Tuesday, October 16, 2007
  "Rice is not a water plant."

Q. So why are rice fields, paddies in English, flooded?
A. To keep down weeds.

A study published by WWF two weeks ago, with a focus on India - a country which faces a major water crisis, yet has the world’s largest rice cultivated area - found that the system of rice intensification (SRI) method has helped increase yields by over 30% - four to five tonnes per hectare instead of three tonnes per hectare, while using 40% less water than conventional methods.

The system is based on eight principles which are different to conventional rice cultivation. They include developing nutrient-rich and un-flooded nurseries instead of flooded ones; ensuring wider spacing between rice seedlings; preferring composts or manure to synthetic fertilizers; and managing water carefully to avoid that the plants’ roots are not saturated.

The method was initially developed in the 1980s in Madagascar and has been demonstrated to be effective in 28 countries.

The report suggests that major rice-producing countries - such as India, China and Indonesia - convert at least 25% of their current rice cultivation to the new system by 2025. This would not only massively reduce the use of water but also help ensure food security. In addition, this will reduce significant amount of methane emissions. SRI fields do not emit methane as is the case with the more conventional system of growing rice.

Nigh on two years ago I focussed on Bayer CropScience who were full of themselves for helping develop "a more sustainable and holistic agricultural production system" involving secondary crops which would keep pests at bay(er).

This year, the webpage I quoted is much reduced and Bayer now dedicate all efforts to helps people living in a healthier and more comfort environment with wide range of professional and consumer products such as pesticides which are always approved by WHO and FAO.

So that's all right then. Their "innovative agricultural technologies and solutions" include the insecticides spiromesifen, ethiprole, and clothianidin, the fungicides fluoxastrobin and prothioconazole and the sulfonylurea herbicide mesosulfuron, and genetically modified crops.

Nowhere on their website is the acknowledgement that there exist more environmentally appropriate agricultural technologies, such as SRI, which are, unfortunately for the Bayer shareholders, better both in financial and health terms for crop growers and consumers.

Consumer acceptability is a crucial factor that needs to be respected, especially with regard to biotechnology crops. Our biggest challenge lies in not only developing ever better technologies, but also in addressing the societal acceptance of our products. We will need the cooperation of governments and other partners and stakeholders to shift towards science and risk based regulations and decision making that foster more sustainable technologies.

At least, they recognise that they're not very popular.

Unfortunately, the sustainable technologies they tout aren't. Biotechnology, including genetically modified seeds, is as 'addictive' as, say, heroin, in the sense that you always need more and it can take years to recover good health. Companies like Bayer market genetically modified seeds that are dependent on pesticides, herbicides and, I'm tempted to say, genocides. These hybrid seeds, cannot be harvested and saved for the next harvest thus forcing farmers to be dependent on the suppliers.

Rice has been the foundation of cultures and civilizations in many parts of Asia. Rice was first grown in the river deltas of East and South Asia thousands of years ago and it was the productivity of wetland rice that gave birth to the first civilisations in India, China and along the Mekong Delta. Rice has evolved together with these communities and today, come in a myriad of colours that range from white to brown to red to black; textures that may be grainy or sticky, and flavours.

Variety and diversity are the keys to survival among all living organisms. With ever-changing environmental conditions, one can no longer say that only the strongest and fittest will survive because they cannot be predetermined, so new strains of rice are always welcome. Obviously, being dependent on just the one will inevitably lead to disaster.

According to the executive director of Biotani Indonesia Foundation, Riza Tjahjadi, Bayer has been growing genetically modified rice in East Java and elsewhere since 2003. This is disturbing in that they have now withdrawn from the UK and much of the EU following reports of environmental damage, including the growth of "super weeds" and the eradication of wildlife.

The gene flow from a cultivation could not be managed satisfactory, so to ensure existence of all different agricultural practices in EU, including organic farming. In the same way the gene flow to wild relatives would be impossible to prevent.

So how come the Indonesian government continues to allow foreign companies to take over agribusiness? According to today's Jakarta Post, there is a plan to use "181,121 hectares of prime rice fields, mainly in East Java," for planting hybrid (GM) rice "to meet the local demand for rice".

Bayer is ready.

In Indonesia, BioScience offers Arize hybrid rice seed and Nunhems vegetables seed. Nunhems seed is market leader in Europe and has been operated in Indonesia since 2003. Arize hybrid rice seed started to established on 2004, and now has two registered hybrid rice named Hibrindo R-1 and Hibrindo R-2. On 2006, BioScience are ready to introduce Hibrindo R-1 in main rice area like East Java and West Java.

Bayer CropScience has many field staffs which are spread in many province like East Java, Central Java, West Java, Lampung, South Sumatera, Bengkulu, Jambi, West Sumatera, Riau, South Kalimantan, North Sumatera, North Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi and South Sulawesi. These field staffs promote all Bayer CS product in the daily activities.

According to Riza, seed will be imported from the Philippines, China and India. All these countries have been affected by the introduction of GM seed. In India, there has been an 'epidemic' of suicides among farmers who have found themselves in serious debt. Could the same be in store for Indonesian farmers?

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has come out in favour of organic agriculture, something that Riza, through Biotani, has been promoting for several years. With the acceptance of SRI, is there any justification for Bayer's antics here?

BTW. Today, October 16th, is World Food Day. Remember, you are what you eat.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)

This post lead me to examine in some depth the hybrid seed industry here in Indonesia. I originally posted another five articles in this thread but I have now transferred them to Green Indonesia, for reasons of ........ .
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