Int’l movement censures IRRI’s 59 years of ‘corporate lobbying’

An international network of small food producers and food sovereignty advocates denounced the International Rice Research Institute for being a bane to small farmers on its 59th anniversary.

The Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) said that IRRI’s insistence of commercializing the “unsafe and insufficiently tested” genetically modified Golden Rice, patented by its funder and agrochemical giant Syngenta-ChemChina, shows that its “nothing more than a corporate mouthpiece and agent.”

“IRRI, for decades, has been leveraging the meager public funds meant for rice farmers to secure hefty profits for agrochemical [transnational corporations (TNCs)] like Syngenta-Chem China, Monsanto-Bayer, and Dupont,” said Sylvia Mallari, PCFS global co-chairperson.

Despite official reports including from the US Food and Drugs Authority of the Golden Rice’s insufficient Vitamin A content to realistically resolve Vitamin A Deficiency in developing nations, IRRI is still pushing for its commercialization in Bangladesh this year and in the Philippines and Indonesia in the next two years, Mallari added.

The Golden Rice project has been widely criticized for its questionable safety studies, as another profiteering machine of Syngenta-ChemChina, and as a threat to the seed biodiversity for propagating a narrow gene base.

Mallari cited the analysis of Testbiotech, a non-profit and independent institute, on the risk assessments made by the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) on the Golden Rice. According to its comment, the “[Golden Rice’s] application does not show substantial benefits, and the FSANZ’s risk assessment “is not sufficient to demonstrate safety of food derived from GR2 (Golden Rice 2).”

The PCFS official mentioned that IRRI has served as both the agent and lobbyist of agro-chemical corporations since the 1960s Green Revolution to the present-day commercialization of Syngenta-ChemChina’s Golden Rice.

“Producers of proprietary high yielding varieties (HYVs), chemical fertilizers, and pesticides which include agrochem giants Monsanto-Bayer and Dupont are the biggest winners of the Green Revolution, as the promotion created a captured market. Farmers were incentivized, and in some countries forced, to exchange traditional varieties with input-intensive HYVs,” said Mallari.

She added that this left farmers in most countries deep in debt and dependent on seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides from agribusinesses, which Mallari referred to as “TNC-controlled agriculture.”

“In fact, it is ironic that the Philippines, where IRRI is based, went from a net rice exporter to being the second largest rice importer in the world. Rice prices have been soaring in the country while farmgate prices remain low,” Mallari said.

Rice prices have increased in the Philippines in 2018, peaking at 16 percent higher in October according to the United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service. To stabilize prices, the government is importing a record high of 2.6 million metric tons of rice this year, which is 37 percent higher than the previous year. Meanwhile, local rice producers have complained about the declining farmgate prices especially after the government removed the import restrictions through the Rice Tarrification Law.

“IRRI failed to improve the lives of the farmers and end rural hunger as it had boasted. Worse, it has facilitated landgrabs, trapped farmers into debt bondage, and has dipped rice farmers’ income as its corporate funders have been profiting off farmers’ demise.” Mallari added.

She cited that in 2010, IRRI was exposed to advise the Saudi Arabia government to acquire lands in other countries for rice production. IRRI has also worked in lands grabbed by the investment group Foras International Investment Company in Senegal and Mali, according to a study by GRAIN, an independent research group.

“We demand the shutdown of IRRI. It is deplorable that it continues to operate while siphoning funds meant for rice farmers for its corporate overlords. IRRI must be held accountable for its decades of ruining farmers’ lives, and we should push for a farmer-led, community-based, and pro-people agricultural research,” Mallari concluded. ###

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