Monthly Archives: September 2013
Craving for healthy foods to keep you fit? Aspiring to do your bit for the protection of the environment? Supporting livelihoods and welfare of our farmers?
You can do this and more, at the Organic Food Festival on October 4, Friday at the College of Social Work and Community Development Lobby, UP Diliman, Quezon City. Organic products from farmers’ organizations and non-government organizations will be available, such as organic colored rice, fresh vegetables and fruits, processed herbal teas and ointments and a lot more!
Two lecture sessions are also open to everyone who would like to know more about the benefits of organic foods, as well as the threats posed by genetically modified foods to our health and food security.
So mark your calendars and ready your market baskets!
See you there!
“A vicious cycle of poverty” may sound clichéd, but in the case of Filipino farmers planting genetically modified corn, no statement is more apt and true. Small-holder farmers who were lured by promises of good yields and sure markets pay as much as 20-40% interest per cropping season to financers and traders who also buy the produce at a much cheaper price. But as the promised resistance to pests and tolerance to herbicides have decreased over time — as well as natural disasters and calamities – farmers found themselves with poor harvest and incomes. Thinking that they could probably recover by the next cropping season, they borrow loans once again, incurring compounded interests to their unpaid debts.
These are uncovered by a new research “Socio-economic Impacts of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines” by MASIPAG which was formally launched on Monday, September 16. MASIPAG is a nework of farmers’ groups, scientist and non‐government organizations in the Philippines seeking to improve the farmers’ quality of life through their control over genetic resources, agricultural technology and associated knowledge.
“Promoters of GM crops always recite a litany of benefits including better yield, use of less pesticides and less labor-intensive, and improved income of farmers despite lack of sufficient evidence. In other times, the benefits are drum-beaten in isolation with other important socio-economic factors,” Dr. Chito Medina, MASIPAG national coordinator writes in the book’s foreword. “While evidences on the health and environmental effects of GMS are accumulating, the data on socio-economic impacts of GMOs are very few.”
The book discusses the effects of GM Corn production on farmers’ incomes, health and environment. The research also sheds light on the exploitation of local corn traders among the poor farmers, as well their role in the proliferation of GMOs and changes in the structures of ownership and control over land, natural and genetic resources as a result of GM corn adoption. A section of the book also discusses how agrochemical transnational corporations are reaping huge profits off GM seeds and chemical inputs.
Evidence of Failure
In the early 2000s, farmers were attracted to the introductory price of GM corn which was almost the same as the conventional hybrid corn. In Cuartero, Capiz for example, the Roundup Ready GM corn (RR corn) used to cost only Php2,800.00 per 18‐kilo bag which is good for a hectare. In 2008, the cost increased to Php 4,600.00 for every 9‐kilo bag and hence corn farmers have to spend Php 9,200.00 for two bags of the RR Corn seeds alone. Prices of other production inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides have also gone up.
Because of the expensive inputs, farmers turn to traders or financiers to avail of loans. In the study, farmers would incur loan interest ranging from 20% to 40% during the four months of cropping season. They are also bound to sell their produce to the traders at a price usually lower than the prevailing market price.
In all, external inputs (seeds, fertilizers and pesticides) eat about 40‐48% of the total expenses that a farmer spend per season, and all of these goes to the corn traders/financiers and agrochemical companies. “They say that with GM corn such as the herbicide‐tolerant variety, farmers can cut cost from weeding. But on the contrary, farmers are now spending more in order to use the technology,” said Medina.
Self-financed small‐holder farmers earn from Php 1,225.00 to Php 19,160.00, but loses can amount to as much as Php 6,611.00. Though farmers may earn as much as Php19,160.00 per season, they said that in reality, nothing really comes back because almost all of their production needs are financed by the traders/financiers including their food, tuition and other expenses. According to one farmer in Bayambang, Pangasinan – “nakain mo na di mo pa naaani” (we’ve already consumed what we have yet to harvest). Far worse, the small‐holder farmers that borrowed from traders ended up with negative incomes.
For farmers who are not able to pay, they usually end up losing control over their lands – what crops to plant, decision making over which crop or variety to plant because traders would not lend to farmers unless they use GM corn. In some cases, farmers are forced to leave, lease or give up their land in order to evade legal actions such as arrests from not paying their debts.
