GMO corn farmers in debt
From the start, there had always been concern about the havoc GMO-agricultural crops might create in the environment and the adverse health effects they might have on end-consumers. (GMO means genetically modified organisms.) The financial/material aspect—higher yields, more hungry people fed, etc.—seemed to be the redeeming factor.
There always had been protests against the “invasion” and production of Bt-corn and Bt-talong (eggplant). Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, the donor organism in the genetically modified plants. The protestors were sometimes labeled as “purists” who were getting in the way of the advancement of science.
Among the advocates of GMO-free agricultural products are Masipag (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-Unlad ng Agrikultura) and Greenpeace. Masipag is a network of farmers’ groups, scientists and NGOs that aim to improve the farmers’ quality of life “through their control over genetic resources, agricultural technology and associated knowledge.” And there are the consumer groups that are now raising their voices to make sure the food on their table are GMO-free. I wrote about the consumers groups’ concerns some weeks ago.
Masipag has just come out with a book which explains the adverse effects of GMO-corn on farmers and shows “evidence of failure” of what was supposed to have given farmers increased yields and better income. The book, “Socio-economic Impact of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines,” is an eye-opener for those who seem enamored with so-called high-yielding varieties that promise to feed the hungry of this world.
Dr. Chito Medina, Masipag national coordinator, says in the book’s foreword: “Promoters of GM crops always recite a litany of benefits including better yield, use of less pesticides, (being) less labor-intensive and improved income of farmers despite lack of sufficient evidence.” These supposed benefits are promoted without consideration for other socio-economic factors, he added. And while evidence of the adverse effects of GMOs on health and the environment are accumulating, data on the socio-economic impact of GMOs are rarely and dramatically laid bare, he stressed.
The book exposes the exploitation of poor farmers by local corn traders who, Masipag claims, “play a role in the proliferation of GMOs and changes in the structures of ownership and control over land, natural and genetic resources as a result of GM corn production.” The book also exposes how agrochemical transnational corporations are raking in huge profits from GM seeds and chemical inputs.
The Philippine government approved the commercial propagation of Bt corn some 10 years ago, Masipag says, and “since then eight GMO corn varieties had been approved for commercial propagation in the form of Bt corn, RR corn and a combination of pyramided and stacked traits of the same GM transformation events. Over the same period, 59 GMO crops/ events were also approved for importation for direct use as food, feed and for processing.”
Masipag adds and warns that GM foods such as the Bt eggplant and Golden Rice have also been “field-tested” and are said to be up for commercialization.
In 2000, the book says, farmers were enticed by the introductory price of GM corn which was almost the same as the regular hybrid corn. It cites the case of Cuartero, Capiz, where the Roundup Ready GM corn (RR corn) used to cost only P2,800 per 18-kilo bag which is good for a hectare. In 2008, the cost ballooned to P4,600 for a 9-kilo bag and P9,200 for two bags of RR corn seeds. Prices of fertilizers and pesticides also increased.
Farmers turned to traders and money-lenders for loans with interest ranging from 20 to 40 percent during the four months of the cropping season. They were also bound to sell to the traders at prices lower than the market price.
In the end, inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) would eat up about 40 to 48 percent of the farmers’ total expenses per season. And all these go to the corn traders/financiers and agrochemical companies. Farmers who cannot pay end up losing control over their lands, or lose them entirely to evade legal actions.
As a farmer from Pangasinan said, “Nakain mo na, di mo pa naani.” (You’ve already consumed what you have yet to harvest.) They end up holding empty bags. To again quote a farmer who made an audience explode into laughter and rage: “Kaming magsasaka, naging magsasako.”
The Masipag research was conducted from February to March 2012. Masipag conducted focused group discussions (FGDs) with corn farmers and interviews with key informants (community leaders, local and national government officials, municipal agriculturists and Department of Agriculture regional officials). A total of 166 farmers participated in FGDs in case areas composed of 12 barangays and seven GM corn-producing provinces in Luzon (4), Visayas (4) and Mindanao (4). The provinces of Isabela, Pangasinan, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato belong to the top 10 corn-producing provinces, with Isabela having 34 percent of the total hectarage of GM corn areas in the Philippines.
For more on Masipag’s disturbing research findings, go to their website.
Greepeace is waging its own battle against Bt talong (eggplant), Golden Rice and other “GMO invasions” in, of all places, the courts (Greenpeace, Masipag et al. versus UPLBFI, UPLB-IPB, DENR-EMB. DA-BPI and PFA).
I am slowly learning the legal procedures for environmental cases adopted by the Supreme Court in 2012. “First in the world,” I am told, the writ of kalikasan was inspired by the more popular writ of amparo, writ of habeas data and writ of habeas corpus.
More on this another time.
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