[ON THE GROUND] Seeds of Hope Against Golden Rice

February 21, 2024

by MASIPAG National Office

As early as 1995, MASIPAG rice varieties bred by its farmer members have been the focus topic of well-meaning and nationalist academicians.  Dubbed by many as a “seed of hope” in attaining food sovereignty, and a way of life for the MASIPAG farmers, the MASIPAG rice varieties had already proven and continuously proven themselves in facing and answering the myriad of challenges of time.

A study on “Comparative Evaluation of Rice Seed Quality of MASIPAG Selections and Modern Varieties” by Evangeline Gabriel of UPLB published in MASIPAG’s official newsletter SUHAY of 1995

Last year in the town of Virac in the province of Catanduanes, farmers who opted to plant the genetically modified (GM) golden rice experienced the GMO’s below-average performance- from being highly susceptible to pests to its low yield turnout. Citing the poor quality of the soil as the main culprit amid the consistent application of synthetic inputs to “guarantee” Golden Rice’s best performance. Yet in a nearby town with almost similar soil conditions, a hopeful story is unraveling where MASIPAG farmers are currently conducting their trial farming activities.

Despite having almost similar soil quality in Virac, MASIPAG farmers in the town of Viga managed to cultivate and maintain 48 MASIPAG rice varieties out of the 50 varieties that they have planted, and are now in a healthy vegetative state. Moreover, their experience from last year’s flood that submerged their rice farms yet still managed to survive and thrive further strengthened their resolve to practice the MASIPAG way of farming.

Some of the 48 MASIPAG rice varieties planted by MASIPAG farmers managed to thrive amid poor soil quality

Being the genuine field of the farmers, the MASIPAG trial farms are the farmers’ way of conserving, nurturing, and maintaining their seeds effectively making them a living seed bank for the farmers. Trial farms must be continuously maintained and managed by farmers’ organizations so that they have their seeds adapted to the present environment specifically their adaptability and resistance to pests, diseases, and the overall effects of climate change.

Equipped with the knowledge in farmer-led agroecology that they have learned and adapted from their fellow MASIPAG farmers coming from different parts of the country, their cultivation of the MASIPAG rice varieties through trial farming remains free from chemical inputs, ecologically and economically sound and truly scientific as ever – the same result that the agriculture student from University of the Philippines Los banos (UPLB) got when she observed the MASIPAG seeds back in 1995.

In her 1995 study “Comparative Evaluation of Rice Seed Quality of MASIPAG Selections and Modern Varieties”, Evangeline Gabriel then a student of UPLB compared the performances of four MASIPAG rice varieties between the so-called “modern” four rice varieties of IRRI and PhilRice. Here, Gabriel learned that the so-called modern rice varieties of IRRI and PhilRice have the same content that MASIPAG varieties possess in terms of purity, moisture content, and sprouting. Under sustainable organic cultivation, MASIPAG varieties were proven to be superior especially compared to the IRRI variety in terms of morphological traits.

At present time, problems in rice farming are no longer confined to the quality of seeds and inputs – much of the bigger problems now are brought by economic and climate shocks which further rationalizes the urgent need for farmer-led agroecology- a kind of agriculture that is inherently in contradiction with corporate-led GMOs such as golden rice.

MASIPAG farmers of Viga Catanduanes collectively tilling their Trial Farm

More than the strength of their farms and the MASIPAG rice varieties at the production level, MASIPAG farmers of Viga also place huge importance on having their full sovereignty over their seeds and farms through the practice of farmer-led agroecology. Firm in empowering and liberating themselves from the claws of chemical and capital-intensive agriculture where GMOs such as Golden Rice thrive, the MASIPAG farmers of Viga along with their MASIPAG rice varieties are here to stay – themselves as the seeds of hope.