The Swedish International Cooperation Agency (SIDA) has ruled that its funding should never be used for “criminal activities” amid admission of Filipino entity Masipag that it supports the destruction of Golden Rice plants on field trial in Camarines Sur.
Swedish Minister for Development Cooperation Hillevi Engström said SIDA’s foreign aid has long been contributing to the development of agriculture in the world’s poorest countries.
This is why SIDA’s fund has been designated for both big international organizations like the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and small organizations like Masipag.
But this fund is “obviously” not meant to support Masipag’s campaign against proVitamin A-rich Golden Rice that specifically supported the uprooting of Golden Rice plants in Pili, Camarines Sur.
“I appreciate that you bring forward this important information. Foreign aid intended for agricultural development should obviously never be used to finance criminal activities,” said Engstrom.
This is in a letter to scientists protesting the position of Masipag against Golden Rice.
As part of its fight against corruption, SIDA “has a clear mandate to conduct effective aid and combating fraud in its handling of aid efforts.”
The uprooting of Golden Rice last August has brought to fore global public outrage against institutions specifically Masipag that supports engagement of farmers in an illegal act to draw attention to its advocacies.
In its own website, Masipag declared “we fully uphold the farmers’ action to uproot the Golden Rice plants at the DA Regional Field Unit No 5 in Pili, Camarines Sur last August 8.”
Masipag said “we also commend the sectoral organizations, networks and alliances that supported and united with the farmers in their call to stop the Golden Rice field testing.”
Field testing of IRRI and the state-run Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) are authorized by the Philippine government through the Department of Agriculture who co-funds Philrice.
Executive Order 430, signed by former President Corazon C. Aquino, created the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines. This is to oversee field testing of biotechnology crops, specifically genetically modified crops like Golden Rice.
Engstrom said the Swedish government strives to make its foreign aid program “complementary” to each other. This is why it gives funding to both IRRI and Masipag.
“Projects that support small local farmer organisations often yield very good results in the form of exchange of knowledge, strengthened land ownership, and collaborations between farmers, which contribute to increased yields and reduced pressure on the environment,” he said.
At the same time, its aid for research and development for entities like IRRI contribute to the same objective of introducing “new crop varieties that contribute to more productive agriculture.”
“Interaction with both small-scale farmers and scientists is required to sustain the global food- and feed supply,” said Engstrom.
Swedish scientists, in a letter to SIDA Director General Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, noted that SIDA is indirectly funding Masipag.
That is despite Masipag’s obvious position against plant breeding, a discipline known to be finding a way to solve global hunger and malnutrition.
The Swedish scientists noted that SIDA funded the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SNF). Masipag, in turn, receives funding from SNF.
“Masipag on its website declares that they support vandalism of IRRI’s field trials of Golden Rice. This is definitely no ‘accident at work.’ Masipag acts as a campaign organization against modern plant breeding; approximately half of the last six months on Masipag’s own website concern this campaigning,” said the scientists.
These Swedish scientists are Torbjörn Fagerström, Lund University; Sten Stymne, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU); Stefan Jansson, Umeå University; and Jens Sundström, SLU.
“We feel it is very much a matter of policy, highlighting the question whether Swedish aid should be used to support programmatic opposition to modern plant breeding,” said the scientists.
SIDA’s support to Masipag should not only be dependent on “whether individual members of Masipag will be found guilty in court” due to the uprooting.
SIDA’s funding should be based on the policy of whether to support an institution like Masipag that opposes scientific plant breeding, according to Fagerstrom, Stymne, Jansson, and Sundstrom.
“We fully endorse these principles (of synergy), which is precisely why we question the support to organizations running campaigns aimed at discouraging synergies. Anti-scientific opposition to modern plant breeding is in our opinion always counterproductive and detrimental to positive development,” said the scientists.
Masipag, in its website, alleged that Golden Rice is an investment of Syngenta and other transnational corporations and will be a profit-making venture for private companies.
However, Dr. Antonio A. Alfonso who is part of the Philrice development team on Golden Rice said such accusation is wrong.
IRRI and Philrice will release the Golden Rice in the form of inbreds or seeds that can be repeatedly stored by farmers at home.
This means farmers won’t need to buy the seeds each cropping season. Golden Rice seeds will not be proprietary in a way that private companies can earn from these.
It will be for international public good.
The seeds will be available through PSB Rc 82 which is a popular variety for Filipino farmers giving a good yield at around five metric tons per hectare.
Golden Rice is being developed for the welfare of the poorest population in developing countries particularly women and children affected by Vitamin A deficiency.
It is seen to solve this micronutrient deficiency problem that affects 1.7 million children.
“In 2012 the World Health Organization reported that about 250 million preschool children are affected by VAD, and that providing those children with vitamin A could prevent about a third of all under-five deaths, which amounts to up to 2.7 million children that could be saved from dying unnecessarily,” according to goldenrice.org.
Alfonso said eating one cup of cooked Golden Rice fills half of an adult’s recommended daily intake of Vitamin A. This information is based on a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Non-government organization Hellen Keller International, which works with the blind, has committed to test Golden Rice on actual victims of Vitamin A deficiency. Helping those prone to blindness is its mission.
Masipag argued in its website that farmers who uprooted the Golden Rice are not illiterate.
“IRRI, its local counterparts and international allies are spreading lies that farmers who uprooted the Golden rice are illegitimate. This is an insult to the wisdom of farmers,” said Masipag.
However, legitimate farmers’ organizations who come out in the open have already expressed support for GM crops like Golden Rice.
The Asian Farmers Regional Network (ASFARNET) is one of these.
Philippine Maize Federation Inc through a Congress resolution sent to President Benigno S. Aquino III pressed for continued field trials of biotechnology crops such as Golden Rice and Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant.
“From 1996 to 2011, biotechnology (GM) crops contributed to food security and climate change mitigation by increasing crop production by $98.2 billion in value and providing a better environment by saving 473 million kilos in active ingredients of synthetic chemical pesticides, according to PMFI led by its president Roger Navarro.
Reynaldo Cabanao, a Bukidnon-based farmer and ASFARNET president, said farmers in Mindanao now similarly await Bt eggplant.
“Farmers are just waiting for Bt eggplant to commercialize. They’re ready to adopt it,” said Cabanao.
In Naguilian, Isabela, another ASFARNET representative-farmer, Isidro Acosta, likewise foresees an auspicious future for farmers who would use Bt eggplant.
In a separate statement, farmer Rosalie M. Ellasus said she has long been waiting for Bt eggplant to be released so she may plant it in her farm. She tends more than 10 hectares during peak corn season.
For any questions or interview requests, please call Ms. Analiza C. Mendoza 0921-338-3816, 0916-266-6604