Groups slams Global Hybrid Rice Program

Groups slams Global Hybrid Rice Program

By Roda Gueta, contributor

Quezon City- In a joint statement today, the MASIPAG (Farmers and Scientist for Development of Agriculture), GRAIN (Genetic Resources Action International), KMP (Peasant Movement of the Philippines ) and APC (Asian Peasant Coalition), slams global hybrid rice program and call for the closure of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The groups gathered more than forty (40) participants from ten (10) countries such as Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Ecuador and the Philippines, for a two-day regional workshop dubbed “Growing Resistance, Harnessing Diversity: a Regional Workshop on Hybrid Rice and Farmers’ Seed Alternative” from October 14 to 15, 2009 at Balay Kalinaw, University of the Philippines-Diliman, Quezon City. The workshop aims to facilitate regional sharing of information, experience, analysis and strategies around hybrid rice from different local and national realities.

According to Wa Hailong from Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Center Yunnan China (PEAC), “it is very alarming that hybrid rice is at a global scale. In March 2009, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) signed an agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on an international cooperation program for ‘breeding green super rice for regions in Africa and Asia with scant resources’. The $18 million program will breed 15 new rice varieties and promote and disseminate these hybrid rice seeds in target countries.”

“In February 2009, Pakistan and China signed an agreement for cooperation in the development of hybrid rice during a visit of President Asif Ali Zardari to Beijing . A similar agreement on hybrid wheat was signed in June 2009. In early 2009, Venezuela and China signed an agreement for the development of hybrid rice production in the State of Barinas . Under the agreement, $8.5 million will be invested in an irrigation scheme that will allow 1,400 hectares to be planted with hybrid seeds of rice and maize, which will be developed under another $2.4 million seeds project led by the Chinese,” added Hailong.

But according to Vlady Rivera, a researcher from GRAIN, “Hybrid Rice in Asian countries failed to deliver its promise of higher yields and better income… There is a wide gap between what the government claims and what the farmers experience in the field… The increasing incidence of brown plant hopper infestation across Asia linked to widespread use of hybrid rice is another cause for alarm.”

“And the problem is not just hybrid rice. The very package of technology in which it is promoted, reinforce the same market-led industrial production which is at the core of the food crisis itself. Pushing hybrid rice as a solution simply aggravates the problem of food insecurity… With the food crisis, seed and agro-chemical companies are positioned to have greater profits and control over agricultural production. The impacts of this in local food security and people’s control of agricultural biodiversity are enormous, ‘added Rivera.

Danilo Ramos, APC and KMP secretary general, on the other hand stated that, “The Green Revolution introduced by IRRI caused the genetic erosion of traditional rice varieties (TRVs), poisoned people and the environment, and inflicted economic difficulties on small-scale farmers. It reduced farmers into a passive recipient of technology and disempowered them. In fact, the TRVs across Asia are under serious threat of extinction due to the so-called high yielding varieties (HYVs), hybrids, and genetically engineered (GE) rice being promoted and commercialized by profit driven agrochemical TNCs which intensifies monopoly of the rice seed.”

Dr. Chito Medina, MASIPAG national coordinator, supported Ramos’ claims. He added that the MASIPAG approach taken by its farmer-member provides hope in terms of building farmers’ capacities and self-reliance through the organization of farmers and farmer-led development, seed breeding, innovation, and experimentation.”

“Farmer seed systems and community conservation can do wonders for food security if we would only support them and let them flourish. Various forms of farmer-controlled seed conservation and breeding activities exist in many counties in Asia, like in Thailand and the Philippines where thousands of farmers are growing local rice varieties and improving them, under their own terms, methods and ways of farming. Sadly, these initiatives are not only ignored by formal research institutions and governments, but also side swept. No wonder that fifty (50) years of Green Revolution, yet our food systems are in crisis with poverty and hunger rising across Asia,” ended Medina .

“While IRRI maintains that one of its priorities is to “reduce poverty through improved and diversified rice-based systems”, its research continues to be oriented towards plantation-type monocultures based on a narrow diversity of “modern” rice varieties that only respond well to the heavy use of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. Resource-poor farmers and landless peasants have been marginalized and removed from the entire food production process. IRRI’s model of centralized research has been a dismal failure. The best thing IRRI can do is to close down and give the seeds it has taken away, back to the farmers,” Ramos stressed.

The groups are calling for IRRI’s closure which will have its grand 50th year on April 4, 2010 in the midst of a global food crisis. As of this writing, more than 6.2 million people have already died of hunger while over 1 billion people more are undernourished according to stopthehunger.com. #

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