Minda News (Mindanao,Philippines), 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 considerations.

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 balance.

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 plantations.

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 harvest.

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

Copyright 2005 MindaNews