Minda News (Mindanao,Philippines)  [Printer-friendly version]
December 14, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: Farmers in Mindanao, Philippines recently
called for an end to industrialized agriculture, a ban on genetically
engineered crops, and a return to organic growing techniques.]

By Walter I. Balane

DAVAO CITY -- Around 200 Mindanawons from different sectors sought a
total phaseout of synthetic commercial inputs in any farming systems
in the country by 2015 and also a ban on field releases of all
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture.

They signed this on a covenant Tuesday at the end of the "Go Organic
Mindanao" forum on safe food and food security.

"Thus, we encourage men and women farmers to produce natural inputs
(and their creativity be respected) leading to the total phaseout in
10 years."

The group also included in their action agenda that "even logging,
monocrop plantation expansion, mining and other resource-extractive
activities should be done away with such that in its stead will
flourish sustainable organic agriculture initiatives that contribute
to farmer health and economic well-being."

The forum, a sequel to an earlier conference in Manila on December
9-10, gathered Mindanao's farmers, religious, civil society groups,
members of the academe, students, government officials and personnel,
and private individuals from different provinces of Mindanao.

The Coalition for GMO-free Mindanao, a broad coalition of NGOs around
Mindanao, including Food Sovereignty Watch, convened the forum in
cooperation with the Malaysia-based Third World Network. The
discussions were focused on promoting sustainable organic agriculture
as an emerging and viable alternative to genetically engineered farm
inputs and chemical-based farming.

They also expressed support to the mandatory labeling of products of
genetic engineering technologies in respect to the rights of consumers
to information and choice. At the moment, synthetic products like
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not labeled as such in the
open market.

They expressed preference for sustainable organic agriculture using
natural inputs as well as for the diversification in farming system.
"We believe in the inherent capacity of men and women farmers to
develop, conserve and utilize plant and animal genetic resources that
sustain and enhance biodiversity and food security," they said.

The group also called for the implementation of the precautionary
principle in dealing with synthetic technology. Also, the immediate
ratification by the Senate of the Cartagena Protocol, a protective
instrument against the damaging effects of genetic engineering (GE)
and GMOs, already signed by 120 countries in 2003.

The group aimed to make bio-safety regulations strict, stringent,
transparent and linked to sustainable agriculture and other

Around 11 "principles of unity" were adopted in the covenant. The
other principles expressed the group's preferences for holistic health
and the belief in the security of tenure of men and women farmers to
their land as crucial in local livelihoods and food security.

The participants affirmed that sustainable organic agriculture is
critical in promoting farmers' empowerment. They said that farmers
"must have political voice and capacity to stand up against corporate
agriculture, whose operations are becoming a regular part of day-to-
day reality in Mindanao."

Sustainable organic agriculture, they said, is the only viable
emerging alternative to the unrelenting advance of commercial
plantations in key provinces in Mindanao. They added that the main
impact of which is to further push the farmers and their families to
more deprivation and poverty.

The group demanded for transparency and farmers' participation as the
government decides on its agricultural programs. According to them,
such are focused on a package of technologies like hybrids and GM
crops, and high-value commercial crops "often at the expense of the
environment and long-term benefits of farmers and farming communities
all over the country."

But as the group believes that there must be a balance between
development and environmental protection, they expressed that there
are bigger socio-political economic forces that will affect the

Responding to international expert Dr. Mae Wan Ho, who spoke about
"the need to re-structure Mindanao's food system" earlier at the
forum, the participants expressed in the covenant that "local
production should be prioritized for local consumption."

Mindanao has become a haven for high value commercial commodity export
crops with the spread of banana, pineapple and other mono-crop

After the government approved the release of GMOs in the country in
2003, the anti-GMO movement has "changed strategy." Engr. Roberto
Verzola, sustainable agriculture campaigner from the Philippine
Greens, told participants on Monday that promoting sustainable organic
agriculture is the new strategy in campaigning against GMOs.

"The promotion of sustainable organic agriculture is a positive step
towards attaining environmental sustainability," the covenant states.

According to the organizers, the forum was organized to revitalize
debates on GE (genetic engineering) and at the same time strengthen
and promote organic agriculture as an alternative to GE.

In February 2006, the international Convention on Biological Diversity
(CBD) will ratify a recommendation from a technical group on whether
to lift a ban on "Terminator technology" or GURTS (genetic use
restriction technology), which will render hybrid seeds sterile after

Such technology was considered by farmers in the forum as unfair,
selfish and serves only the interests of hybrid seed companies.

Copyright 2005 MindaNews