Kalam ng Kasaysayan, Gutom ng Mamamayan – Churn of the Past Hunger of the People

April 13, 2023

by MASIPAG National Office

On 04 April 2023, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) will commemorate its 63rd anniversary since its establishment in 1960. Our critical analysis and the impacts of its existence through its programs and traitorous collaborations with corporations and governments have all led us to say that it has failed to address hunger and poverty in the Philippines and other countries; committed crimes and violations of peoples’, especially farmers’, rights; and contributed significantly to the worsening food and agricultural crisis. IRRI has now proven its irrelevance in the face of multiple crises and the growing movement working towards farmer-led food and agricultural systems.

With this, Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) present you the “Kalam ng Kasaysayan, Gutom ng Mamamayan – Churn of the Past Hunger of the People” is an online exhibit of photos and other art form that depicts the historical action of the people towards their rights to seed, land, and food. The exhibit aims to expose IRRI’s failure, crimes, and contribution to worsening food and agricultural crisis in the country.

IRRI, Marcos, and farmers response to the IRRI’s crimes and failures

Gone were the days when science was unquestionably for the public good. IRRI is always on the path of ‘modernization’ of agriculture which is unmistakable industrial farming. Its agenda is guided by corporate values, influenced by corporate representatives, and often determined by its funding sources. In fact, one of the funding mechanisms of IRRI designates the donor to individual research centers for specific purposes. It used to be called commissioned research, but perhaps realizing the very private image of the term, they now call it bilateral restricted funding. This means that the funds provided by the donor are for predetermined, specific activities and outputs. Often, any commercializable results are reserved for the funding donor. 

On April 4 of 1960, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was established in the Philippines by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundation “to feed the world” within a Mathusian framing. Its signature program was called the ‘Green Revolution’ (GR) in rice. Implicit in the name of the program, it is alluded to as an alternative in order to contain the spreading red revolution/communism to those years. 

IRRI, as an international research organization, appears to be public- hence its projects as an unquestioned public interest institution, but it is not. IRRI is not a for profit organization. Research donors are governments, foundations, and business corporations. It has tremendous power to influence the direction of agricultural research, but it lacks public accountability. In fact, IRRI in the Philippines is protected by law through Presidential Decree 1620 and is immune/not accountable to any adverse effects of its research and technology. 

In the coming decades since IRRI’s establishment, the Philippines shall experience its most unproductive agriculture since 1942 with countless Filipino farmers in extreme poverty and with incurring generational debts all just by availing IRRI’s package of technologies during the Green Revolution.

When Marcos Sr. tapped IRRI as the resource institution for its MASAGANA 99, an unholy alliance between bureaucrat capitalism of Marcos Sr. and genetic imperialism of IRRI was officially sealed, and so are the fate of the Filipino farmers.

As a way to salvage the massive feudal control of landlords in Philippine agriculture, Marcos Sr. passed its tokenistic land reform PD 27 that only covered 756, 000 hectares for rice and corn but excluding 2 million hectares of coconut lands, more than 400, 000 hectares of sugar lands and Hacienda Luisita. To make PD 27 “functional”, in 1973, Marcos Sr. mainstreamed IRRI’s High Yielding Rice Varieties (HYV) through the MASAGANA 99 program. By 1981, around 80% of rice crops in the country consisted of IRRI’s HYV rice, effectively killing the local rice genetic biodiversity and making the Philippine agriculture highly dependent on  costly and deadly synthetic and chemical inputs.

Amid the glaring spread of rural poverty initiated by IRRI and the Marcos administration, NGOs and progressive scientists initiated nationwide consultations with farmers to determine the impact of HYV on small farmers and other issues related to the rice industry. With the involvement of other farmer support groups, these series of consultations culminated to a national convention in mid- 1985 dubbed “BIGAS Conference” or Bahanggunian Hinggil sa Isyu ng Bigas. Here, MASIPAG was born and its first project was born primarily to break the control of local as well as multinational fertilizer and pesticide companies, multilateral rice research institutes and distribution cartels over the rice industry. 

For decades, MASIPAG has been at the forefront of development struggles in the Philippines pursuing, among other things, a holistic approach to development, community empowerment, and people’s control over agricultural biodiversity as contribution in the overall effort of improving the quality of life of small farmers.

IRRI and it’s Crime Against Farmers and Agriculture in the Philippines

Signed by Marcos Sr. on April 19, 1979, Presidential Decree (PD) 1620 was put into law granting IRRI the status, prerogatives, privileges and immunities of an international organization. Since then, IRRI has had blanket immunity from suit which, says its workers, IRRI has used as license to breach Philippine labor laws.

Thus, IRRI employees who have found themselves afflicted with dreadful diseases contracted while working in IRRI, the families of those who died from such diseases and the workers who wanted to file complaints of unfair labor practices find themselves barred at the onset by PD 1620.

A series of mass layoffs and shunned complaints from work-related diseases and deaths in IRRI prompted MASIPAG farmers, scientists and IRRI’s own union BISIG to hold a street protest in 2000 calling for the abolition of PD 1620.

Starved for Farmers Rights and Food Security, People’s Action Against IRRI

In 2001, IRRI in collaboration with PhilRice planned on conducting field tests of the first transgenic rice in the country – the BB Rice. It was genetically engineered to resist bacterial blight, a water borne disease that infects rice plants. However, the use of transgenic crops further legitimizes the practice of chemical farming which is detrimental to our environment, socio-econ, and health.

