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Saturday, April 04, 2009

IRRI: Profit-driven research will not feed the world

Los Baños, Laguna – As the International Rice Research Institute celebrates its 49th year anniversary, majority of the poor farmers are still at the grip of upsurging farm inputs, health hazards and down-spiraling income as IRRI continues its collaboration with AgroChemical TNCs and influence of national governments and institutions for the imposition of High Yielding Varieties (HYVs) in their lands.According to Dr. Chito Medina, IRRI introduced HYVs in the 70’s.

Tagged as the Green Revolution campaign to combat world hunger, HYVs were designed to produce rice for the increasing human population even if the chemical inputs are expensive. Dr Medina is currently the national coordinator of the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), a national network of farmers, scientist and development workers advocating for a farmer-centered approach in dealing with food security.

Combined with fertilizers peddled by Agrochemical TNCs, HYV introduction in Asian countries nearly wiped out traditional rice varieties. The use of HYVs also has put farmers in continuous contact with pesticides thereby increasing serious health hazards, indebted farmers due to high inputs and has contaminated the environment’ said Dr Medina.With the recent deal between DuPont and IRRI, the so-called the ‘Scientific Know-How and Exchange Program’ will strengthen public-private partnership in increasing global rice productivity. The partnership is said to accelerate hybrid rice breeding efforts which would enhance commercialization of higher yielding hybrids in Asia to help the globaldemand.

‘The DuPont-IRRI deal would only put the farmers and inevitably the consumers in jeopardy. With funding from private entities such as DuPont, researches and outputs shall be greatly influenced. Further, it also provides DuPont privilege access to important collection of germplasms.

This is tantamount to the wholesale of genetic resources for commercial, profit-oriented purposes of TNCs. IRRI turned away from its responsibility in safeguarding these precious resources entrusted to them as a public institution.’ He added that IRRI has also received grants from Syngenta Foundation, , the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other TNC corporations.
Dr Medina also cited from the recently concluded Fact Finding Mission with RESIST in Nueva Ecija wherein farmers reported early signs of flowering and panicles with empty rice grains of SL8H provided under GMA’s rice program. Authorities from the Department of Agriculture simply dismissed the incident that the abnormal growth was due to ‘wind and cold.’

Apparently, some fields recovered, some did not. It was also noted that farmers increased fertilizer application to the fields in order to stop potential crop loss.

Dr Medina stressed for a more viable alternative. A recent study on the household impact of MASIPAG in the Philippines showed that the yield of organic farming is not far from that of chemical-based farming, and farmers practicing organic agriculture in fact have better net income.

Sustainable farming through organic farming also contributes to food safety, conservation of genetic resources and empowerment of farmers.

Federico ‘Ka Oting’ Gil added that IRRI’s continued collaboration with profit-hungry TNCs only justifies the call of farmers and NGOs for the dismantling of this institution.’It has never served the interest of the poor rice farmers of the world, rather it has driven them further to poverty.‘ Ka Oting is Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of MASIPAG.

Francis Morales who also holds a seat in the MASIPAG Borad of Trustees said that IRRI should be held accountable to the continued poverty brought by the institution to the farmers.

‘MASIPAG strengthens its call for a more farmer-centerd agricultural research and farming system if food security is to be achieved. Forty-nine years of IRRI is enough’ Morales said.

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