50 Years of IRRI is Enough!

Banglades action2Next year will mark the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI’s) half-century of existence. No doubt it will be a grand day for the Institute that claims to “help feed almost half the world’s population”. IRRI is an international research institution established in 1960, entrusted by the United Nations to safeguard the diversity of the world’s rice germplasm at its International Rice Genebank, and mandated to support the development of rice research within national agricultural research systems (NARS). It is the self-proclaimed “home of Green Revolution in Asia”; the central institution through which the Green Revolution model for rice expanded throughout Asia in the 1970s.

IRRI will celebrate its 50th anniversary in the midst of a global food crisis. The United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food says the number of the world’s hungry will reach 1 billion this year while at least 2.9 million people (and counting) have already died of hunger as of today and there is ample reason to believe that another rice crisis like the one of 2008 will soon strike again. IRRI cannot escape some responsibility for this situation. It played a critical role in the development and expansion of a model of agriculture that has left farmers and the poor at the mercy of a transnational agribusiness industry which is reaping obscene profits as people starve. Moreover, pesticide poisonings (estimated at 25 million occurrences involving agricultural workers per year), environmental and health calamities, soil degradation and major pest outbreaks, such as brown plant hopper infestations, continue to haunt farming communities across Asia because of the increasing use of fertilizers and pesticides that IRRI’s modern rice varieties require. After 50 years of IRRI, with poverty and food crises as rampant as ever in Asia, it is time to take a hard look at how this institution lives up to its mission “to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure that rice production is environmentally sustainable”.

What has IRRI accomplished over its 50 years?

IRRI has narrowed down genetic diversity through a top-down, scientist-led approach to rice seed development.

Thousands of traditional, local and farmer-bred varieties of rice and the rich diversity of farmer seed systems and knowledge that produced these varieties were wiped out by IRRI’s Green Revolution. In exchange, farmers were promised a miracle, but this “miracle” quickly faded as large monocultures of the uniform, IRRI varieties were soon overrun by massive disease and pest outbreaks. Farmers then entered a ruinous pesticide cycle that continues to wreak devastation across Asia . Yields on the farm have never come close to the promised levels, and the overuse of fertilizers and the corresponding soil degradation are now eroding the limited yield gains that were realized. While IRRI maintains that one of its priorities is to “reduce poverty through improved and diversified rice-based systems”, its research continues to be oriented towards plantation-type monocultures based on a narrow diversity of “modern” rice varieties that only respond well to the heavy use of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. As a consequence,  resource-poor farmers and landless peasants have been marginalised and removed from the entire food production process. While they are called “beneficiaries” of IRRI’s technologies, in reality, they are victims.

Over the past half a century, not only has a rich diversity disappeared from the fields to be kept frozen at IRRI’s genebank, but many of the traditional knowledge systems that once accompanied seed development on the ground have also been lost. IRRI’s model of centralised research has been a dismal failure—it is high time for farmers to take seeds back into their hands.

IRRI has paved the way for corporations to take control of the rice seed supply.

IRRI’s agribusiness ties go way back, but lately, with sources of public funding drying up, it has been getting more and more entwined with the giants of the transnational seed and pesticide industry. In 2000, IRRI formed a public-private partnership with Syngenta and several national research centres to develop and commercialise a genetically engineered (GE) rice with a high Vitamin A content, known as Golden Rice. The Golden Rice Network is coordinated by IRRI’s Gerard Barry, who was formerly an employee of Monsanto. Although Vitamin A deficiency does exist in Asia , Golden Rice is an inappropriate and ineffective solution. There are already ample sources of Vitamin A in fruits and vegetables, which are plentiful and cheaply available throughout Asia . The problem thus requires political and social solutions, not a techno-fix, especially not one like genetic engineering that would introduce all kinds of risks to Asia ’s most important crop in food and agriculture.

In 2007, IRRI moved even further down the corporate path when it announced its intentions to form a Hybrid Rice Research and Development Consortium. IRRI plans to charge private companies an annual fee to be part of the Consortium, which will provide them with privileged access to IRRI’s breeding material. Details of which seed companies are part of the consortium have yet to be released.

Then, in March 2009, IRRI announced a  research collaboration with US-based DuPont, the world’s second largest seed company and owner of Pioneer Hi-bred International, to develop and commercialize new hybrid rice lines under the Scientific Know-How and Exchange Program (SKEP). The program establishes a new model for public-private sector collaboration in which products of their research—derived in one way or another from access to the genebank that IRRI holds in trust for the world—can be controlled exclusively by a private company. The partnership will give DuPont privileged access to IRRI’s hybrid rice breeding lines, while IRRI will gain access to DuPont’s lab equipment and its field stations. Such deals with transnational seed/pesticide corporations not only erode IRRI’s mandate for public research, they also effectively propel corporate control over seeds and the entire rice farming system.

