Biotech Sentries - Genetic State (25/4/2004)

Several recent items have referred to the termination of GM cotton growing in Indonesia amidst accusations against Monsanto of dirty tricks and empty promises, and a U.S. Department of Justice corruption investigation. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3311

Here's how it all started just over three years ago when Monsanto's GM seed was flown in with the Indonesian military riding shotgun amidst an attempted news blackout and strong protests.

Biotech Sentries - Genetic State

In a lecture last summer sponsored by Australia's right-wing Institute of Public Affairs, CS Prakash lashed "the poor's new enemy". [http://news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,912898^421,00.html]

Prakash claimed GE was absolutely essential to solving problems of poor health, inadequate nutrition, food security and poverty in developing nations and went on:

"What I see is extremist groups opposed to biotechnology, using arguments about food safety and environmental impact to frighten Western consumers and to deprive the Third World of new technology that it desperately needs." They thus hypocritically "keep Third World farmers in poverty".

Third World farmers "don't want authoritarian activists in wealthy industrialised nations preaching to them.." He also argued that western anti-biotechnology activists represented a "new imperialism" that would condemn developing nations to permanent poverty and despair.

"They have a broader agenda -- they want to control the production and distribution of food, on their terms. But I would rather see it done by multinational companies with enormous skills, resources and investment, which are all badly needed in the Third World."

What happened in Makasser just over a week ago, as reported in the Jakarta Post on March 17 gives the lie to all of this. The arrival of 40 tons of Monsanto's GM cotton seed was greeted by "strong protests" not by Western activists but a whole raft of local NGOs:
1. YLK Sulsel
2. Yayasan JATI
4. Yasmid
5. Yapta-U
7. FIK Ornop Sulsel
8. JKPO Sulsel

Indonesia's wide-ranging opposition is not an isolated case. Last September the Thai newspaper The Nation (17 Sep 2000) reported on a 10 day farmers rally as part of "The Asian Long March to Protect Bio-diversity" in which around 1,000 farmers declared their opposition to both trade and research into GMOs. The Thai farmers were joined by representatives from the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Burma as well as Indonesia.

Next in November came the "People's Caravan 2000--Citizens on the Move for Land and Food Without Poisons!" which called for pesticide reform and opposed genetic engineering, focusing particularly on the unethical practices of many transnational corporations as they moved to take control of local food supplies and agricultural production systems. The Caravan comprised thousands of farmers, landless peasants, and farmworkers, as well as representatives of local NGOs, from countries including India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Korea, and Japan, as well, once again, as Indonesia.

Opposition in Indonesia has not just been at the popular level. Even before the Minister of Agriculture for the district government of Bantaeng in South Sulawesi finally gave his agreement for the importation of the Monsanto's seed, the state Minister for the Environment had repeatedly expressed his strong opposition, even saying he would order Monsanto's Indonesian subsidiary to stop using GM cotton seeds. [http://www.abc.net.au/ra/newsdaily/s176096.htm]

Interestingly, there have also been claims that Monsanto's GM cotton was being promoted in Indonesia through abuse of statistics to give a totally false impression of its potential yield.

There have also been successful projects in Indonesia to boost food production without chemicals or biotechnology. Jules Pretty has reported on how a million wetland rice farmers in countries including Indonesia "have shifted to sustainable agriculture, where group-based farmer-field schools have enabled farmers to learn alternatives to pesticides whilst still increasing their yields by about 10 per cent". [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/feedtheworld.htm]

A technique is also being tested, in a research project coordinated by Cornell University, in Indonesia that has already been proven to boost rice production in Madagascar on small farms, where already 20,000 farmers have adopted it, by as much as from 3 to 12 tonnes per hectare using simple, non-chemical techniques and existing rice strains.

Contrast these successes with Prakash's claims that, ""The anti-GM activists claim that organic farming is sustainable, but the only thing it is sustaining in India and Africa is hunger, misery and poverty."

In the end, of course, in order to bring in Monsanto's GM cotton, as reported by the Jakarta Post, they had to use the military and a press 'black out' was attempted.

In short, powerful indigenous opposition has been met by the authoritarian imposition of this technology - the same pattern that is occurring globally in multiple guises.

The claims of those like Prakash that GM opposition is "imperialist" and "authoritarian" and in opposition to the peoples of the Third World, who would welcome the introduction of GM crops and their food production and distribution coming under greater control from multinational companies, are nothing short of a big lie.

Prakash's idyll of northern corporate ag benignly controlling the south's food supply could also be contrasted with the continuing export to the Third World of animal feed made from the ground-up remains of infected cattle long after it knew that the pellets spread BSE to other cattle. As a result, as the New Scientist recently reported, "the likes of Indonesia and Thailand face a disease that even the richest countries can barely afford to control".

The fact that Prakash gave his speech on a platform sponsored by a right-wing Australian oganisation enjoying massive corporate sponsorship and with such friendly multinationals as Phillip Morris, Rio Tinto and Shell on its board, says it all.

Genetically modified cotton seed arrives in Makassar from S. Africa
THE JAKARTA POST March 17, 2001

MAKASSAR, South Sulawesi (JP): A total of 40 tons of genetically modified Bollgard cotton seed arrived at the Makassar airport from South Africa on Thursday amid strong protests from environmentalists. The cotton seed, belonging to U.S.-based Monsanto, was imported by Jakarta-based PT Monagro Kimia

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