Foreign corporations stay out of our farms and our plates
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) joins a growing consensus of farmers’ and civil organizations condemning the approval for commercial propagation of the genetically modified (GM) crop, Golden Rice. “We demand that Agriculture Secretary William Dar revoke the permit, in the interest of Filipino rice farmers and consumers,” KMP National Chairperson Danilo Ramos says. “We will be compelled to uproot Golden Rice on our lands if import-addict bureaucrats such as Dar push for this GM crop. Ang gusto ata ni Manong Willie, hindi lang kinakain natin ang imported, pati tinatanim natin imported na!”
Last July 21, 2021, the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry Director George Culaste issued a biosafety permit for the said GM crop. Such a permit for Golden Rice or any GM rice is the first and only in the whole of South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Ramos lambasts PhilRice and IRRI’s recent heralding of the permit, “there is nothing to be proud of in offering hungry and undernourished Filipinos as guinea pigs at the altar of corporate greed.” Golden Rice, purporting itself to be a humanitarian project aimed at addressing Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), is targetted for free distribution among poor subsistence farmers.
The peasant leader explained that “Golden Rice may not make many profits through seed sales but it will increase demand for the various imported and costly chemical inputs required for its cultivation, raking in billions for foreign agro-corporations.”
The country imports almost all of its fertilizers, particularly up to 82% last 2019. Pesticides are mostly sourced overseas too, with the country importing almost 30,000 MT of insecticide, fungicide, and herbicides that same year.
More recently, fertilizer prices have almost doubled from the last cropping season. In Nueva Ecija, the country’s rice granary, the price of Urea has reached P1,300 per sack from just P850 last January.
“Rice farmers already suffered P165 billion-worth of losses due to the Rice Liberalization Law; they are now set for further losses if the propagation of Golden Rice pushes through. At the other end, huge agrochemical corporations are set for bigger superprofits,” Ramos decries.
Last 2015, the Chinese state-owned agrochemical corporation ChemChina, bought the Syngenta Group, which holds a global and exclusive commercial license for Golden Rice. Syngenta acquires 71% of its profits from the sale of chemical inputs.
The peasant leader notes that the free distribution of Golden Rice seeds also threatens local traditional rice varieties. “A government-sponsored propagation of the Golden Rice could risk genetic contamination or even the very existence of at least 229 officially documented local traditional rice varieties.”
“We simply do not need this imported, costly, and hazardous technology to address VAD. Camote or sweet potato, which Filipinos have cultivated for centuries and in abundance all over the country, has 48 times more beta carotene than Golden Rice! Likewise, common veggies such as carrots, malunggay, kalabasa, and kamatis have more beta carotene content than this GM crop,” Ramos explains.
Beta carotene is an inactive form of Vitamin A and is the same pigment genetically engineered into the Golden Rice.
KMP expressed fear that Golden Rice proponents may soon promote its usage for feeding programs in poor communities, especially under the current public health and economic crises. “As early as now, we firmly oppose such blatant opportunist and risky proposals. Hungry and undernourished Filipinos deserve and have a right to safe, nutritious, and culturally acceptable food. Experiments should not be shoved down our throats. Feed Filipinos with what Filipinos already produce!” Ramos says, pointing out persisting problems in local distribution and market access after recent reports of crops such as potatoes rotting in transit.
The peasant leader insists that addressing poverty, hunger, and undernutrition, whose rates are the worst among farmers and the rural population, should be addressed through genuine land reform and rural development.
“The only real and comprehensive solution is to intensively support local food production, foremost by providing farmers with land than other productive support – only then can farmers’ living standards be raised while ensuring local food supply. No genetic manipulation can address systemic rural poverty and hunger, ” Ramos ends. #