Creating Problems for Corporates to “Solve” and Profit with: Golden Rice and the Wastage of Kalabasa Surplus

June 13, 2023

by MASIPAG National Office

In the Philippines, roughly one hundred thousand tons of unsold farmer-produced kalabasa (squash) that are naturally rich in vitamin A will likely go to waste while the government pushes for GM Golden Rice to solve Vitamin A deficiency in the country.

According to reports, hundreds of tons of squash are currently left lying around unsold at a warehouse located in a single barangay in Nueva Ecija alone. Massive overproduction of squash in the country has been observed for three straight years now yet the government has yet to find a solution on how to address it. Among the many nutrients and vitamins, the lowly kalabasa is a very rich source of beta carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A. Estimates state that kalabasa has more than thirteen times the content of Vitamin A as opposed to GM Golden Rice. The USDA Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient Database (2019) revealed that compared to kalabasa, GM Golden Rice pales in comparison with the former containing 46.8 micrograms of beta carotene content while the latter only having 3.57 micrograms of beta-carotene. In terms of consumption, an individual must have to eat at least 8.8kg of GM Golden Rice in a single day for them to get the sufficient Vitamin A needed in a single day.

Apart from being a regular ingredient of Filipino dishes, squash can also be processed to produce noodles. However, the prevailing farm gate prices are pegged at 12 to 2 pesos per kilogram. With no post-production processing or markets, these circumstances have forced small farmers to resort to dumping their produce before reaching the trading posts. On the other hand, Golden Rice is enjoying much attention and limitless resources from the government, IRRI and corporations, to the detriment of our food and agriculture. 

Profit-driven solutions contributed to hunger and malnutrition

Since the 1970s, IRRI’s Green Revolution vastly contributed in making Philippine agriculture backward and worked in favor of corporations and technocrats. This has  left the industry ill-planned and farmers’ poorer and hungrier, resulting in total uncertainty of the country’s food security. As of 2022, data from the World Food Programme stated that one out of ten households or 2.9 million families are food insecure, wherein majority are coming from households that rely on agricultural livelihoods. 

Food insecurity has been one of the primary drivers of infectious and chronic health diseases as well as malnutrition, specifically Vitamin A Deficiency that is prevalent among infants, children and pregnant mothers. 

Yet for the longest time, the Philippine government in collaboration with private corporations addressed these food insecurity-induced consequences such as Vitamin A Deficiency as a disease of its own rather than a structural and societal problem. What is more harrowing is that the research and development fund allocated in Golden Rice by the governments and philanthro-capitalist amounts to Php 1.18 billion from 2010 to 2022 alone – resources that should have been allocated in creating meaningful support mechanisms, post-harvest and processing facilities to address the present squash surplus and ultimately local food insecurity.

The truth is, Vitamin A Deficiency and decreasing farmers incomes can be addressed. In Negros Occidental, MASIPAG sugarcane farmers diversify their farms and plant kalabasa as an additional source of livelihood. Especially during tiempo muerto, farmers in their own limited capacities process their harvested squash into noodles as a means to extend its shelf life and as well as diversify its usage and marketability. Yet in 2021, the Philippines ranks as the 9th largest global importer of wheat – a primary ingredient for making noodles. Financially, the Philippines shelled out $1.72 billion in 2021 to meet its wheat demands which can easily been curved by looking for alternatives in our own backyard and supporting it meaningfully such as Negros farmers’ naturally vitamin A rich-squash noodles.

Food Security through Food Sovereignty 

These structural challenges remain the main culprit of food insecurity and malnutrition. Both the development of biofortified crops like Golden Rice for solving health issues, and corporate led agenda in agriculture as ways to ensure food security, represent a worrisome push for top-down and profit-driven approaches to food and health that will ultimately undermine people’s capacities to strengthen their local food systems and the people’s sovereignty over food.

By emphasizing dependence on just a few market-based crops, biofortification actually promotes a poor diet with little to no nutritional diversity. But time and again, huge agrochemical companies, philanthropic-capitalists and pseudo-public agencies have done everything in their power to deny the people’s right to participate in decisions about their food and agriculture. Already, zinc and iron GM rice and thirty other GM rice are in the pipeline, with Golden Rice serving as the Trojan Horse to lure the people into social acceptance and false food security.

Posing itself as the “silver bullet” to Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD), the genetically modified crop Golden Rice and its proponents has once again proven their uselessness in tackling this complex problem. For one,  the Golden Rice only revealed that its simplistic approach in solving VAD through market-based and technofix solutions has only become a hindrance in strengthening our local agriculture to meaningfully solve VAD, and hunger and malnutrition  in the long run. 

MASIPAG along with several petitioners have already filed a Writ of Kalikasan to stop the commercial propagation of Golden Rice and Bt eggplant. While we are fending off the health and environmental problems that Golden Rice brings, we also have to fight for a food and agriculture system that will greatly benefit our small farmers and redound to the needs of our consumers. ###