World Environment Day 2018: Salakyag Marches Against GMO Cartel Destroying PH Agriculture

Jun 5, 2018

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Farmers and environmental stakeholders joining a trans-Philippine march to advocate for the Rights of Nature have lambasted the GMO cartel which they say is destroying the country’s agriculture.

A non-GMO farm in Bgy. San Luis, Malitbog, Bukidnon (Agro-Eco PH photo)

 

Some 400 participants from all sectors of society braved torrential rains last May 30, 2018 to join the third leg of the Salakyag Para sa Sangnilikha 2018: Sama-samang Sakay-Lakad-Layag Para sa Sangnilikha Trans-Philippines Pilgrimage and Caravan dubbed Salakyag 2018.

 

Among the highlights of the peaceful protest action attended by farmers, civil society organizations, church leaders and church-based organizations led by Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ was the opposition against the impending commercialization of BT-Talong and Golden Rice in the Philippines.

“What’s really happening now  is most of our crops are GM crops which means most farmers are getting their seeds from corporations and companies, so they really need a big capital in order for them to have a yield upon harvest,” said Roselyn Balmes, advocacy officer of Agro-Eco Philippines at the press conference held at Gaston Park following the march. “It’s not only degrading the environment but it’s also not sustainable because iyong ginastos ng mga farmers for these things is not commensurate sa anong nakukuha after harvest.”

Agro-Eco Philippines is a Mindanao-based national NGO of organic farmers, scientists, civil society organizations, and faith-based groups asserting the right to food of the people, ending hunger in the poor farming communities, and increasing the adaptive capacity of farmers to climate change through agro-ecology, advocacy and lobbying, social enterprise, and international solidarity.

The activity has also raised the awareness of the people on the proposed National Seed Law (R.A. No. 7308 also known as the Seed Development Act of 1992) which is perceived to curtail the rights to access of the farmers to save, develop, exchange and share traditional seed varieties and farmer-bred lines in favor of a few multinational GMO corporations.

Unsustainable Agriculture

In an article posted in The Organic and Non-GMO Report (2013) entitled The GMO Seed Cartel, author Ken Rosboro cited how “problems resulting from escalating prices for GM seed are seen most dramatically—and tragically—in developing countries.”

Agro-Eco PH marchers advocate Sustainable Agriculture (Agro-Eco photo)

 

“According to a study by Consumers International, an estimated 270,000 small-hold farmers in the Philippines are being forced to grow GM corn and ending up in debt. The cost of corn seeds has risen 282% from its introductory price and accounts for 18-21% of a farmer’s total cost of production. Farmers are at the mercy of seed suppliers and lenders who are one and the same in the country and refuse to provide lending unless the farmers grow GM corn.”

local study by Magsasaka At Siyentipiko Para Sa Pag-Unlad Ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) found that a farmer needs about P 9,800.00 to buy GM corn seeds to plant one hectare against only P4,500.00 for  conventional hybrid corn varieties, thus agrochemical companies such as Monsanto earns at least P 5,000.00 per hectare on seeds alone. In 2011 alone, it was estimated that companies earned over P3-Billion in the sale of GM corn seeds in the Philippines.

In a similar study done by MASIPAG in 2012 on the socio-economic impacts of GM corn among poor farmers, results showed that the expensive cost of GM corn production has driven farmers to local usurers and traders, incurring as much as 40% interest per cropping season that they are unable to pay off.

The use of GM corn seeds entail the use of synthetic chemicals, and together they make up 40‐48% of the total expenses that a farmer spends per season, and all of these go to the corn traders/financiers and agrochemical companies.

Unfortunately, yields of GM corn are inconsistent, with most farmers losing as much as P10, 000 after a bad harvest.

GMOs impact the health and environment. In Capiz, hundreds of hectares of hills and mountains are now converted to GM corn plantations. Farmers can easily clear lands with the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup which Monsanto is also producing.

Most GM corn in the Philippines is genetically modified to become herbicide tolerant, such as glyphosate. Glyphosate is considered a Category 2A Carcinogen of the IARC-WHO. Study estimates that over 5 million liters of glyphosate was doused in GM corn farms in 2011 alone, contrary to the claims that pesticide use is declining due to GM adoption. Hills and mountains cleared with glyphosate are now almost devoid of topsoil due to soil erosion and becoming very acidic making such areas unproductive over time.