The research, which was conducted from February to March 2012 was a combination of desk and field research. Focused group discussion (FGD) among GM corn farmers and key informant interview (KII) methods were utilized in the field research. Community leaders, local and national government officials including, municipal agriculturists, and Department of Agriculture (DA) regional officials were interviewed as key informants.
A total of 166 farmers participated in the FGDs in all case areas which are composed of 12 barangays in
seven GM corn producing provinces in Luzon (4), Visayas (4) and Mindanao (4). Isabela, Pangasinan, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat, and South Cotabato belong to the top 10 corn producing provinces in the country with Isabela comprising 34% of the total hectarage of GM corn areas in the Philippines
Stop GM Commercialization
The Philippine government approved the commercial propagation of Bt corn about ten years ago. Since then, eight GMO corn varieties had been approved for commercial propagation in the form of Bt corn, RR corn and a combination of pyramided and stacked traits of the same GM transformation events. Over the same period, fifty nine GMO crops/events were also approved for importation for direct use as food, feed, and for processing.
GM foods such the Bt eggplant and Golden Rice have also been field tested and are said to be geared for commercialization.
“Globally, negative health and environmental impacts of GMOs have already been documented and reported,” said Dr. Medina. “With the evidence that GM corn have also failed to improve the socio-economic standing of poor farmers and in fact driven them further into poverty should be stronger reason to stop the commercialization of GMOs.”#
We, the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development), fully uphold the farmers action to uproot the Golden Rice plants at the DA Regional Field Unit No 5 in Pili, Camarines Sur last August 8, 2013. Likewise, we also commend the sectoral organizations, networks and alliances that supported and united with the farmers in their call to stop the Golden Rice field testing. Farmers have had enough of the lies and deception concocted by IRRI, Philrice, DA and Syngenta.
Rice is life for Filipinos. But it is also a huge market that corporations are itching to put their hands to. It is no secret that companies such as Syngenta and other Agrochemical TNCs heavily are invested in the development of Golden Rice, using it as a promotional material, a poster boy for GMOs at a time when more and more countries are rejecting GMOs. Corporate interests are ingeniously masked by promoting Golden Rice as a ‘humanitarian’ mission. Indeed, they are using the victims of poverty and malnourished children as excuse to promote a product that will pave the way towards more profit and control of biotech corporations to food and agriculture.
Golden Rice is owned by agrochemical giant Syngenta, further developed by IRRI to cast an image of public science, and field tested by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) to project an image of being Filipino. The Department of Agriculture, amidst its Organic Agriculture Law (RA 10068) has also thrown its support to the field experiments. But the truth is that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who now owns $24M worth of stocks in Monsanto (another biotech company), has donated $20M to IRRI for field testing and commercialization of the Golden rice.
This unmasks the reality that biotech corporations are using public institutions (that are also willing to be used) as conduit to make Golden Rice acceptable to Filipinos. Once commercialized, Golden Rice will not only bring health and environmental problems, but will also ensure huge profits to biotech corporations. These are all tell-tale signs of corporate take over of food and agriculture. And clearly, there is no such thing as free lunch.
Golden Rice sends a wrong message on how to address malnutrition and hunger. Instead of increasing diversification of food sources, which also provides much needed nutrition, the people are being offered a single crop that address only Vitamin A deficiency.
While debates still exist on the issue of safety, proponents dismiss these and are put on the wayside. Worse, Golden Rice promoters label the farmers who asserted their right to health and balanced ecology as anti-science. The fact is that the farmers want independent, unbiased science that will truly establish the safety of Golden Rice. The Golden Rice field testing was conducted amidst the lack of sufficient safety studies in contained environment which should minimize and control any potential risks. Golden rice is a genetically modified organism (GMO), meaning it has a set of genes that never existed in rice and historically not eaten by humans. With the growing body of peer-reviewed studies showing that GMOs exhibit unintended health and environmental effects, genetically engineering rice will have a huge effect on rice eating nations such as the Philippines. For Golden Rice, we have yet to see any sub-chronic and chronic studies, toxicity studies or the complete chemical characterization of the transgenic rice which presents not only beta carotene levels but the level of carotenoids and anti-nutrients that might have been the result of the genetic engineering process. Likewise, safety should have been addressed through animal feeding tests (but not human feeding tests) before any field testing take place. However, this is the state of affairs as proponents insist on the faulty assumption of substantial equivalence. The claim of the proponents that Golden rice will save children from getting blind is not science at all but speculative thinking to say the least.
