Monsanto's GM farmers on parade (24/1/2005)

The following comes from Bernardo V. Lopez's (Upshot) column in the Philipinnes' publication, Business World (20th January).

***** THE GMO FARMER *****

The Filipino farmer who spoke in support of GMOs in San Francisco and who hit the front page news was given a junket and a host of other benefits by the GMO multinationals. Talk of costly but effective PR. They can afford it. But people are not born yesterday. They know.

Bernie Lopez is almost certainly referring to Edwin Paraluman who was used recently by the industry-backed GM lobby group ISAAA in its annual media fest about GM crop expansion aroudn the globe.

Paraluman turns up with surprising regularity. Last autumn, for instance, he popped up supporting GMOs at the conference: "Feeding the World: The Moral Imperative of Biotechnology", held in the Gregorian University in Rome. Father Sean McDonagh who was there commented:

"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?"

Paraluman joins a list of farmers regularly touted by the GM industry and its lobbyists as representing small farmers in the developing world. How truly representative these farmers are is open to question, as the following profiles suggest.

1.TJ Buthelezi
2.P Chengal Reddy
3.Richard Sithole

1.TJ Buthelezi

South African farmer, Thembitshe Joseph Buthelezi, has a long established relationship with Monsanto and the biotech industry. With their assistance he has been brought to Washington, Brussels, Pretoria, St Louis, London, Johannesburg, and Philadelphia to help promote GM foods.

On one occasion Monsanto paid for him to travel several hundred miles to have lunch with US Trade Secretary Robert Zoellick at the company's office near Pretoria, South Africa, and a year later in May 2003, Buthelezi was again by Zoellick's side at the press conference at which the Trade Secretary formally announced a US WTO case against EU restrictions on GM imports.

In August 2002 Buthelezi turned up at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. He gave interviews and attended at a pro-GM 'farmers' rally covertly organised by Monsanto and a network of pro-GM lobbyists

Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies in his report, Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence, describes Buthelezi as 'a clean-shaven, middle-aged black farmer from Makhathini'. He notes how Buthelezi's accounts of his positive experiences with Monsanto's Bt cotton are suspiciously similar to Monsanto press releases

Aaron deGrassi also challenges the way in which Buthelezi is being displayed as a 'representative' of the African smallholding community of farmers. He notes, 'the Council for Biotechnology Information calls him a "small farmer," and others describe his life as "hand-to-mouth existence."' Andrew Natsios, the head of USAID, has described him to US congressmen as as a 'small farmer struggling just at the subsistence level.' However, says deGrassi, 'independent reporters have revealed that, with two wives and more than 66 acres, he is one of the largest farmers in Makhathini and chairs the area's farmers' federation encompassing 48 farmers' associations.'

Buthelezi is one of several farmers used by Monsanto and other lobbyists used to represent an area 'where most farmers cultivate just a few hectares, and only half the population can read'. Yet Monsanto's 'representative' farmers, deGrassi says, are school administrators and agricultural college graduates, owning dozens of hectares of land.

Critics have coined the nickname 'Bt Buthelezi' to illustrate his 'unconditional support to Bt cotton: during a trip to Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis, Buthelezi was quoted as saying, "I wouldn't care if it were from the devil himself."'

2.P Chengal Reddy

P Chengal Reddy is President of the Federation of Farmers' Associations (FFA) based in the city of Hyderabad in the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh. Although little known in India outside of Andhra Pradesh, he has been placed at the forefront of support for GM crops in India together with the Kisan Coordination Committee and the Liberty Institute.

The FFA claims to be an 'independent organisation representing some two million members from 500 farmers organisations in Andhra Pradesh', its real constituency appears to be quite small.

Pro-GM lobbyists, like AfricaBio, describe Reddy as speaking 'on behalf of small-holder farmers' but the FFA is actually a lobby for Andhra Pradesh's big commercial farmers.

Although Reddy sometimes presents himself as 'a farmer', in interviews he has admitted to knowing little about farming having never farmed in his life.

He is a member though of the Peddireddy Thimma Reddy Farm Foundation, a family Trust established in 1990. His family have long been a prominent rightwing political force in Andhra Pradesh -- his father having coined the saying, 'There is only one thing Dalits [untouchable caste members] are good for, and that's being kicked'.

He has worked closely with Monsanto since the mid-1990s, and features prominently in Monsanto glossy brochure A Celebration of Fifty Years in India (Monsanto 2000). The current www.monsantoindia.com website features at least ten separate items in which Reddy features.

Reddy appeared alongside GM lobbyist CS Prakash at a workshop organised by the FFA in 1999 and again a year later at a pro-GM Delhi conference organised by the extreme right-wing anti-regulation pressure group, the Liberty Institute at their Julian Simon Centre.

Reddy has been used by the GM lobby as a representative of 'Third World farmers' on a number of occasions, including at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 where he was the guest of ISAAA and AfricaBio . India's Kisan Coordination Committee was also present and together with Reddy and TJ Buthelezi they participated in a carefully choreographed pro-GM demonstration at which Reddy was one of the speakers. He attacked organic farming and called for access to 'new technologies and especially to biotechnologies.'

3.Richard Sithole

In May 2003 Monsanto's PR agency brought a group of GM farmers all the way from South Africa to the UK to speak at a private meeting of The Commonwealth Business Council, before heading on to Denmark and Germany. The farmers included Mr. Nhlela Phenious Gumede, Mr. Lazarous M. Sibiya, Ms. Thandiwe Andrettah Myeni, and Mr. Richard Sithole.

Richard Sithole is the chairman of the Hlabisa District Farmers' Union. His statements about his experience of growing GM maize have been publicised by AfricaBio, ISAAA and in the media. According to Sithole, 'Bt maize has changed our lives. The emergent farmers' struggle for survival will be greatly reduced in future. Now we can eradicate poverty and produce enough to feed our people.' On another occasion Sithole is reported to have said, 'This new technology is what Africa needs to overcome famine and food shortages.' (KWAZ

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