UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternative) and the biodiversity-based farmers’ initiative “Nayakrishi Andolon” expressed concern over promotion of technologies that are direct threat to biodiversity and the food sovereignty of the country.
In a discussion meeting titled ‘African NERICA rice and Bt. brinjal are threat to bio-diverse agriculture in Bangladesh’ UBINIG and Nayakrishi Andolon farmers presented field based information to show how these are going to pose a threat to our biodiversity and farmers.The organizations are particularly concerned about the promotion of African Nerica Rice and Bt.Brinjal in Bangladesh.
The discussion meeting was held at the Reporters’ Unity, Dhaka on 17 September 2012. Farida Akhter, Executive Director, UBINIG presented the paper based on information collected from the field by Nayakrishi field researchers. Moderated by Jahangir Alam Jony, the Researcher on Community Biodiversity Management Project, Dr. M. A. Sobhan, Nayakrishi Consultant chaired the meeting. Farmer Abdul Ghani from Natore district, Joynal Abedin Khan, Coordinator, UBINIG, Pabna district Harun–or-Rashid, Chapainababganj district and Arfan Alif, researcher, UBINIG, Natore district spoke on the occasion. The meeting was attended by a number of social and environmental activists.
The meeting demanded the following:
1. The extension of NERICA rice should be stopped immediately.
2. The local varieties of aus rice should be extended.
3. Research and extension of Bt.brinjal in Bangladesh should be stopped.
4. The Government delegation attending the next COP meeting of the CBD must share their view points to the nation before attending the meeting so that no false claims could be made.
Details of Discussions
The fertile soil of Bangladesh has been resilient in maintaining its inherent productive potential and agricultural biodiversity even in the face of multi-faceted aggression of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and the so-called HYV and hybrid of seeds. Despite the demonstrated success of ecological agriculture in enhancing the productivity, the government policy results in undermining the achievements in favor of unsustainable technologies. As a result Bangladesh agriculture has become a target of multi-national companies and they have been desperately trying to take control of our crop diversity. Bangladesh agriculture is under threat and particularly the introduction of various crops from other countries are causing concern to the farmers. Two of the main crops such as rice and brinjal, a favorite vegetable of the people, have become the targets of the multi-national companies.
Farida Akhter, Executive Director of UBINIG, explaining why dubious products such as Nerica became a hazard for local biodiversity and food security of Bangladsh. She also explained the potential hazards of genetically modified eggplant (btbrinjal), which government is trying to introduce in Bang;ladesh.
The 11th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) of Convention on Biological Diversity will be held during 8-19 October, 2012 in Hyderabad, India. Held every two years the COP is important to note how the governments are taking measures against destruction of biodiversity in their respective countries. The Ministry of Environment and Forest, the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is expected to participate in this meeting. Therefore, this discussion meeting is also held with the purpose of drawing attention of Government delegates participating in the COP meeting. It was urged upon all concerned to take this issue on priority basis and act accordingly. However, concern was also expressed that the Ministry of Environment is not so serious about the threats on our agricultural biodiversity.
It is obvious that the Ministry of Agriculture works for improvement of agriculture, but it is not acceptable that crops, lives and livelihood of the farming community are impacted in the name of introduction of ‘technologies’. The discussants said they are anxiously observing that the Ministry of Environment is not so keen in monitoring the inter-ministerial issues as laid out in the international agreements and codes in terms of conserving biological diversity. Consequently there is risk of disaster in agro-biodiversity in this country.
While there are many other seeds being promoted in the name of higher productivity or climate change resistance, in recent months the introduction of African NERICA rice has drawn media attention because of its failure at the field level. On the other hand, Bt.brinjal is being promoted silently at the field level and there are reports of commercial promotion.
1. NERICA (New Rice for Africa)
Agriculture Minister, Motia Chowdhury introduced NERICA rice from Uganda in 2009. This rice was developed through international effort in Africa. Huge amount of fund was spent for its development and also for its publicity. Some rich countries, international aid agencies, research organizations and multinational seed companies have been busy for establishing the success of NERICA rice. Doubts prevailed from the beginning on this claim of success. Such doubts were ignored considering the priority for solving the food shortage of Africa. Emerging issues were tagged with it. These included climate change and global warming.
A villager is in the field where Nerica performed badly ausing frustraion to farmers.
There are many inherent problems with NERICA including the fact that the multi-national companies for seed business are behind such introduction. It is well known fact that about 90% of the rice of world is produced in Asia and Rice is the staple food of the majority people in Asia. Therefore, this continent has thousands of rice varieties. Bangladesh is a small country, yet it had over 15,000 varieties and now there are at least over 7000 despite mass destruction of the diversity. It is an irony that African NERICA is being introduced in Bangladesh, while thee are still hundreds to be explored from local varieties. No justification for introduction of NERICA has yet been given by the Government or the concerned agencies. There has been no result of research conducted for assessment of NERICA. The Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC) has distributed 300 tons of seed among 37,000 farmers in 83 Upazilas in 30 districts in 2012 as an ‘experimental’ effort. The purpose of the experiment was not spelled out clearly by the government. However, even it does not meet the criteria of any scientific experiment. Rather, it appeared as a test of acceptance or imposition of the variety on the farmers. Some obligatory steps for introduction and release of a rice genotype into Bangladesh for cultivation on large scale at farmers’ levels were violated in this case.
