

Among the highlights of the GA included the tribute to MASIPAG leaders and farmers who passed away, including Atty Ben Ramos and BOT member Marcelino Dela Rosa. A solemn seed exchange was also held, which was made more meaningful with the blessing officiated by Misereor Chairman Archbishop Stephan Burger. #

Farmers declare GM Free Farms on World Consumers Day

On the occasion of World Consumers Day, farmers, scientists and consumers challenged the national government to promote safe, sufficient and affordable food by repealing the Rice Tariffication law and stop the planned commercialization of GMO Rice or Golden Rice. Farmers, who are consumers as well, will bear the brunt of these new policies and programs in the rice sector.

As a response, farmers in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao declared their farms GM Free by setting-up signages in their plots and gardens. It is hoped that more farmers and consumers will follow suit by declaring their farms GM Free due to the possible introduction of Golden Rice, a GM crop slated for commercialization in the country. Farmers and consumers are also gearing up for the possible impacts to rice price and incomes brought about by the unlimited importation of rice from other countries.

Last July 18 and 20, 2018, a public consultation was held at the City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija and San Mateo, Isabela wherein Philrice has asked for the Local Government Unit for the approval of the field testing of the said GM crop in their areas. Golden Rice is genetically modified with genes from bacteria and corn for the crop to produce beta carotene. Proponents said that Golden Rice will be used to address Vitamin A deficiency among women and children.It is now geared to be made available to farmers and consumers.

However, questions on safety, efficacy and necessity of Golden Rice are persistent. Despite the agrochemical industry, IRRI and the Golden Rice proponents’ claim, the safety of genetic engineering remains disputed with negative experiences from laboratories, people’s health and farms are piling up.

Mr Cris Panerio, National Coordinator of Farmers and Scientist for the Development of Agriculture (MASIPAG), pointed that because Golden Rice is genetically modified, it may produce unintended effects to those who will eat it. “No independent safety test was done to first establish its potential for allergenicity or toxicity. Worse, to determine if Golden Rice will deliver Vitamin A, efficacy tests will be conducted among the Filipino women and children after Golden Rice is approved by government regulators.”

Meanwhile, President Durterte recently approved the Rice Tariffication Law. It assures the lifting of importation restriction by focusing on increasing rice imports thereby impacting the local agriculture sector. The said law would also expose the country’s vulnerability to higher world market prices and volatile rice production of other countries. Furthermore, opening the country to rice imports amid a weakening local agriculture could also worsen the already poor situation of Filipino rice producers.

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) slammed this law. In a press statement, the group said that the law “is equivalent to death sentence for the local rice industry and rice farmers. The law will directly affect 13.5 million palay farmers and their families, 17.5 millon farm workers, 20,000 rice retailers and more then 10 million Filipinos consumers dependent on NFA rice.” While the government promises for cheaper rice, the Php 27 per kilo of rice being sold by the NFA will be phased out leaving consumers at the mercy of the unstable rice price in the market.

Unsafe, patented food, and neoliberal measures is aggressively forcing their way to settle in the county amid the strong and growing community resistance from farmers, consumers and many other groups. Panerio said, “widespread poverty continues to be a big problem in the country and Filipino children continue to be afflicted by various forms of malnutrition. We need a viable agriculture program to address this problem”. Panerio also added, “by developing resilient and bountiful food-production system based on sustainable agriculture is one way to food security. Thru sustainable and organic agriculture production, farmers can benefit from this thru lesser costs in inputs and seeds. Local marketing and processing of products also increases farmers incomes. However, resources such as land, seed, water and appropriate technologies are needed for food security to be achieved. The Philippines should also consider its stand on the World Trade Organization – Agreement on Agriculture’s prescription on our agricultural policies and programs.”

Continuous protest actions are planned to prevent the commercialization of Golden Rice and to junk the Rice Tariffication Law.

Photos of farmers in their GM-Free Farms can be found here, here and here. ##

Farmer-scientist group assert rice tariffication law will not address food security

PRESS STATEMENT

February 21, 2019

 

Los Banos, Laguna – Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG joins the national indignation against the recent signing into law of the Rice Tariffication Bill. MASIPAG believes it will be the nail to the coffin of small farmers and the rice industry and will not solve food insecurity in the country.

