Monthly Archives: February 2019

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