Anti-GM rice campaign across 13 Asian countries (2/3/2007)

1.Thanal campaign against GM food
2.Leading the organic revolution
3.Working together for GM rice

EXTRACTS: In Medak, Andhra Pradesh, 1,000 women march through the streets demanding a ban on hybrid and genetically modified (GM) seeds. (item 2)

...more than 13 Asian countries are getting ready to kick off the 'Weak of Rice Action' (WORA) campaign against genetically modified food (item 1)

1.Thanal campaign against GM food
New India Express, March 2 2007

T'PURAM: At a time when more than 13 Asian countries are getting ready to kick off the 'Weak of Rice Action' (WORA) campaign against genetically modified food, 'Thanal,' a Thiruvananthapuram-based public interest research organisation, is all set to spearhead the campaign across India.

In Kerala, the campaign will be kicked off in Palakkad on March 29 in association with the National Farmers' Protection Committee. Being the prominent rice producing district in the state, the campaign will call for the government to declare Palakkad as the 'rice heritage' of the state.

As rice production in the state meets only 15-18 percent of the demand, the campaign will also call for more support to the farmers so that they can sustain and extend rice production.

Installation of an income commission intending to ensure an income for the farmers is another highlighting demand of the campaign. "Though the campaign is against genetically modified food, in Kerala it will be focussed on food security and protection of farmers. Being a consumer state both the consumers and farmers of the state should be aware of the GM food and its impact on the society and environment," said R Sreedhar, one of the coordinator of the campaign.

Apart from Kerala, Thanal is joining hands with social organisations of various rice growing states such as Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Orissa to co-ordinate and organise the week-long event.

All over the participating Asian countries, WORA-2007 is a focussed activity that will feature the gathering of farmers, communities, women and other sectors of society to highlight and discuss the value of rice culture, farmers' wisdom, ecological agriculture and the threat posed by Genetically Engineered (GE) rice.

One million signatures will be collected from the participating countries to protect rice against GE and GE rice as part of the campaign.

2.Leading the organic revolution
Bhavdeep Kang
The Hindu Business Line, March 2 2007

*More women across the country are turning to organic agriculture, as they are the worst victims of chemical farming.

*Trials conducted worldwide, including India, have proved wrong the myth that organic farming leads to lower yields.

[image caption: No to chemicals: Women play a crucial role in the organic farming process]

In Bhubaneswar, 3,000 tribal women stage a demonstration demanding the declaration of Orissa as an "organic" State. In Medak, Andhra Pradesh, 1,000 women march through the streets demanding a ban on hybrid and genetically modified (GM) seeds.

Women are the major stakeholders in organic agriculture, precisely because they are the worst victims of inorganic agriculture, or chemical farming. Over decades, the socio-economic and health status of women in farming communities has been adversely affected by green revolution or "industrial" farming technologies and policies.

For millions of rural Indian women, organic agriculture offers escape from the three demons of debt, disease and destitution. In an arid corner of Rajasthan, Anand Kanwar of Laporiya village recalls how, when she was an adolescent, the entire village would be decimated by drought. Crops would fail, cattle would die and people would have to migrate to cities in search of work.

Community-driven project

Today, thanks to a community-driven watershed management-cum-organic farming project implemented over 15 years, the village manages two crops a year and at least one crop even in a really bad drought year and maintains large herds of milch cattle. No one ever goes hungry or thirsty, she says.

Crop rotation, use of bio-inputs, water-harvesting, animal husbandry, development and maintenance of pastures and wildlife preserves are all part of an integrated organic management system which has made this possible. Says Anand Kanwar: "We conserve water, we maintain forest cover and pastures. We do not poison the water or soil with chemicals. We do not hurt birds or any other animals. We do not cut down trees. We respect the earth and in return, the earth sustains us."

The project was first mooted by Anand's husband, Laxman Singh, himself a farmer. It was she who brought the women around to the idea. Once they were convinced, they took the lead in developing and maintaining traditional water-harvesting structures, wildlife sanctuaries, pastures and woods, and even learning about composting techniques. Groups of women perform these community duties in rotation with spectacular results.

Apart from milch cattle, food processing is another income-generating activity. Having realised there is an urban market for organic food products, women like Anand have formed self-help groups to process and package organic foods for Mumbai and Delhi. "We supply traditional items such as daliya, papad, etc," Anand says proudly.


Organic agriculture is knowledge- rather than resource-intensive. Much of the required knowledge and techniques are already available with traditional farmers. Indigenous traditional knowledge systems (or ITKS) are at the very core of organic farming. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has conducted trials and validated many of these systems. Traditional knowledge has thus entered the realm of "agricultural science".

In organic farming, no inputs need to be purchased. Access to cattle and cattle products is essential for organic cultivators; hence the special status accorded to cows in rural households. Women have a critical role to play in taking care of cattle and processing of cattle products. Fertilisers and pesticides are manufactured from cattle manure and locally available trees and shrubs. Biological and mechanical systems of pest control are employed.

Organic farming promotes indigenous varieties of seeds rather than hybrids; so the farmer is not dependent on seed marketing companies, which is a major saving. Women play a crucial role in selection and preservation of seeds.

Better yield

Trials conducted worldwide, including India, have proved wrong the myth that organic farming leads to lower yields. The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University's study on organic cultivation of green chillies is a case in point - where it produced better yields and quality. Likewise, the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwar, Karnataka, found more viability in organic cultivation of groundnut. Ditto, French beans. Punjab Agricultural University studies found use of organic inputs produced better rice yields.