Eugenio Geraldo, Agro-Eco PH Advocacy Point Person, and Farmer-Trainor for Malitbog, Bukidnon, said environmental stewardship for sustainable agriculture starts with the seeds planted by the farmers.

Eugenio Geraldo is Agro-Eco PH’s farmer-trainor teaching farmers sustainable agriculture in Malitbog, Bukidnon

 

Speaking in Visayan, Geraldo said: “If we start caring for the environment, we should start with the seeds. During these times, with seeds like Sige-Sige or RR, these require chemicals to thrive.”

MASIPAG and Greenpeace researchers previously tested samples of traditional and native corn varieties and found they were already contaminated by GM corn sold by seed companies (BT, RR, and stacked corn varieties) through cross-pollination, tainting the country’s second staple crop with GM traits.

“Farmers call the contaminated corn varieties ‘sige-sige’ corn in Mindanao as these dangerous technologies are creeping into our food systems without our knowledge and consent”.

The researchers found GMO corn presents a risk to health and the environment since these are used as livestock feeds and when their meat is processed the BT toxin could be ingested in fresh and processed foods, posing health hazards to the human population.

The return of Bt-Talong and Golden Rice

“When we speak of sustainable agriculture, we should talk about people’s lives and chemicals have side effects which are detrimental to people’s lives,” Geraldo stressed. “And things are taking a turn for the worst with the impending return of Golden Rice and BT-Talong.”

Farmers groups, environmental activists, scientists, consumer advocates and concerned sectors have challenged Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol to uphold the rights and welfare of farmers and consumers, in the light of the reversal by the Supreme Court of its decision on the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)“talong” (eggplant) case.

Seven months after its landmark decision permanently enjoining the field testing of BT talong, the Supreme Court on July 26 reversed its ruling on the basis of “mootness” and granted the petitions for motion for reconsideration filed by pro-genetically-modified organism (GMO) proponents.

In a similar development, the controversial genetically modified GR2E Golden Rice  variety, which is still being pushed in the Philippines, recently received a positive evaluation from the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), concurring the variety’s safety and nutrition.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said the provitamin-A biofortified rice variety has completed its food safety evaluation from the USFDA, its third international nod after approvals from the Food Standards Australia New Zealand and Health Canada earlier this year.

Sustainable Agriculture via Seed Banks

“Our advocacy to farmers in Agro-Eco Philippines is to preserve our old seeds and cross-bred them with our current varieties. The same with rice, we have preserved old seeds as rice breeders so we won’t depend on GM crops for our seeds. And this is how we in our small way can contribute to sustainable agriculture,” Geraldo said.

Mutlisectoral Groups show their banners following the May 30 Salakyag March in Cagayan de Oro as a run-up to World Environment Day on June 5, 2018 (photo by Carl Cabaraban)

 

Already, farmers from Benguet, Pangasinan, Aurora, Rizal, and Iloilo banded together as part of the worldwide initiative dubbed the Seed School and Farmers’ Capacity Building Programto create food security and cultivate food diversity by simply saving seeds of traditional varieties.

Putting seeds in the control of smallholder farmers and sharing them at the community level is one way to contribute to future food diversity and security. The program seeks to enable organic practitioners to produce and distribute seeds locally, and to spread seed-saving techniques through direct, farmer-to-farmer exchanges.

Yolanda Esguerra, executive director of PMPI and national coordinator of Salakyag 2018, said this situation is typical of the way the present economic system is supported by a legal structure that allows the plunder of nature under the guise of laws minimizing and managing environmental destruction.

“There has to be a totally new framework that would consider the inherent rights of nature to exist, flourish and regenerate for the good of all creation, not just to minimize and manage its destruction. And the whole capitalist economic system is profit-driven, where nature is all that we have.”

Esguerra said Salakyag is a timely platform to uphold the rights of nature “as equal in importance to the rights of human beings.”

“The modern world has produced people so disconnected with nature who only see its usefulness in relation to themselves. The natural perspective should be the ability to appreciate the links and usefulness of each of the species to each other.”

“We call on government to dialogue to institute measures to protect the most vulnerable groups, from the impact of natural disaster and man-made destruction. We ask the lawmakers to pass the green bills: Alternative Mineral Management Bill, National Land Use Act, and Forest Resources Bill and the creation of the Disaster Resiliency Department.”

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