Industry front claims Indonesian farmers want GM (5/12/2004)

Those who have followed the extraordinary GM debacle in Indonesia (see item 2) may be startled to see the headline below, 'INDONESIAN FARMERS AGREE TO ADOPT MODERN BIOTECH'.

The article claims farmers in Indonesia are expressing their eagerness to have access to GM crops. This was apparently agreed upon during an Asian Farmers Regional Network (ASFARNET) workshop, or so we are told in the "weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology".

The Global Knowledge Center is a joint project of the biotech-industry backed International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and AgBiotechNet.

And what the article fails to say is that the Asian Farmers Regional Network was set up and even intially run by ISAAA, after which it was coordinated by a Secretariat headed by Edwin Paraluman, a pro-GM farmer from the Philippines who chairs a group there known as SARGEN.

It may be remembered that the Columban missionary Father Sean McDonagh recently commented on a presentation given by Paraluman at the conference organised by the US embassy to the Vatican in September.

"One of the farmers, Mr. Edwin Y. Paraluman, is from Mindanao. I was interested to hear his fulsome praise for GE crops which he is growing in the vicinity of General Santos City. I lived with T'boli people in that area for over 12 years and I never heard of SARGEN the non-government organisation which Mr. Paraluman chairs... I am familiar with many farming organisations in the Philippines... It is legitimate to ask why some of the numerous independent farmers' organizations in the Philippines were not asked to send representatives to the Conference?"

For more on the welter of industry lobbyists pushing GM in Asia, see Focus on Asia

2.Bt cotton planting has given us more harm than good


Farmers in Indonesia voiced out the need for freedom of choice in deciding what crops to plant. Specifically, they asked government to allow the use of seeds derived from biotechnology. They also agreed to form farmer networks in the various regions and encourage greater participation with various public and private sectors.

These points were agreed upon during the Asian Farmers Regional Network (ASFARNET) workshop "Technology Promotion and Exchange on Agricultural Biotechnology" held at Hotel Salak, Bogor, Indonesia from November 28 to December 1, 2004. A total of 50 farmers, led by Agusdin Pulungan, ASFARNET's Coordinator in Indonesia, attended the workshop and framed the resolution calling for greater use of agri-biotechnology applications. They came from six provinces of Indonesia - Lampung, Central Java, East Java, West Java, South Sulawesi, and West Sumatera.

The farmers attended lectures of experts from different fields who shared their views about modern biotechnology and also had the opportunity to visit biotech laboratories in Bogor. Farmers from the Philippines shared their experiences in adopting Bt corn and the benefits of establishing a farmers' network.

ASFARNET was established in December 2003 to promote the active exchange of experiences and knowledge on alternative modern farming technologies [read GM crops]. It also engages in activities that will ensure responsible farming, accelerate transfer of appropriate modern technology [read GM crops], and ensure community participation in these activities.

For more information about the recent ASFARNET workshop, email Agusdin Pulungan, ASFARNET Coordinator, at [email protected] A copy of the farmer's resolution can be downloaded at http://www.isaaa.org/kc.

2.Bt cotton planting has given us more harm than good
from 'Broken Promises - Will GM crops really help developing countries?' by Lim Li Ching

"Bt cotton planting has given us more harm than good"

In December 2003, the Indonesian Minister of Agriculture announced that Monsanto had pulled out of South Sulawesi [8]. In fact, Bt cottonseeds were no longer supplied to farmers as of February that year. Monsanto said that its cotton business there was no longer economically viable. After two years of planting, Indonesia, the first Southeast Asian country to commercially approve Bt cotton, was pulling the plug on that GM crop, and switching to a locally-developed non-GM cotton variety.

Monsanto's entry into the region in 2001, through its Indonesian subsidiary PT Monagro Kimia, rode on a concerted campaign of promotion of Bt cotton among farmers. The company had claimed that Bt cotton was environmentally friendly, used less pesticide, and would ensure an abundant harvest and increase farmers' welfare.

The reality was very different. In the first year of planting, during which the government aimed to assess the crop's performance before deciding on whether to allow further commercialisation, there were reported failures of Bt cotton - the crop succumbed to drought [8] and hundreds of hectares were attacked by pests [9]. The drought had led to a pest population explosion on Bt cotton, but not on other cotton varieties. As a result, instead of reducing pesticide use, farmers had to use a different mix and larger amounts of pesticides to control the pests [10]. Furthermore, the Bt cotton - engineered to be resistant to a pest that is not a major problem in Sulawesi - was susceptible to other more serious pests.

Bt cotton did not produce the promised yields [8, 10], which Monsanto had boasted to be as high as 3 tons per hectare. Some farmers were even promised 4-7 tons per hectare. The average yield was only 1.1 ton per hectare, and 74% of the total area planted to Bt cotton produced less than one ton per hectare. Some farmers only harvested about 500 kg per hectare, others even less, about 70-120 kg per hectare. About 522 hectares experienced total harvest failure. Despite the problems, the government extended its approval for Bt cotton commercialisation by another year, with equally dismal results.

The poor yields trapped farmers in a debt cycle [11]; some 70% of the 4 438 farmers growing Bt cotton were unable to repay their credit after the first year of planting [10]. Branita Sandhini, a subsidiary company of Monsanto's Indonesian subsidiary, had provided farmers with the transgenic seeds and fertilisers on credit schemes, and bought the harvests so that farmers could repay their debts to the company [8]. But as the yields were poor, many farmers were caught out. Research conducted by various Indonesian institutions clearly showed that, in the year 2002, farmers planting Bt cotton had lower income compared to farmers planting non-GM cotton [12].

To make matters worse, the company unilaterally raised the price of the seeds. According to Konphalindo, the National Consortium for Forest and Nature in Indonesia, the initial agreement between the farmers and the company set the price of the seed at Rp 40 000/kg; but this increased to Rp 80 000/kg in the second planting season [12]. Furthermore, the company initially bought the cotton from the farmers for Rp 2 600/kg, but this later decreased to Rp 2 200/kg.

Because the company could refuse to buy the farmers' cotton harvest, many had no choice but to agree to the higher seed prices, by signing a letter of agreement with the company. Santi, one of t

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