(People’s Protest Against IRRI at Los Banos, Laguna, April 04, 2001)

For example, the IR8 (a semi-dwarf nitrogen-responsive variety of IRRI) and its other similar biotechnologies are seen to be assisting the spread of this harmful rice crop disease. It can be traced that the bacterial blight disease were being kept at bay by traditional varieties and practices of rice farmers. And only when IRRI was established in the country did it become

Thus, on April 4 2001, various organizations of farmers, scientists, and other sectors protested against IRRI. They called for the stop of the BB Rice field testing in the country, along with biotechnology and IRRI’s other projects and programs that only harms the agroecology and natural agriculture of the country.

(Peoples’ Street Conference in Protest of the CGIAR, October 27-31, 2002)

In 2002, following the declaration of March 29 as IRRI Day, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Annual General Meeting (AGM) was held on October 30 in Manila, Philippines. It was the first publicly funded gathering for agricultural research in the country. Despite being publicly funded, attendees of the general meeting only included representatives of large corporations and corporate scientists.

With the overwhelming resistance against the corporatization of Philippine agriculture through the CGIAR, IRRI in particular, streets were flooded with farmers and advocates collectively calling to resist corporate domination in our agriculture and assert a farmer-led and farmer-centered agriculture, research and development in the country.

(People’s Protest Against IRRI during MASIPAG General Assembly at Monsanto’s Regional Office in General Santos City, April 04, 2004)

In 2012, the BT Corn was approved for commercial cultivation in the country. Philippines is the first in Asia to approve genetically modified (GM) crop to be used commercially. Decades-long commercialization of BT Corn led to the depletion of nutrients in our soil resulting from the intensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. What started off as a project led to wide-scale cultivation and unjust logging to pave the way for expansion of BT Corn farming areas. Farmers and advocates once again take the streets to protest for their rights to land and rights to food. They called against the agro-chemical programs of the institution and for the ultimate abolishment of IRRI.

(People’s Protest Against IRRI during he 50th year anniversary of IRRI, April 04, 2004)

In 2009, October 17, another people’s mass action was launched to call for the immediate closure of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). In the same year, until the 50th Anniversary of IRRI on April 4, 2010, the People’s Year of Rice Action (YORA) was commenced. The Petition Statement: 50 Years of IRRI is Enough! was signed by 100 people’s organizations from all over Asia – led by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), GRAIN and the Asian Peasants Coalition (APC). MASIPAG and other local groups from RESIST! Agrochemical TNCs Network in the Philippines also supported the said petition and the campaign. Various networks, concerned people’s organizations, and advocates across Asia that has been campaigning against IRRI and its harmful technologies and policies for decades had convened for IRRI’s closure on the University of the Philippines – Los Banos, in where the institution is exactly situated.

(Golden Rice Uprooting at PhilRice Camarines Sur, August 8, 2013)

The discontent and betrayal felt by the people who have been campaigning for decades against the harmful Golden Rice pushed them to uproot the unnecessary, unwanted and potentially dangerous Golden Rice in 2013. The action took the attention of agricultural institutions, governments, corporations, and the general public in the Philippines and across the globe. In the 8th of August 2013, more than 400 farmers, concerned consumers and other advocates had successfully and rightfully uprooted the Golden Rice crops in the Golden Rice field trial in the Regional Field Unit of the Dept. of Agriculture in Bicol region.

This was then followed by the farmer-scientist MASIPAG Network, peasant movement Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and its regional chapter Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon, and the Pesticides Action Network Asia Pacific (PANAP)’s lobbying efforts to reconsider authorizing the Golden Rice field trials. This mass action successfully suspended the planned commercialization of Golden Rice in 2014. Last 2017, a new application for Golden Rice commercialization was passed and approved in July 2021. However, the campaign against golden rice along with other destructive technologies and policies of IRRI, as well as IRRI’s ultimate closure, continues to strengthen in the Philippines and across the globe.

Peasant Science as Response to Historic Struggle of Farmers for Land, Seed, and Technology

Scientific collaboration between crop scientists and developing-world farmers is a growing, but still far too rare, occurrence. Reductionism and the privileging of certain forms of ‘scientific’ discourse typically produce ontological, epistemological and sociological exclusions by which farmer participation is systematically devalued and dismissed.

One highly persistent strain of discourse regarding peasant farmers sees them not as an aid to scientific crop development, but as an impediment. Supposedly stubbornly traditional and resistant to modernity, these farmers are seen, in this view, as ‘backward’ creatures to be tamed and brought into modernity.

However, extensive interviews with IRRI crop scientists from 1992 to 1995 reinforced the notion that farmers are often seen there as peripheral to the actual business of seed development. According to Frossard, in his interview with one senior IRRI crop scientist confided to him that he typically paid farmers to grow ‘test’ seed varieties, then asked them to comment on the result. This, said the crop scientist, constituted ‘participatory’ research.

Coming from the unities and commitments in the BIGAS 1985 conference between farmers, scientists, and development workers, a series of technical sessions facilitated by UPLB crop scientists, particularly rice breeding, record-

keeping and selection that farmers themselves had asked for, commenced. Farmers had traditionally selected promising seeds over generations, and thus were slowly able to mold the rice phenotype, hybridization allowed farmers to accelerate the process greatly. This series of technical sessions was so successful that farmers were ultimately able to conduct training sessions themselves, teaching other farmers these techniques.

Ever since then, MASIPAG methods have led to a most radical product of science: self empowerment particularly farmer empowerment. ###