Despite being an agricultural country – famed for the rice terraces in the North, and host to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) – the Philippines has become one of the top rice importers, importing rice from neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. This is part of the country’s obligation under the World Trade Organization (WTO) whose trade agreements impose the opening up of the domestic markets for goods and services from other member countries. However, far from improving the conditions of the farmers, and uplifting the sector, agricultural liberalization managed only to achieve the opposite. Under the new law, the quantitative restrictions of importing rice will be replaced by a tariffication system of 35% (grains from Southeast Asia) or 180% from non-ASEAN World Trade Organization (WTO) members. The QRs serve to set a limit to the volume of imported rice, and as such serve to protect the poor farmers from the uneven competition. With the passing of the law, the deluge of cheap, imported rice will spell disaster for the resource-poor, small-scale farmers who are already suffering from dismal production, low farmgate prices and lack of appropriate support from the government.

Yet, instead of providing the necessary support to the Filipino farmers to be able to increase production and level the playing field, the government continues to shirk away from its responsibilities in ensuring rice self-sufficiency and food security. The President himself has been previously quoted saying that the country can never achieve rice self-sufficiency while the agriculture department has ventured into rice production in Papua New Guinea.

Food security has always been problematic in the Philippines. With chemical-based agriculture as the dominant production system, farmers are trapped in a cycle of expensive production cost and unpredictable yields. They cannot rely on the government, through the National Food Authority (NFA) to buy their yields at a fair price. The agriculture sector is also always vulnerable to natural disasters such as typhoons, floods and drought making it more difficult for the farmers to produce enough food. Food insecurity is made worse for both the producers and the consumers with the systemic corruption and supposed existence of the rice cartel controlling the market prices of rice.

The complexities of food insecurity cannot be addressed by rice tariffication, in fact it will further worsen. The Php 4-7 supposed decrease in price will not matter much since other basic food and goods are heavily taxed. To ensure the affordable cost of rice, the government should provide ample and appropriate support for the farmers. For comparison, the government support provided for farmers in Vietnam amounts to USD 1.1 billion, while in Thailand, the agriculture sector receives USD 4.4 billion. Meanwhile, Filipino farmers only received USD 190 million for support, and with the decrease in role of the National Food Authority (NFA), farmers will be at the mercy of private traders. There is no guarantee of a reliable supply of cheap, imported rice since governments of Vietnam and Thailand can implement a ban on exporting rice, as was the experience in 2007-2008.

Addressing food security will need a comprehensive solution, starting from junking the law that removed the quantitative restrictions and allows for rice tariffication. Conversion of agricultural lands to commercial and industrial uses should likewise cease, and instead let these agricultural lands be used for staple food crops for the Filipinos. Small-scale, resource-poor farmers will also benefit more from using sustainable agricultural production where they can save from inputs by using their own local seeds and developing their own organic fertilizers and pesticides.

We urge the government to repeal the law on rice tariffication and focus instead on the genuine development of the rice industry. MASIPAG farmers’ experience show that rice self-sufficiency can be achieved using sustainable and appropriate technologies such as sustainable agriculture. We likewise call for the immediate resolution to the land struggles suffered by small-scale farmers over the country — only when farmers have access and control over this resource can we truly attain food security. #

Beware of the GMO trap! Golden Rice release in Bangladesh a marketing tool for GMOs

Press Release

 


February 13 – The impending release of Golden Rice in Bangladesh will signal the surge of more genetically modified food threatening local and traditional agriculture systems, asserted Stop Golden Rice Network (SGRN), an Asia wide farmers’, consumers’ and activists network asserted.

According to SGRN, a network of more than 30 organizations in South and Southeast Asia, the genetically modified Golden Rice will not address the issue of Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) rather create more problems for the poor. The fundamental, underlying cause of these deficiencies is undiversified, low quality diet that tangled with unavailability and inaccessibility of diversified food especially among low income family that cannot be fix with techno-fixes like Golden Rice.

“Proponents are using Golden Rice not as solution to micronutrient deficiency, but as a marketing tool for other GMOs that will only benefit the agrochemical companies that develop them,” said Cris Panerio, National Coordinator of MASIPAG and lead convenor of SGRN. “Promoted as a ‘humanitarian’ project, Golden Rice will try to condition the acceptance of the people to unsafe and unnecessary crops.”

