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Asia's Rice Under Threat! (12/3/2007)

Asia's Rice Under Threat!

Come March 29th, thousands of Asians will rally together to save the rice of Asia. From China to the Philippines, Sri Lanka to Pakistan, people from every walk of life will unite for the Week of Rice Action.

12 March, Penang - Rice faces its greatest threat yet. The region was once the centre of thousands of rice varieties developed and nurtured through the innovative wisdom and experimentation of small peasant farmers. But a huge number of these rice varieties were lost with the arrival and spread of so-called modern "high-yielding" varieties promoted during the Green Revolution by the Philippines based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

1. IRRI presently holds about 80,000 rice varieties, "the largest and most important collection in the world" it states. But peasant groups across Asia have been protesting the IRRI, and charging that it was able to take over rice farming in Asia because it amassed the wealth of farmers' rice varieties and put these seeds into a gene bank.

The Institute's Genetic Resources Center got a shot in the arm to the tune of US$600,000 a year in funding under an agreement with the Rome-based Global Crop Diversity Trust, which was signed today.2

The groups assert that IRRI does not provide seeds to peasant farmers, the very people who have developed these varieties through the ages. Additionally IRRI's research has not benefited peasant farmers but has instead poisoned them, their fields and their lives, and robbed them of their rice diversity. It is now a well established fact that IRRI's promotion of varieties requiring high amounts of chemical inputs, and monocropping, led to the tremendous loss of biodiversity in Asia's rice fields. The dependency on chemical inputs like pesticides and fertilizers has entrenched the poisoning of people, land and food across the agricultural landscape of Asia.

Additionally, traditional rice is on the verge of being replaced by so-called "high-tech" versions that are yet to be proven safe. China, the world's largest producer and consumer of rice, is close to approving the commercialisation of genetically-engineered (GE) rice. If China goes ahead with this, it is very likely that the rest of Asia will suffer the same fate and Asia will lose its rice heritage completely.

A critical aspect of this is the patenting of GE rice seeds, which will force farmers to buy seeds for every growing season and deny them the right to save their own seeds - a development which will exacerbate rural poverty and indebtedness. This staple food of over two billion Asians will become a mere commodity owned and controlled by foreign corporations.

In Asia, up to 135 million hectares of agricultural lands, the majority of which are small holdings, are devoted to rice cultivation. Globalisation and the relentless pursuit of economic development have shifted the control over rice production from farming communities to agrochemical transnational corporations (TNCs). More and more rice lands in the region are being overtaken by cash crops and development projects, and small rice farmers are being systematically wiped out.

Rice is Life to the people of Asia, and their most revered treasure. It is central to the Asian way of life; its cultural heritage and diversity, spirituality, and traditions. Yet, in village after village, traditional rice customs, practices and knowledge are fast becoming things of the past.

The Week of Rice Action (WORA) 2007 will bring together farmers, rural communities, and other sectors of society to celebrate and protect rice culture. To be officially launched on March 13 in Bangladesh, the main WORA events will take place in 13 countries across Asia from March 29 to April 4. Culminating in India and the Philippines, WORA will be an unprecedented mobilization of Asians "Celebrating and Protecting Rice Culture"!

From art competitions to seminars, food festivals to rallies, a myriad of activities will take place to showcase rice culture, farmers’ wisdom and ecological agriculture, as well as the threats of landlessness and GE Rice. WORA will make a concerted stand against corporate control of rice and rice lands, unfair trade and laws, and GE Rice in Asia.

A key feature of WORA will be its one-million signature campaign calling on policy-makers to take immediate steps to save the rice of Asia.

WORA is organised by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) and its partner organisations in thirteen countries in the region. Anyone interested in being a part of WORA 2007 can log on to the WORA page at www.panap.net

Contact at PAN AP:
Ms Anne Haslam, PAN AP at wora2007@panap.net PESTICIDE ACTION NETWORK ASIA AND THE PACIFIC (PAN AP), P.O. Box 1170, 10850 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: 604-6570271 or 604-6560381
Fax: 604-6583960
E-mail:
panap@panap.net
Home Page:
www.panap.net

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is a global network working to eliminate the human and environmental harm caused by pesticides and to promote biodiversity based ecological agriculture. PAN Asia and the Pacific is committed to the empowerment of people especially women, agricultural workers, peasant and indigenous farmers. We are dedicated to protect the safety and health of people, and the environment from pesticide use and genetic engineering. We believe in a people-centered, pro-women development through food sovereignty, ecological agriculture and sustainable lifestyles.

End Notes:

1. IRRI was established in 1959 through a memorandum between the Philippine government, and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations of the United States. Based in the Philippines, it was the prototype for a world network of 16 nonprofit international agricultural, forestry, and fishery research centers supported by the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (or CGIAR). Its aim was to "raise rice yields and incomes in Asia". Since its inception, IRRI quickly developed new strains of rice that required chemical inputs like fertilizer and pesticides. It is now a well established fact that IRRI was one of the main promoters of the Green Revolution in this region. Their current work, which includes GE crop development, continues to push the use of agro-chemicals like pesticides, in agriculture.

2. See Associated Press Article – "RP research institute gets funds for largest rice gene bank" at: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/regions/view_article.php?article_id=54302

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