Rally Speech: 12 May, 2008, at Planet Diversity Congress, Bonn
Main Theme: “For biological diversity – regional, fair and GMO-free!
I bring greetings from the farmers of Bangladesh and representative of Nayakrishi farmer Rekha Begum and my colleague Shima Das Shimu who are also here today to join the farmers and activists from around the world to celebrate our strength of diversity and to resist against all kinds of destructive policies and practices that destroy biodiversity.
We are here today at a time when “food crisis” has become a global newsheadline. Over a billion people around the world are becoming victim of such crisis. The poor people are not able to buy food therefore going to bed hungry each night. However, this did not come as a surprise to us who have been resisting the corporatisation and industrialization of food production destroying the farming practices as livelihood as well as culture in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Today’s food crisis is simply the result of Corporate greed and the shift of agriculture to produce food for the rich (meat, milk and eggs) and the cars (biofuels). Grains are not available for human consumption, but are used for feeding the ‘meat-producing cows’ (beef takes 8 kilos of grain to produce 1 kilo, pork takes 4 kilos of grain to produce 1 kilo, and poultry about 2 kilos of grain). Grain has become a feed, not food for human being. On the other hand, the cows, goats, lambs, pigs, chicken, ducks which used to be part of farming households, ate grass and paddy, wheat straws, brans are now imprisoned in big factories to produce milk, meat and eggs and therefore compete with the food of human. Food becomes feed. In a country like Bangladesh, where every inch of land can be used for rice, lentil, wheat, vegetables, fruits, oil seeds are now used for commercial corn cultivation to be exported as ‘feed’.
They use land for growing tobacco for making cigarettes – thousands of hectares of land in Bangladesh are used for tobacco cultivation at the time of winter crop growing season. They make us hungry just for ‘smoking’!
Biofuels - Ethanol industry is using corn thereby filling the fuel tanks of the cars. The consumerist culture of the rich countries have become aware of the gradual reduction of fossil fuel reserve and also the negative impacts of the Carbon dioxide emissions caused by cars. So the answer is taking the food of human beings to make ‘green fuel’. Companies are making ‘green cars’ contributing to the preservation of environment. Japanese industrial giant Honda Denki Co. Ltd has expressed its interest to invest up to US$1 billion in Bangladesh's green power, biofuels and sugar sectors. According to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the FAO, following the Global Agro-Ecological Zones method, out of Bangladesh's 14 million hectares of land, some 10.1 million are very suitable, suitable and moderately suitable for sugarcane under rain fed cropping with high inputs. Not only the cars, Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and the GSM Association (GSMA) plan to expand a program that powers mobile base stations using biofuel to India and Bangladesh. Ericsson and the GSMA, an industry group composed of mobile operators, are working with operators in developing countries to power cellular base stations using biofuel produced from local agricultural products. Bangladesh’s GrameenPhone, is a party to such project. So corporations producing cars and telecommunication equipments destroyed environment as long as they had hold with the fossil fuel. They could have wars to have control over the reserve, but now that the reserves are gone, they are taking control over agriculture to produce crops which they can convert into fuels to have their cars running, mobiles ringing. They will hear the crying babies in the poor houses, who have not eaten for days.
Why agriculture has become so easy for them for the industrial food production? When agriculture was based on knowledge of farmers, their skills, diversity, cultural practices and most importantly a source of livelihood of billions of people around the world, it was the ‘backward’ sector. Countries like Bangladesh depending on agriculture were called ‘underdeveloped countries’ or the “Third World” and countries producing cars, refrigerators, Aeroplanes were called industrialised countries. They called themselves “First World” and ‘civilized (!) countries’. Now they are coming to our backyards, making deals for taking our land to produce to feed their cars. They do not have knowledge, but ‘biotechnology’ which can produce ‘wonders’ for them. They do not care, if GMOs destroy the local crops, destroy biodiversity. They do not care if farmers cannot get the yield that was promised to them. Farmers can die, but companies must survive.
In Bangladesh, we say “NO, NO, NO to GMOs.” We have resisted against use of crops for biofuels, use of genetic engineering in rice, brinjals, potatoes. Over 200,000 Nayakrishi farmers are organized throughout the country to resist GMOs. Now GMO is a ‘bad name’ – a scandal to the farmers who are working to preserve biodiversity. Farmer's resistance is challenging the paradigm of the so called industrial food production in order to defend the meaning and practice of agriculture and agrarian societies. Industrial food production has shown its failure in Bangladesh as Bird Flu (Avian Flu) has become a common phenomenon, which never happened with the local variety poultry breeds. Use of Hybrid seeds in rice production has shown hectares of land with leaf blight bacteria attack and empty grain called “Chita”.
Nayakrishi farmers are resisting not only by holding demonstrations but also they are showing the possibilities that we have the strength of our own diverse crops. Nayakrishi farmers have produced over 2331 varieties of rice, different varieties which are drought, saline resistant and can survive in flood water. We do not need Genetically Engineered Rice. Our local varieties are enough to feed our people and we can export, if we are left alone. We do not need Golden Rice or Vitamin A rice. It is nonsense to have genetically engineered rice when we have so many diverse crops to give us vit. A supplement in food. We are not blind yet, so do not fool us with patented rice of Syngenta and Monsanto.
Finally I want to share with you the Statement made at the South Asian Women and Biodiversity Conference held in Bangladesh on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. We demanded that at the COP9 of CBD, globally governments reaffirm the key role of women as biodiversity keepers and knowledge holders and pledge to further that in their national and sectoral programmes. Our rich heritage of thousands of local seeds is being wiped out by imported so-called high yielding varieties and hybrids. More recently, the threat is intensified with the widespread application of genetic engineering in agriculture encouraged by our governments in collusion with the biotech majors.
Our own practice across South Asia has demonstrated that women can take care of their families and the social and natural environment, regenerating commons and improving the health of their families, when they have received some support. Biodiversity and its keepers need to be nurtured as an insurance as tomorrow’s threats become today’s reality. The region has been particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, such as cyclones, tsunamis and earthquakes. With the climate change crises making the region even more susceptible to god-made calamities, trade adds to the man-made disasters. If life, culture and identities of peoples of South Asia has to not only go on but thrive then both its women and biodiversity warrant due attention.