“I am a social scientist by training. I have been working for NGO’s, doing research on the social aspects of agricultural systems, forestry and the environment. Some of my work is on health and children, but I have been involved in agriculture from the start. I have no formal training in agriculture; I picked up my knowledge from experts and farmers. I have learned the technology, but have been working mostly on process management and social organizing.
It is striking to see the confidence of farmers grow as soon as they realize that they can choose the kind of rice they want to plant. In some areas their income has improved by using better varieties and having better yields, while reducing their use of pesticides and other chemical inputs. Some farmers have ventured into selling seeds, and they make a lot of money. The formal seed market covers only 20%, so there is a huge market for seed producers.
It is striking to see the confidence of farmers grow when they realize that they can choose the kind of rice varieties they want to plant
Many farmers do know the side-effects of conventional agriculture, like soil turning into crust, and needing more and more fertilizer. But they don’t have many options, and are afraid to venture out of their practices. Farmers are not risk-takers; they want to make sure they can harvest.
Farmers have lost control over their seeds during the Green Revolution. Recent developments in agricultural production systems, particularly the promotion of homogeneous crop varieties, threaten the diversity of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Farmers have become dependent on seed companies. We bring back the capacity to farmers to breed their own seeds and teach them how to store them.
We work in six countries in Southeast Asia. We started with rice, the staple food, followed by corn. Actually, we run programs which should be run by the government and research institutes. We try to change their traditional mindset of thinking in terms of aid to farmers. They should communicate more with farmers – maybe farmers have quite different issues than those that they are addressing.
It is important to have ‘champions’ in the government; people who like to roll out this type of programs. Governments have become agents of multinational corporations, pushing for hybrids and genetically modified organisms.
But we do see good perspectives, now that issues of climate change, salinization and pest control are hot. The corporate response is probably introducing more hybrids. But we say: biodiversity itself is our defense.”
Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE): www.searice.org.ph