IRRI and its corporate partners continue to stubbornly pursue hybrid rice even though it has not only failed to provide farmers in Asia with the promised high yields, but has also been shown to increase problems with pests and diseases, encourage the use of more chemical fertilizers and pesticides, have poor eating/taste quality, and reduce incomes of farmers. Complete crop failures are not uncommon with hybrid rice either. The only reason why hybrid rice is thriving is because it is being relentlessly marketed by seed corporations seeking to take over Asia’s rice seed supply, with the help of IRRI and governments in Asia which subsidize and promote hybrid varieties. In truth, the seed corporations are only interested in hybrid rice because it prevents farmers from saving seeds and forces them to buy new seeds every year. A further motive is that hybrid rice is a step towards the introduction of GE rice. The benefits of this technology are clearly for corporations not farmers.

Farmer seed systems and community conservation can do wonders for food security if we would only support them and let them thrive. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people across Asia will be holding celebrations, rallies and forums for the People’s Year of Rice Action (YORA) from 4 April 2009 to 4 April 2010 on the theme: Rice for Life and Livelihood. YORA will culminate on 4 April 2010 on IRRI’s 50th anniversary with the call: 50 Years of IRRI is Enough! 50 years of Green Revolution, yet our food systems are in crisis with poverty and hunger rising across Asia. New technologies and modern varieties are clearly not the answer. The best thing IRRI can do for rice is to close down and give the seeds it has collected back to the farmers.

We need food systems based on small farmers’ control over seeds, land, water, and energy.

We need them now. Not another year of IRRI.

We endorse this statement in support of and in solidarity with the millions of small farmers and landless peasants across Asia who continue to suffer the malady that is the Green Revolution.

1. AGRA (Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement), Indonesia

2. ANPFa (All Nepal Peasants’ Federation), Nepal

3. APC (Asian Peasants Coalition), Regional

4. APM ( Alliance of Peoples Movement), India

5. APVVU (Federation of Agricultural Workers, Marginal Farmers, Fisher Folk and Forest Workers), India

6. APWLD

7. ARPAN (Association for Rural Planning & Action) India

8. BARCIK (Bangladesh Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge), Bangladesh

9. Birmarck Ramu Group – Papua New Guinea

10. CAWI (Coalition of Agricultural Workers International)

11. CONSUMERS KOREA , Korea

12. DRCSC (Development Research Communication and Services Centre), India

13. EARWG (East Asia Rice Working Group)

14. GABRIELA, Philippines

15. GITA PERTIWI, Indonesia

16. GRAIN

17. KMP (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas), Philippines

18. KUDUMBAM – LEISA Network , India

19. LIVING FARMS, India

20. LOK SANJH FOUNDATION, Pakistan

21. MASIPAG (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura; Farmer-Scientist
Partnership for Development), Philippines

22. NATIONAL AGRICULTURAL WORKERS FORUM, India

23. NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF PEOPLE’S MOVEMENTS, India

24. NATIONAL CENTER FOR LABOUR, India

25. Nayakrishi Andolon, Bangladesh

26. NNARA (National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates), Philippines

27. PACOS (Partners of Community Organisations) Trust, East Malaysia

28. PAN AP (Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific)

29. PCFS (People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty)

30. (PUFAI) Parawagan Upland Farmers Association in. (PUFAI), Philippines

31. RESIST (Resistance and  Solidarity Against Agrochemical TNCs) Network, Philippines

32. Roots for Equity , Pakistan

33. RRAFA (Foundation of Reclaiming Rural Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Action), Thailand

34. SADIA (Sarawak Dayak Iban Association), East Malaysia

35. SAHANIVASA, India

36. SASAMAG (Sandigan Samahang Magsasaka), Philippines

37. SEACON (Southeast Asian Council for Food Security & Fair Trade)

38. SEARICE (Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment), Philippines

39. SENTRA (Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo), Philippines

40. SEVA (Society for Equitable Voluntary Actions), India

41. SHISUK, Bangladesh

42. SIBAT (Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya , Philippines

43. SRED (Society for Rural Education and Development), India

44. SUSDEN

45. Tanggol Magsasaka (Peasant Network for Land, Justice and Human Rights), Philippines

46. Tenaganita, Malaysia

47. THANAL, India

48. TNDWM

49. TNWF (Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum), India

50. UBINIG, Bangladesh

51. VIKALPANI NATIONAL WOMEN FEDERATION, Sri Lanka

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About fprindonesia

Front Perjuangan Rakyat (FPR) adalah aliansi organisasi-organisasi masyarakat sipil Indonesia yang pada awalnya dibentuk untuk merespon perayaan Hari Buruh se-Dunia 2008. FPR menyandarkan diri pada prinsip aliansi dasar klas buruh dan kaum tani sebagai komponen pokok perubahan sosial.
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