The farmers were entrapped in serious problem by growing NERICA. They were motivated by claims that the field duration of this variety of rice is only 90-100 days as opposed to 120 days of Aus rice. They were told that it flowers in 60 days of sowing. It reality it never happened. On the contrary the paddy field was heavily infested by weeds.
It was revealed from field observation by UBINIG researchers that there was not a single plot of NERICA where there was any match of the promised and expected yield of paddy. So the farmers were frustrated.
2. Experience of the farmers:
Farmer's presented their experience with Nerica as follows:
• Germination of seed was very poor. There were only 3-5 tillers in each hill i.e. the main stem plus the tillers emerging from the main stem together
• The stem was very thin, weak and fragile
• The plants were lodging
Abdul Ghani Madu, a farmer from Rajendrapur, Ishwardi, is explaining how he has been cheated by the claims of Nerica promoters. He has suffered severe loss in 2012 by cultivating Nerica. (sitting from left to right Jahangir Alam Joni, Dr. Ma.A. Sobhan and Farida Akhter
In Rajendrapur village, (upazila Boraigram, district Natore), NERICA rice was planted on 28 April, 2012 in the field of Shukur Ali .There was no symptom of flowering even after 92 days.
In Chapainababganj the farmers were motivated with all the following claims that the (a) NERICA rice can be grown in Aus, Aman and Boro seasons, (b) It is drought tolerant, (c) It matures in 90 days, (d) It needs less chemical fertilizers, (e) It has less infestation of weeds, (f) It is resistant to disease pests and it It has high yield of paddy
The concerned farmers mentioned that the infestation of weed was so heavy that it was very cost intensive. The plant was tall, thin, lodging and only a few grains were there per panicle.
3. News paper reports:
NERICA rice seed was distributed among 750 farmers in Charghat, Bagha, Godagari, and Poba upazilas in Rajshali district. NERICA rice seeds were distributed among three thousand farmers in 8 upazilas of Jessore district. The plants were supposed to flower in 60 days but there was no flower even in 77 days. The farmers were frustrated (The Prothom Alo, 26 July, 2012).
In four upazilas of Chuadanga district, NERICA rice was grown on 1500 bighas. Most of the plants in the field wilted. There was a loss of crop (The Ittefaq 3 August, 2012)
In Chitolmari, Bagerhat district NERICA Crops in 310 bighas (1bigha=33decimals) of 310 farmers were badly damaged (The daily Vorer Kagoj, 10 September 2012)
Farmer Abdul Ghani from Boraigram mentioned that he was motivated by the officers of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) for cultivation of NERICA rice. He had grown NERICA rice on three kathas (4.95 decimals) of land and got 4 kg of paddy (which will be equivalent to 199.6kg/ha). This is much lower output than what was claimed by the promoters that they will get 4.5 to 6.5 tons per hectare (http:// oryza.com, seen on 16 September,2012) . But since it was given as a package with 8 kg of Urea fertilizer, 10 kg of TSP, 10 kg of Potash, the farmer sarcastically said, “that was indeed a profit”.
Arfan Ali described that six farmers in Rajendrapur village, Boraigram upazila, district Natore had grown NERICA rice. These farmers have incurred heavy loss due to crop failure.
Harun-or–Rashid mentioned that the farmers were frustrated by growing NERICA rice in Chapainababganj. This is an Aus rice growing area and the performance of the local varieties of aus rice was excellent this year (2012). The farmers were very happy with the yield of the local varieties of aus rice.
The farmers did not take NERICA rice willingly. In fact they do not know anything about this rice. Why this rice is given to them? Why the Government is distributing this rice for cultivation in farmers’ field without formal trials, Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS) and Value for Cultivation and Use (VCU). This is a big question. This is unethical from scientific point of view. This is dangerous for environment and biological diversity.
Arpita Rani Bala, a community-base activists, delivering her experience of Nerica and Bt Brinjal
These seeds have been given as ‘relief’ or as subsidy. The land of the farmers was used without compensation for loss of crops. In fact the farmers have been used as guinea- pigs. The interest of the multinational companies has been served at the cost of the poor farmers. The law of the land for introduction of exotic rice into Bangladesh has been violated in this case. This is now a big question whether the Government itself can violate national law on seed and disregard international agreements and conventions.
The speakers stressed upon all concerned to resist the unjust introduction of NERICA rice into Bangladesh in public interest and conservation of biological diversity. The introduction and cultivation of NERICA rice have been publicized as incentive for extension of aus rice production. This is false. The fact is that there are many local Aus varieties as well as varieties released from the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI). The local varieties of Aus rice are known for quality grains. The straw of the local varieties is very much liked by the cattle. In addition the local aus rice varieties are resilient in the face of natural calamities. Under these circumstances there is a common question that having so many Aus rice varieties in the country why NERICA rice (from Africa) is given among the farmers by the Ministry of Agriculture?