Despite having a near-insignificant amount of beta-carotene, Golden Rice is heralded as the solution to VAD prevalent among children and women in developing countries such as Bangladesh and the Philippines. In its 2018 approval, the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) concluded that “the level of beta-carotene in Golden Rice is too low to warrant a nutrient content claim.” Sweet potato that can even be grown in non-arable highlands of Bangladesh has almost 50 times higher beta-carotene level compared to Golden Rice.

“The Ministry of Agriculture in Bangladesh cites the safety approvals of Golden Rice from US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and expect people to accept Golden Rice based from that merit,” said Shibli Anowar of the Labour Resource Center (LRC) Bangladesh. “Yet they ignore this glaring admission of the potential failure of Golden Rice and knowingly put at stake the health and the lives of our children and mothers.”

LRC, along with Bangladesh Krishok Federation, Bangladesh Bhumihin Samity, Bangladesh Kishani Sabha and Bangladesh Adivasi Samity are holding a human chain and demonstration today at the National Press Club in Dhaka to express their apprehensions with the planned release of Golden Rice.

“There are plenty of vegetables and fruits in our country which are rich in Vitamin A, especially yellow and green vegetables and fruits,” added Anowar. “There is no need for Golden Rice.”

Golden Rice is also slated to be field-tested in the Philippines, while recent reports indicate that it will be widely propagated in Bangladesh soon. However, concerns remain on the lack of credible and independent safety studies, transparency and public participation. Regulatory processes are flawed and appear to lean on accommodating and facilitating the approvals of Golden Rice rather than serving to ensure the safety of the public and the environment.

A strategy to introduce more GMOs

A 2018 CGIAR document shows the various crops that have been biofortified to express vitamins and nutrients and the target countries where it will be released. These include Golden Rice which is expected to be commercialized this 2019 in Bangladesh.  And following in the pipeline high-zinc rice are planned to be release in 2020 along with few other biofortified crops such as vitamin A sweet potato, zinc wheat and iron-rich lentils.

“Ultimately, the CGIAR aims for releasing its 3-in-1 transgenic rice that is supposedly high in Vitamin A, iron and zinc,” said Kartini Samon, Researcher from GRAIN. “This could further push for public acceptance to genetically modified crops and erode our food diversity and our local and traditional seeds and increase corporate control to our agriculture system.”

“It is a business strategy which will wipe out the farmers’ seeds and be replaced with commercial ones that are still untested and have the potential to produce long-term problems in agriculture,” said Panerio. “The Golden Rice Trojan Horse must be stopped at all costs.”

“Farmers’ seeds, land and rights are being snatched away because multinational companies want farmers to be dependent on them for seeds,” said Anowar. “As a result, the process of preserving and producing the own seeds of the farmers will be disrupted. Farmers will lose their sovereignty over traditional seeds.”

“The release of Golden Rice and other GMO crops in a country rich in fertile and biodiversity like Bangladesh will bring nothing but destruction of farmers and agriculture.”

The Stop Golden Rice Network stresses that Golden Rice is a simplistic solution to the complex problem of hunger and malnutrition. “Farmers from the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and other rice-growing countries are in solidarity with the Bangladesh farmers on rejecting the commercialization plan of Golden Rice. Poverty and genuine development must be addressed to ensure that the people have access to diversified, safe and healthy food, and sustainable livelihood. We must resist Golden Rice together as a global community and assert our food sovereignty.” #

Reference:

Shibli Anowar
Labour Resource Center
Bangladesh
labourrce@gmail.com

Cris Panerio
Lead Convenor, Stop Golden Rice Network
Philippines
cpanerio@masipag.org, stopgrnetwork@gmail.com

Goodbye, Tay Ponce

The MASIPAG family bids goodbye to Ponciano “Tay Ponce” Adornado, a farmer-leader and organic agriculture practitioner in Infanta, Quezon. He passed away last January 27, 2019 due to natural causes.

Tay Ponce was among the most prolific farmers in Luzon province, with his admirable practice in diversified farming. He also served as leader in his peoples’ organization, UFBA (Upland Farmers Bayanihan Association). In 2017, Tay Ponce was among those who represented MASIPAG in IFOAM Organic World Congress held in New Delhi, India where he shared his experience in MASIPAG farming.

We lost a great farmer and a great leader. We will miss you Tay Ponce! #