The Biggest Famine-Peddling Fool There is: IRRI’s Golden Rice and its Promise of Food Security

April 1, 2022

by MASIPAG National Office

IRRI on its 62nd anniversary continues to boast about its supposed impacts on reducing poverty and increasing food security. On its fifth year of implementing its Strategic Plan for 2017-2025, IRRI, whose claim is to be the most trusted source of knowledge for the global rice industry and custodian of genetic resources, has set out plans to solve problems by doing ‘deep research’, further widespread adaptation of innovations and technologies and policy interventions on the rice sector.

However IRRI, the self-proclaimed “home of the Green Revolution in Asia”, is becoming increasingly irrelevant, as it has failed miserably in its mission to “improve livelihoods and nutrition, abolishing poverty, hunger and malnutrition among those who depend on rice-based agri-food systems.” 

As a result of the green revolution, white rice has become dominant in once very diverse and balanced Asian diets. And white rice has a high glycemic index which causes diabetes and 60% of global diabetes cases are in Asia. IRRI with its centerpiece project Golden Rice that would legitimize the entry of the highly opposed Gene Editing technology in the country, packing more nutrients like Vitamin A in Golden rice that would require more rice consumption will make it worse. Especially with the on-going pandemic for which diabetes is considered a risk factor for severity of Covid-19.

Pushing for the ‘modernization’ of agriculture, IRRI is creating a bleak world where farming without farmers would be the new trend.

With the theme “Going Beyond Rice”, IRRI is gearing for another phase of its agenda to further the interests of huge agrocorporations through its corporate delusions that will intensify food insecurity and climate catastrophe.

IRRI’s top-down approach eroded farmers’ knowledge and genetic diversity

IRRI always boasted itself as the leading institution in innovating ideas, technologies, and approaches with regards to rice production. Farmers have been delegated as passive recipients of technologies, and any peasant-oriented approach to increasing food production were totally ignored and projected as backward. Complex approaches to attaining food security through sustainable means are being replaced by high-tech yet unsustainably simplistic solutions by IRRI.

To give life to the already exhausted propaganda of solving and hunger thru the Green Revolution, it is now banking on the modernization of rice farming thru the use of high-tech solutions such as gene mapping for faster breeding process, gene modification and editing (i.e CRISPR Cas 9), promotion of hybrid rice, use of Big Data, robotics among others. Research directions however are still dictated by patentable/profitable technologies at the expense of practical and safe technologies. IRRIs’ market-driven approach and focus on uniformity in breeding programs will effectively wipe out existing traditional, local and farmer-bred varieties of rice and the rich diversity of farmer seed systems and knowledge that produced these varieties.

IRRI has imposed anti-small farmer policies across the globe with its command over enormous power and influence on the global rice industry

IRRI effectively changed self-sustaining peasant farming into entrepreneurial farming systems that are capital and chemical intensive and promote monoculture. It is because of IRRI that farmers have been tied to debts, and farmers forced into total dependency on seeds and inputs from agrochemical companies. IRRI’s Green Revolution model has, to an extent, contributed much to the prevailing usury in the countryside, as farmers’ debts are piling up due to the increasing costs of inputs coupled with depressed prices for their products. This has forced the youth and second generations of farmers to leave the countryside by the millions, leaving mostly women and the elderly to tend the farms. In India, the vicious cycle of poverty and mounting debt due to farm losses are pushing farmers to commit suicide, with figures now pegged at 250,000 for the period between 1997 and 2012. [India: Children grapple with the aftermath of farmer suicides,]

IRRI also succeeded in opening up rural areas to the market economy and free trade, where rice is now treated as a commodity. Farmers who are practicing conventional agriculture are highly affected by the erratic and problematic globalized market. In the Philippines, the prevailing Rice Liberalization Law, pushed by the World Trade Organization, has had a severe impact on the lives and livelihoods of small farmers, as local rice is being outcompeted by cheap and highly subsidized imported rice [Filipino Rice farmers lost P90B last year due to depressed farm gate rice prices – groups,].

IRRI has also made local rice research institutes and governments subservient to its own dictates. IRRI’s influence now reaches Africa, under the African Green Revolution (AGRA), wherein IRRI has set up a regional office in Nairobi, Kenya. India has also not been spared; the IRRI South Asian Research Center in Varanasi, India opened in 2018, making rice-growing states vulnerable to IRRI’s agenda. Satellite offices are also present in Bangladesh, Indonesia among others.

IRRI has violated the rights of its workers and peasants

IRRI prides itself on helping the local economy, for instance by employing Filipino workers and more than a thousand contract farm workers and on improving the quality of life of community residents through various livelihood projects. However, this is a stark contrast to the stories of its workers and the poor farmers who once owned the land it now calls its headquarters.

To this day, IRRI workers, employees and the original owners of the land where IRRI is based are still seeking justice [Workers Decry IRRI Immunity from Suit,]. Presidential Decree 1620, penned in 1979 by then President Marcos, has shielded IRRI from liabilities to its workers. Under PD 1620, the Philippine government granted IRRI the status, prerogatives, privileges and immunities of an international organization.  This has accorded IRRI immunity from suit and is used as a license to breach Philippine labor laws. Under the guise of appeasing farmers who were coerced to sell their land in 1974 through Presidential Decree 457[ PRESIDENTIAL DECREE NO. 457 May 15, 1974: Authorizing the University of the Philippines at Los Banos to Acquire by Negotiated Sale or by Expropriation Certain Private Properties for the Expansion of Agricultural Research Programs and Appropriating the Necessary Funds Thereof […/presdecs/pd1974/pd_457_1974.html], job security was promised to the descendants of the original land owners of the 255 hectares of land that IRRI now manages.

