KASAMA Vol. 14 No. 4 / October-November-December 2000 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

To the farmers of the Philippines, genetically modified seeds pose a threat to their whole way of life. DAVID WORNER reports.

Last April I was fortunate to spend some time in the Philippines with MASIPAG, a farmer-scientist partnership that promotes sustainable agriculture, in particular the organic production of rice and vegetables controlled by the farmers themselves.

I represented AWD at a conference co-hosted by MASIPAG organised in opposition to the 40th anniversary celebrations of IRRI, the International Rice Research Institute.

Delegates to the conference included scientists, farmers and activists who came to join hundreds of Filipino farming families to protest against IRRI's policies, especially in relation to the genetic modification of food. IRRI's main backers come from international forces of globalisation such as the Asian Development Bank, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank.

In Australia, the main concern over GM food is that we can't be sure of the impact on our health of GM foods. I now realise the issues are much more complex. GM food is being used by transnational companies to control worldwide seed distribution and expand markets for pesticides and fertilisers.

Just some of the arguments against GM crops include:

On a brighter note, I met farmers who had been empowered by the MASIPAG process to experiment, to save their seeds and decide for themselves the most suitable rice varieties for their local conditions.

MASIPAG farmers share their seeds and knowledge with each other and build seed banks to strengthen rather than diminish biodiversity. Even in IRRI's heartland south of Manila, farmers are looking for alternatives to the high-cost/high-risk/dependence model which IRRI stands for and are opting for the community-based model which MASIPAG offers.

Seeds of hope indeed!

Reprinted from the Spring 2000 Action for World Development NSW Newsletter.
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