Statement from peoples' movements and NGOs across Asia | 01 August 2001 | Reports
Statement from peoples' movements and NGOs across Asia
Revised August 2001
Rice means life to us in Asia. It is the cornerstone of our food systems, our languages, our cultures and our livelihoods for thousands of years. Our farming communities throughout the region have developed, nurtured and conserved over a hundred thousand distinct varieties of rice to suit different tastes, conditions and needs.
The so-called "Green Revolution", spearheaded by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in collaboration with national agricultural research systems, has been in fact a chemical take-over of rice farming. In the name of feeding Asia's growing population, it brought us wholly unsustainable farming systems replacing farmers' varieties with seeds that require costly external inputs such as pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, massive irrigation systems and coercive credit schemes. It replaced diversity with uniformity and transformed farmers into mere farm workers.
Consequently, farmers lost their seeds, their knowledge, their self-confidence and their unique cultural heritage. In response, people throughout Asia are struggling to rebuild more sustainable agriculture systems hinged on farmers' control of genetic resources and time-tested local knowledge.
In the past, the whole cycle of the rice economy, from production to distribution, was under the control of farmers themselves. Today, global corporations are taking over the rice sector. They are establishing their grip through tie-ups with public research, interference in national policy-making, and the further spread of chemical dependent technologies - and now, genetically engineered (GE) seeds.
Throughout Asia, the trend in public and private rice research is to promote new rice varieties that will bring greater control to industry but even more harm to farmers, our health and the environment. For example, rice that is genetically engineered to resist herbicides or carry Bt toxins will lead to increased pesticide levels not to mention ecological disruption. Other GE rices expressing traits such as resistance to tungro, blast or bacterial blight are being heavily promoted despite the existence of safe and sustainable alternatives developed and practised by farmers. meanwhile, F1 hybrid rice is already being commercialised, forcing farmers to buy seed every planting season from transnational corporations and gravely threatening what is left of the genetic diversity in our rice fields.
If technological tools to control the seed were not enough, corporations are now securing the legal tools. The WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) gives global corporations the 'right' to claim monopoly ownership over rice through patents and similar mechanisms. Companies have already started to claim intellectual property rights (IPR) on rice. From zero a few decades ago, there are now over 600 biotech patents on rice genes, plants and breeding methods worldwide. Over 90% of them are held by corporations and research labs in the industrialised countries. IPRs on rice give companies immoral and unethical monopoly control and force farmers to pay for the use of genetic resources and knowledge which originated from them, as in the famous case of the basmati rice patent. While this is unacceptable, governments across Asia are being pressured to recognise patents and plant breeders' rights so that corporations can control the whole agricultural sector, starting with the seed.
Throughout the region, Asian people are working together to counter these
trends. This work involves conserving and further developing more sustainable
traditional rice farming systems at the grassroots level, while campaigning
against any kind of intellectual property regime over life
1. Government and other sectors must recognise and support initiatives by farmers and farmer groups who are developing, adapting and using sustainable agriculture practices in their farms and strengthen farmer-based research, extension and exchange in ecological agriculture.
2. Governments must recognise that farmers' and community rights have precedence over intellectual property rights and that IPRs destroy biodiversity and hence, farmer's livelihoods. Many initiatives to develop and implement farmers' and community rights are underway across Asia, and must be supported and strengthened.
3. We encourage Asian governments to support the African Group proposal to ban the patenting of life forms under TRIPS. Further, this ban should extend to all forms of IPR on genetic resources and traditional knowledge.
4. Governments must monitor all cases of biopiracy in rice - such as the basmati (India/Pakistan), jasmine (Thailand), XA21 (Mali) - and act swiftly to counteract them.
5. Genetic engineering of rice and other foods should be prohibited.
6. WTO out of agriculture.
7. No patents on rice! No patents on life!
This statement is a joint initiative of the following groups and individuals. Please contact any of them for further information. We encourage people to endorse this statement and join or support our actions. Endorsements should be sent to Masipag.