Rice at Risk

By NOELLE JIANG
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific
Democratic Space
Posted by (Bulatlat.com)

The Rice Crisis of 2008 saw rice stocks at their lowest in 30 years and rice prices increase by up to 40 per cent. While agrochemical transnational corporations (TNCs) found the situation the perfect scenario to increase sales of their products, the world’s poorest, mostly dependent on rice as their staple, were severely affected as the grain became unaffordable. Concern on how to feed the world’s hungry has been touted as the main reason for promoting a New/Second Green Revolution, known as the Gene Revolution with the use of genetically engineered seeds.

The True Colours of Green Revolution

The Green Revolution, largely promoted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), was the beginning of the industrialisation of food production and the erosion of sustainable agriculture practices observed through generations. In less than half a century, high-input varieties and hybrid rice have replaced most of the traditional local rice varieties. With it, much of the rice cultivation wisdom of farmers and the biodiversity of rice have also disappeared from Asian rice fields.
Although the Green Revolution did substantially raise production, it was only for a short period of time and at a heavy price. Soon, it became evident that the chemical pesticides and fertilizers that came with the promoted technological package also degraded the lands and poisoned the water resources—fields turned saline; ground water levels dropped because of the intensive use of water and soil fertility and productivity started to decline.

Chemical pesticides are responsible for the annual poisoning of 25 million workers while others suffer chronic diseases linked to the use of synthetic pesticides. These include cancer and diseases of the immune, endocrine, reproductive and neurological systems as well as abnormalities and damage to the brain of foetuses.

The Green Revolution effectively shackled the agriculture sector with dependence on commercial seeds and agro-chemical inputs, driving farmers into vicious debt cycles and deeper poverty.

The World Bank itself, which had strongly pushed the Green Revolution, acknowledged in a 1986 study that ‘a rapid increase in food production does not necessarily result in food security’ for small-scale farmers and the landless.

By the 1990s, a slow-down in farm productivity and severe environmental damages had become a general phenomenon in many developing countries. In Asia, average productivity growth rates for periods 1977-86 and 1987-97 dropped from 3.35 per cent to 1.5 per cent for rice.

The “New Green Revolution”

In the last decade, the ills of the Green Revolution were shamelessly utilized by the agri-business sector to push for its successor—the Gene Revolution—dubbed as the second-generation Green Revolution. To tighten their grip and continue to reap profits from the production of food to meet a basic human need, these businesses are peddling their solutions of genetic manipulation and patenting of food crops.
Whilst the Green Revolution opened a profitable market to agro-chemical corporations, the seeds remained largely in the hands of farmers or the public. But with about 3 billion people consuming rice globally, the promise of high profits awaited any company that could acquire proprietary rights over the rice seed.

Genetic engineering then became these companies’ important tool to claim ownership over the ‘new seeds’ they ‘invented’, giving them a legal basis to control its sale and use.

Bio-technology companies, many of which had morphed from the same agro-chemical Transnational Corporations (TNCs) like Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta, are introducing their genetically-modified seeds to soothe the collapse of the (first) Green Revolution.

Ironically, genetically-modified rice such as Bayer Crop Science’s Liberty Link and Monsanto’s Bt Rice are engineered to be herbicide-tolerant and pest-resistant respectively—trapping in one go, the rice-farming system into an absolute dependency package.

According to the ETC Group, an international advocacy organisation that has been monitoring corporate power and movement in the field of industrial life sciences for the past 30 years, 10 companies now control more than two-thirds of global proprietary seed sales as compared to thousands of seed companies and public breeding institutions three decades ago. Its latest report, ‘Who Owns Nature?’ also highlights how from dozens of pesticides companies 30 years ago, 10 now control almost 90 per cent of agrochemical sales worldwide.

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  1. This article is a collection of unmitigated nonsense. Farmers can choose to maintain and use historical varieties if they wish – they/we logically choose the seed that provides the best yields/return on labor. GE seeds have the further advantage of minimizing the need for pesticides ( which are used to increase yields ). IRRI has helped to significantly increase food availability – and can now help reduce the use of pesticides, esp. in poor areas where they may be applied by hand.

    R F Vincent

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