As ICAR Director-General (DG) Mangala Rai pointed out, in rainfed agricultural systems, organic farming produces consistently better yields. Even the World Bank admits: "Farmers in developing countries who switch to organic agriculture achieve higher earnings and a better standard of living, according to a series of studies conducted in China, India and six Latin American countries by the International Fund for Agricultural Development."

Asha Mawasi, a small farmer of Tagi village in Madhya Pradesh, is one of the half-dozen women cultivators who have joined an organic farmers' collective under the aegis of the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh. She says: "We do not use chemical fertilisers nor chemical pesticides as they destroy the crops. We follow what the KVK tells us and also our traditional agricultural practices like nakshatra farming (going according to the movement of the planets). Our harvest is better and there are no pests or diseases."

Across the country, groups of small and marginal farmers have come together to form organic-farming collectives. They get their farms certified as organic through NGOs or government agencies, thus opening up markets in India and abroad.

Government support essential

What's lagging behind is government policy. On the one hand, the success of organic agriculture demonstrated by Vandana Shiva's Navdanya, the Kheti Virasat mission in Punjab, the Uttaranchal Organic Commodities Boards, the Maharashtra Organic Farmers' Association, the Spices Board and other agencies have forced the Ministry of Agriculture to set up a National Centre for Organic Farming.

However, in terms of policy it continues to kowtow to pesticide, fertiliser, agri-machinery, bio-technology and seed lobbies. Chemical agriculture is subsidised, organic agriculture is not. It has been left to the Ministry of Commerce to lay down standards for organic certification and for state governments to promote organic agriculture.

Although 68 per cent of the total agricultural land available in India is believed to be under de facto non-chemical farming, no effort has been made to improve yields through organic methods or obtain organic certification (thus opening up world markets to India's organic farmers). Only 6,000 farms, with a total area of 76,000 hectares, are currently certified as organic.

Women's Feature Service

3.Working together for GM rice
The Philippine Star, March 2 2007

The issue of genetically modified rice has finally reached our shores, but not without controversy. NGOs are now noisily blocking the bid of German multinational company Bayer Crop Science to bring genetically modified rice, which promises better yields, into the Philippines.

Bayer has applied to the Bureau of Plant Industry for the commercialization of GMO rice LL62 for direct use in food, feed, and processing in the Philippines. Its bid is currently being subjected to rigid evaluation by the bureau's scientific and technical review panel consisting of renowned and independent group of scientists. Its recommendation will have to be approved by the Agriculture Secretary.

Greenpeace, in particular, is leading the campaign to block Bayer’s bid. It contends that the approval of GMO Bayer LL62, which was allowed in the US for food and feed use, would be disastrous for the world’s food chain. While already huffing and puffing in public, Greenpeace, an international NGO, though still needs to submit a comprehensive dossier with concrete evidences to totally discredit GMOs, and in particular, Bayer's move to legalize LL62 for human consumption.

Earlier, Bayer got an approval for LL601, a similar variety to LL62, from the US Department of Agriculture. Although its approval is still pending in other countries including the Philippines, Greenpeace alleges that the variety is already being sold openly in local supermarkets.

Contaminating the world food chain

Greenpeace asserted that Bayer's LL601, a herbicide-resistant rice strain, figured in a controversy last year when it was found to have contaminated the world's food chain. LL601 reputedly could wipe out wild and native varieties of rice.

LL601 is also suspected to adversely impact on people's health because of glufosinate, a herbicide that had been observed to have caused adverse health reactions in animals. Greenpeace likewise says that the herbicide used in LL601 could poison beneficial soil micro-organisms.

The news supposedly elicited reactions from rice farmers and processors. Bayer faced a class-action suit filed by US farmers, while Japan, the European Union, and Russia responded with import restrictions. The incident also prompted rice producers and exporters in the United States, the European Union, and Asia to commit to GMO-free production and trade.

The allegations are pretty serious if substantiated. Unfortunately, going by the track record of NGOs like Greenpeace, there is an urgent need to collate pertinent documents and present these as evidence. Otherwise, these NGOs could simply be unfair in science's attempts to develop rice that has better yields.

RP's self-sufficiency target

On the other side of the fence, for a government obsessed in achieving self-sufficiency in rice production, GM rice could be the technological breakthrough that would provide the growing population of Filipinos with enough rice.

Bayer, who I suppose is spending billions of dollars for research on new rice seed technology, should act transparently and responsibly. Government, on the other hand, should be thorough in its studies so that lives are not endangered if it does allow commercialization of genetically modified rice. The process of approving such application could take at least five years, and government should wisely use the time to make sure this rice variety will be safe.

Still, all this hoopla being made by anti-GMO advocates will do the country and the world a lot of good in the long run. Multinational companies like Bayer and Monsanto will be forced to exhaust all means to make sure that the products they want put out in the market will be acceptable and safe. With the financial muscle they have, they should not be thinking twice about spending billions of dollars to ensure that farmers will buy their product, and that the farmers' produce gets to the end-consumer.

Reality check

There is an opportunity for opposing parties to work together and come to an understanding. The reality is that, with population boom worldwide and dwindling areas for food production, agriculture scientists are in a race to come up with new seed varieties that use up less water, fast-gestating and high-yielding.

NGOs should be allowed to counter-check ongoing experiments and trial productions. The government, on the other hand, could do its part by ensuring that protocols are enforced rigidly. This will be the first time ever for the country to be subjecting genetically modified rice to rigorous testing, and it should thus make use of all available safety assessment measures that are internationally accepted.

The government should also allow other companies to come in and participate. This way, there will be competition and monopolies are avoided. Bayer and Monsanto, after all, are not the only companies that can claim expertise in bringing food to the world's dining tables.


Back to the Archive