The risks of field tests contaminating adjacent fields or future rice crops in the area are also ignored or denied, symptomatic of ‘the titanic is unsinkable’ thinking. But concrete experiences have shown costly unforeseen events. For example, an unapproved GM trait on rice was detected in China while the contamination of long grain rice from field testing of genetically modified LL601 in the southern United States in 2006 affected 11,000 farmers and lost $150M in rice sales. In June this year, an unapproved wheat contaminated farmers’ field also in the U.S.
Golden rice advocates are boasting that the Philippines has a strict and transparent biosafety framework. However, this is just a framework. No less than the Court of Appeals in its decision on the Writ of Kalikasan on Bt eggplant field testing said that there is no biosafety law in the Philippines to safeguard the constitutional right to health and environment. The country’s DA Adminstrative Order No 8 which regulates field testing and commercialization is also lax and pro-GMO, promoting bioentry rather than regulation. For example, specific areas of the field trials were not disclosed by the BPI, making public information and dialogues more difficult.
IRRI, its local counterparts and international allies are spreading lies that farmers who uprooted the Golden rice are illegitimate. To them, farmers do not have the capacity to comprehend what GMOs are and cannot possibly act autonomously. We condemn the statements alleging that farmers protesting against Golden rice are uninformed and were paid to make damages. This kind of disinformation is an insult to the wisdom of farmers who, in the first place, have been feeding the world since time immemorial.
We are united with the Filipino people that Vitamin A deficiency in particular and hunger in general should be swiftly addressed. Vitamin A deficiency should not be seen as a separate problem on malnutrition which can be answered with simplistic and techno-fix solutions, but as a symptom of a worsening hunger and poverty crisis which needs a more comprehensive approach.
MASIPAG stands with the farmers and sectors that uprooted the Golden rice in Bicol and calls for the immediate stop of the field testing of Golden rice in the other locations. We call on all social organizations and networks to support the rights of farmers, communities and consumers to assert their rights to health, balanced ecology and food sovereignty. MASIPAG vows to fight Golden Rice and other GMOs, including other forms of corporate control in agriculture. We are for science, not corporate research. We say yes to safe and sufficient food for all!
MASIPAG has once more proven its leadership in organic agriculture in the Philippines.
The network’s standards for organic production and processing has just been recognized by and inducted into the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) Family of Standards which “contains all standards officially endorsed as organic by the Organic Movement.” The IFOAM is a leading global organization of organic agriculture advocates and practitioners.
The Family of Standards “serves to a) draw the line between credible organic and non-organic standards, while encouraging the need for diversity and local adaptation of organic standards; b) improve transparency and public understanding about the differences between different organic standards; and c) facilitate equivalence agreements between organic standards and regulations, including unilateral, bilateral and multilateral equivalence agreements.”
MASIPAG’s organic standards — which were put in place to ensure not only the integrity of the organic products, but also to ensure the participation and leadership of small-scale farmers’ groups – was accepted to the IFOAM Family of Standards after passing the Common Objectives and Requirements for Organic Standards (COROS), an international reference that guarantees the “multilateral equivalence between organic standards and technical regulations.” This provides a sort of guarantee among governments in their importation and trading of organic products.
“We are very happy and proud to have been recognized by the IFOAM in the Family of Standards,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPAG. “Our farmers are sure to be more inspired to work for sustainable organic agriculture, as well as reject non-organic products and practices such as chemical-based farming and genetically modified organisms.”
MASIPAG has been considered as one of the forerunners of organic agriculture movement in the Philippines, with more than 25 years of training and developing farmers’ knowledge and skills in organic farming, as well as bringing back traditional rice varieties and improving them to suit a variety of needs and conditions of the local farmers. MASIPAG’s participatory programs on rice breeding, diversified farming, farm-based research and processing and marketing has led not only to a successful organic farming production where farmers have enough surplus to be sold in the community markets, but also pioneered a farmer-led approach to rural development. In its course to protecting and developing the traditional farming systems, MASIPAG has also launched campaigns against technologies and programs that could threaten the organic practice of its farmer-members, such as hybrid and genetically modified crops.
To know more about the IFOAM Family of Standards, click here.