A Must Read from Maurice

Here’s an article by Maurice Malanes on how we are losing our traditional crop varieties and replacing them with high-yielding ones which require a lot of input such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

The result? The farmers become trapped in a cycle of debt and dependency. Biro mo, kailangan nilang bumili ng seeds every time they plant. With these high yielding varieties, you cannot just save your seeds to plant for the next season. You have to buy new seeds every time and, as mentioned above, these varieties require a lot of fertilizer and pesticides.

Who are pushing for this tragedy to happen? Foreign agri-business companies and their local minions a.k.a Gloria and the Department of Agriculture.

By the way, in case you’ve not been visiting Maurice’s blog, he has other must-read articles which are really worth reading.

How to starve indigenous communities

by Maurice Malanes/Inquirer

BAGUIO CITY – The Igorot people now acknowledge their ancestors’ long-term foresight in ensuring the food security of succeeding generations by carving rice terraces, even in tough, challenging terrain, in the Cordillera mountains.

Even during World War II and a rice crisis in the 1970s, the rice paddies have helped sustain the local folk. During the lean months, they supplemented rice with camote (sweet potato) from the nem-a or uma (upland swidden).

In recent years, however, this relative self-sufficiency has been threatened by “modern agriculture,” which the government has pushed purportedly to increase crop production through high-yielding varieties (HYVs) and, lately, genetically engineered seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

A study by the private Montañosa Research and Development Center (MRDC) tells of a farmer from the village of Dandanac in Besao, Mt. Province, who brought home a hybrid variety of corn given by a municipal agricultural technician. Concerned villagers warned that the seeds might be a strain or associated with Bt corn, but the farmer insisted on planting them because of an assurance of high yield.

“True enough, the new corn grew and flowered, but it did not bear ears,” said the study.

The MRDC documented how other farmers had slowly replaced their traditional rice with HYVs. In 1996, only two of 18 rice varieties that the Dandanac farmers were using were HYVs. In 2004, 11 of the 27 rice varieties inventoried were HYVs, nine were introduced by other farmers and seven were traditional types.

Eventually, more people planted larger areas with HYVs, dominating the traditional varieties and those introduced by neighboring communities, the center said. The HYVs were maturing early and could be planted twice during the rainy season in rain-fed areas.

In such a short time, the farmers had more yields than before. But there was a problem.

The HYVs narrowed the germplasm (genetic material that carries the inherited characteristics of an organism) base, the study noted. Several traditional varieties are no longer planted and are now considered lost. As a result, the farmers lost control over their seeds. They have to buy the HYVs from agro-chemical stores or dealers each cropping season.

The new varieties weakened the community’s synchronized cropping schedule. As a result, pests increased, accounting for a 20-percent crop loss.

Moreover, the community’s cooperative self-help group, through which knowledge and exemplary practices were shared among farmers, has disintegrated.

The HYVs brought along a new technology alien to the community – the use of oil-based inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, which, in the long term, degrade and contaminate the soil. Pesticide use leads to a cycle of poison, as farmers tend to use more when pests eventually develop resistance to even the most potent poison.

Thus, farmers have been forced to buy everything from seeds to fertilizers and pesticides, which often leave them heavily indebted, the MRDC study said. Before, they could select and set aside seeds from their own harvests, simply use weeds and animal dung as fertilizers, and synchronize cropping schedules to keep pests at bay.

Debt trap
The findings were presented during the Third National Conference on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Security in Quezon City on March 29, which the MRDC and other development nongovernment organizations serving indigenous peoples attended.

Sponsored by the EED Philippine Partners’ Task Force on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, the conference was held at a time when official pronouncements blamed previous typhoons and, later, rising world food prices and rice hoarders for a crisis over rice, the Filipinos’ main staple. The EED stands for Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst e.V., a church-supported donor agency in Germany.
A similar research by the Southern Christian College (SCC) in Midsayap, North Cotabato, reinforced the MRDC study. The SCC discovered that Bt corn and F1 hybrid rice had proved to be counterproductive among indigenous farmers in Sarangani.

The high cost of producing Bt corn, which requires chemical fertilizers and pesticides, has buried many farmers in debt, forcing some to sell or mortgage their land, Prof. Elma Neyra of the SCC said.

Maria Pilar Castro, senior agriculturist of the Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (Sibat), another development organization, reported about Bt corn contamination in B’laan communities in Mindanao, raising concerns on food safety.

Hunger, blood
Indigenous peoples also felt cursed because their ancestral domains have been targeted for big-scale mining and logging. These only brought “hunger and blood” to many indigenous communities in Mindanao, according to Manobo youth leader Yatz Ambangan of Carmen, North Cotabato.

Ambangan cited how the government often responded with more military operations when indigenous folk would protest against mining and logging operations.

As a result, indigenous folk have to evacuate, abandoning their upland farms, and many accused of being rebel sympathizers have been killed, he said.

The conversion of lands into plantations of banana, palm and lately biofuel plants will lead to “food insecurity,” he said. He noted how the plantations had displaced hundreds of indigenous folk, some of whom were forced to become farm laborers with meager wages that were not enough to provide them all their needs, including food.

Policy issues
The EED Task Force on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, which is a consortium of development organizations serving indigenous communities, saw the food problem, including the current rice crisis, as an issue of policy. “Indigenous peoples’ rights to their land and resources must be secured,” it said. “This is the fundamental basis of their food security.”

Government and international policies, it said, must respect and recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to determine their own development – be it in agriculture and other industries, including mining, and other land and resource uses.

It stressed the right of indigenous peoples to free and prior informed consent (FPIC), which is guaranteed by the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

2 thoughts on “A Must Read from Maurice”

  1. Tsk, tsk… Very sad! The farmers are the ones who become trapped in the cycle. Is there a recommendation, Sir B, as to how this could be solved?

  2. layad,

    siguro farmers should stop sending their children to agricultural school he he! the more kids are learned the more they experiment. ngayon that wise agriculturist gave the seeds and what happened!the miracle became a debacle! ay ento pay di inadal di nen-adal ngek ngek ngek.kawawa si ama, inligat na nenpauskila, sinmagong pay san linmaing ay uskila, pati nagapuan nan inyuskila na nay binakas na…ay yodel de ho ho yodel de ho ho yodel de yodel de binakas yo pangaasi yo ay an-ak ko!!!

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