Thursday, April 13, 2006

46 years of IRRI, 46 years of hunger

4 April 2006

46 years of IRRI, 46 years of hunger

For 46 years, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been developing agricultural technologies that would supposedly arrest the growing world hunger by providing enough volume of rice. Occupying about 220 hectares of land in Los Banos, Laguna, it aimed to achieve food security by promoting high-yielding varieties of rice and a farming system dependent on expensive chemicals. Yet, after more than four decades, hunger has not abated, and seems to only have gotten worse.

The problem does not simply lies on the volume of the rice or food produced, but the capacity of the people to produce food and their access to it. The current state of agriculture in the Philippines is so distorted that the farmers and tillers themselves, the primary force of agricultural production, own no land to farm and till. Landlessness is a major problem hounding the agricultural sector: seven out of 10 farmers do not own land. Instead, 60% of these agricultural lands are in the hands of a mere 13% of the landowners, the biggest of whom own more than 20% of all the land. This situation is made worse with bogus programs such as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) which only serve to legalize land grabbing and massive land use conversion.

With its current agricultural and trade policies, the government seems to have abandoned its duty to ensure the availability and accessibility of food among the people. With its ardent adherence to globalization policies, it has allowed the liberalization of agriculture which spells doom for the farmers. Agricultural surplus mostly from First World countries flooded the local market; which, at cheaper prices,
easily outsold the local produce. Local farmers found it difficult to compete with the mass-produced, heavily subsidized imported goods that drove them further to debt, poverty and hunger.

Government subsidies and assistance to agricultural production is virtually non-existent. Supposed government protection such as quantitative restrictions and tariffs are being phased out as dictated by the powers that be in the World Trade
Organization (WTO). Importation of staple crops such as rice was given priority. Last year alone, the National Food Authority (NFA) imported 1.48 million metric tons of rice.

To address world hunger is to ensure food security. A society that has food security can rely on its own capacity to produce food. Self-sufficiency entails a society that has a decent basic industry to cater to the development and mechanization needs of the agriculture sector. There must be sufficient source of raw materials; productive agriculture; efficient and well-developed farming systems; adequate and just distribution system.

Farm mechanization and post-farming facilities must be designed in a national scale. In that context, development of basic industries must also be developed in the framework of national industrialization, to ensure that design and manufacturing of machines and facilities are controlled by the people and fulfills the requirements of a self-sufficient and secured food production and distribution.

As long as the control of technology remains at the hands of IRRI, such designs cannot be achieved. For the IRRI upholds not the interests of the farmers but serve as an instrument of giant transnational corporations greedy for profit. Foreign monopoly control of essential technologies will always lead to poverty and hunger.

Give back the land to the peasants and they can surely feed their families. Provide domestic subsidies and mechanization support to the peasants to increase agricultural production and cater to the needs of the people and the economy. Direct national agricultural research to the development and improvement of local production to liberate the farmers from the stranglehold and dependence on agrochemical TNCs for
farm inputs. Nationalize vital industries to ensure that it benefits the people, and not foreign companies plundering national resources. Only then can the country achieve genuine food security and self-sufficiency. #


DR. GIOVANNI TAPANG, National Chairperson, AGHAM

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