4. Publicity for Bt.brinjal
Publicity is in progress in favour of Bt-brinjal in spite of it is being questionable in Bangladesh and other countries. The originality of brinjal has been lost by incorporation of gene from another species. It has been blamed that the brinjal that we have been eating so long has defects such as the top and fruit borer insects infest on the brinjal. The larvae bore on the tender fruit and eat the pulp. Who are publishing this information? This has been published in the pictorial booklet of the (Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program II (ABSP II) on Bt-brinjal, a project of USAID to promote and commercialize genetically engineered products.
Crtoons and promotional materials that was used in India also used in Bangladesh
This booklet was originally published in english. The bangla version of this booklet is made in India and has been distributed in Bangladesh. However, some information on Bangladesh has been incorporated in the introduction of this booklet. The pictures drawn by Chandan Bhattacharya of India have been retained as such and there are only Indian farmer’s family in the pictures. Naturally, there is no similarity with the farmers in Bangladesh. The title of this booklet is top shoot and fruit borer resistant Bt. brinjal. (see www.absp2.net). The majority of the participants of the Bt.brinjal project are foreign organization like International Service for the Acquisition of Agro -biotech Application (ISAAA), University of Philippines los Benos (UPLB), South East Asian Regional Center Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and seed companies like MAHYCO of India which has partnership with MONSANTO. So the authority of this research does not vest only on the Bangladesh scientists alone.
The concern was expressed that Government is over enthusiastic about the Bt. brinjal. This has been introduced silently because initially there was protest against its introduction. It is apprehended but it may be silently diffused in the market. The Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) at Gazipur has been conducting this research under ABSP II of the USAID. There was strong protest against the move for introduction of Bt .brinjal in India and failed to get clearance from the Ministry of Environment. In contrast the Ministry of Environment in Bangladesh is silent and the Agriculture Minister, Motia Chowdhury is over enthusiastic for Bt.brinjal and Bt. potato. She had expressed her enthusiasm for GM crops in a meeting of the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council in 2011. In her opinion the GM crops may play vital role for insect resistance. She was rather annoyed on those who were opposing the introduction of GM crops (The Daily Star 30 March 2011). Motia Chowdhury thinks that the GM crops will help reducing the use of insecticides and save 30-40% of crops from insect attack.
If it was the case then there would be no objection against GMO. The opponents of Bt.brinjal, Bt.potato, Golden Rice and Other genetically engineered crops have been opposing with scientific evidence and explanations on couple of grounds. First of all research methods upon which claims for GMOs are posited are often technically faulty. Secondly a technical success in the laboratory can be disastrous in the field and one may not be able to identify the problem in a few years of time. Third, since there is hardly any research on alternative way to achieve the same objective, there is no reason to claim that GMOs could be a favorable choice.
Discussants said we cannot yield to those who are trying to introduce Bt.brinjal for their commercial interest. Biodiversity and environmental security must be upheld on public interest. The conscious scientists have initially opposed the GM technology. Based on their findings, the environmentalists and health activists have raised their voice too.
Maimun, another community eadr speaking on the occassion protesting introduction of Nerica and Bt Brinjal
Research on Bt.brinjal has been conducted in Pabna district involving the farmers. The UBINIG researchers had learnt through discussion with the scientists of Regional Agriculture Research Centre at Ishwardi that Bt.brinjal was grown in the centre. The seedlings of Bt-brinjal were supplied from Gazipur. Although Bt.brinjal was grown in the research centre but none of the scientists have tested it. Rather they had cut the fruits into pieces and buried under the soil. This is because they do not know whether it is safe to eat or not. The concerned scientist had further mentioned that she would never offer such brinjal to her children.
Although the scientist had mentioned that they had buried the Bt.brinjal underground, still there is a question if Bt.brinjal was marketed somehow.
There is no shortage for varieties of brinjal in Bangladesh. In spite of that so called high yielding varieties and hybrids of brinjal were grown with pesticides. Lot of harms were done to the consumers by application of pesticides on brinjal. Now the entire brinjal plant is being poisoned by genetic engineering and at the same time an easily available vegetable like brinjal is being handed over to multi-national companies.
Brinjal, a popular vegetable the women can grow in the homestead area and can satisfy the family need of vegetables must be saved from multi-national aggression.
The publicity for Bt. brinjal has been carried out in Bangladesh in spite of the fact that it has raised severe criticism among the farmers’ groups and environmentalists in Bangladesh and in other countries. In a country like Bangladesh, which is the “country of origin” for brinjal, we do not need to have a biotechnology based variety that may cause potential threat to human health and to the loss of local varieties. There are many varieties of brinjal and is a common vegetable in this country. Besides being grown in the fields it is also grown in the homestead areas by women. The local varieties are resistant to common diseases and pests. In case of sporadic disease and pest attacks the indigenous practices are followed effectively. Periodic application of ash is quite effective against insect and mite attack.
Joynal Abedin Khan protested against the secret and deceptive promotion of Bt.brinjal. Bacterial gene has been inserted into brinjal through genetic engineering. Top shoot borer and fruit borer cannot infest on this brinjal. The impact of this G M brinjal on human health is not known at all.