However, members of the Brotherhood of IRRI Support Services Group (BISSIG) have yet to receive justice after IRRI arbitrarily dismissed them for challenging the administration due to unfair labor practices. Rogelio Granzore, who had worked as a house attendant for almost 15 years, was terminated in December 2001 for alleged arson and robbery, and was detained at Sta Cruz provincial jail. Granzore filed an illegal termination case against IRRI but the management invoked PD 1620.

Furthermore, farmers who have worked for IRRI are yet to receive indemnification and just compensation after being exposed to highly hazardous pesticides during reckless experiments carried out by IRRI. In 2003 six IRRI employees died due to work-related illnesses, yet the families that they left behind are landless and have no job security.

IRRI has poisoned the people and destroyed the environment

IRRI has for many generations directly and indirectly caused elimination of biodiversity, both rice varietal and associated biodiversity. IRRI’s Green Revolution also created soil nutrient imbalances and pest and disease outbreaks [More Angry at IRRI, PAN AP Rice Grains,]. The prevalent use of fertilizers and chemicals peddled by agrochemical TNCs has contributed much to the production of greenhouse gasses, leading to global warming and climate change.

IRRI maintains that the solution to climate change is through exploiting genetic resources mostly with biotechnological approaches or breeding these genetic resources (which came mostly from traditional varieties) into a narrow diversity of ‘modern’ rice that requires a heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides in order to perform well. This approach still inculcates uniform genetic makeup rather than diversification in breeds and varieties, species and management approaches.

A United Nations report presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2017 stated that, while pesticide use has been correlated with a rise in food production, it has had “catastrophic” impacts on human health and the environment. The report estimates that about 200,000 people die of pesticide poisoning each year. [UN: 200,000 die each year from pesticide poisoning,] PAN was able to consolidate a list of pesticides that are now banned globally. [PAN International Consolidated List of Banned Pesticides,]

IRRI cannot escape some responsibility for this situation. The long lasting effects of highly hazardous pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals have also impacted much on the health of the people and the environment as they continue to affect soil fertility, contaminate land and water sources and increase resistance to pests and diseases.

IRRI ushered corporate domination on seed and agriculture

Since its inception, IRRI has been beholden to corporations and big financial institutions.  To date, about 25% of IRRI’s operational fund comes from philanthro capitalist and private institutions, while 25% in CGIAR funds. The supposedly public nature of the institute, in reality, is a source of cheap technical manpower to TNCs and lends credibility to TNC science. It eventually gave rise to seed industries, making seeds as business.

IRRI is enjoying the spoils of war; the genetic diversity of rice nurtured by farmers is in its control and disposal and ready for the taking by corporations. More than 130,000 accessions of rice are in the possession of IRRI and have acquired perpetual funding to possess these rice varieties after securing support from the Global Crop Diversity Fund.

To date, four companies dominate the seed industry effectively concentrating seed control to capital-rich corporations. According to the ETC group, the world’s largest agrochemical firms have used patent laws, mergers and acquisitions (M&As), and new technologies to take control of the commercial seed sector. This was a huge difference before the Green Revolution wherein thousands of seeds are in the hands of the farmers. Genetic resources in IRRI’s possession also go to the highest bidder. In its 2018 report, it has partnered with with Corteva Agriscience to accelerate rice breeding efforts. Licensing of new hybrid lines thru the Hybrid Rice Research and Development Consortium were accorded to SL Agritech and Advanta seeds.

Corporations are also able to smuggle their products thru GM crops such as the privatization of traits and hazardous pesticides that usually accompany GM seeds. IRRI’s Trojan Horse, Golden Rice owned by agrochem giant Syngenta-ChemChina, has already got the safety approval of the Philippine Government and will open the rice and agriculture industry for patented GM crops.

IRRI has created widespread food insecurity

IRRI has utterly failed in ensuring food security in rural areas, as poverty and malnutrition still exist and are bound to worsen. GRAIN, a small non-profit organisation promoting community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems, stated that the Green Revolution—which from the 1960s onward focused on breeding new varieties of a few staple crops like rice, wheat and maize—raised calorie consumption in developing countries but helped destroy diversity in farmers’ fields [Biofortified crops or biodiversity? The fight for genuine solutions to malnutrition is on,].

Although it is often credited with solving the problem of world hunger, sixty two years later 821 million people remain undernourished (lacking calories) while two billion are malnourished (lacking essential nutrients), according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Malnutrition impacts women and children most severely: the FAO finds that it is still responsible for more than half of child deaths in developing countries. In 2019, the United Nations reported that one in nine people across the globe face hunger [Over 820 million people suffering from hunger; new UN report reveals stubborn realities of ‘immense’ global challenge,].

Instead of providing real solutions to food security, it turned its focus to ‘deep science’ and is now promoting the consumption of biofortified crops such as Golden Rice. GRAIN added that the Green Revolution resulted in the domination of white rice in once-diverse Asian diets – with dramatic health consequences. White rice has a particularly high glycemic index: it causes blood sugar to rise quickly and then drop, disrupting the body’s ability to produce insulin and regulate blood sugar levels. But to add insult to injury, IRRI is now developing Low-Glycemic Index rice for people suffering from diabetes!

The fact that the Philippines have hosted IRRI for 62 years has not contributed to the nations’ rice self-sufficiency and food security. On the contrary the Philippines, once a rice exporter, is now a major importer of rice and will continue to be one if no real and doable solutions are presented.