“Rice means life to us in Asia. It has been the cornerstone of our food systems, our languages, our cultures and our livelihoods for thousands of years.”
This statement from peoples’ movements and NGO’s across Asia makes it very clear that the efforts of peasants and supporting civil societies to protect their rice is much more than merely an economic issue. Since traditional rice production is inseparable from the Asian culture, threats to rice are always threats to a whole system of values.
There is a contradiction between traditional agriculture and industrialised agricultural production, based on modern science. The “modern” cultural package came with colonisation; cultures that evolved over thousands of years were wiped out within a few hundred years. The Green Revolution intensified this process of erosion of farmers’ wisdom and biodiversity in the rice fields and with the spread of hybrid rice, many traditional rice varieties in Asia were displaced. Subsequently, the knowledge about locally adapted rice cultivation (in harmony with nature and traditional beliefs) disappeared as well. Since hybrid rice is more susceptible to diseases and pests, it requires more pesticide inputs. Pesticides are human and environmental poisons and every year more than 25 million agricultural workers are poisoned by pesticides. The misuse and overuse of pesticides has also created pest resistance to pesticides that has caused huge pest outbreaks resulting in large-scale crop loss.
The introduction of hybrid rice also serves as a springboard to genetically engineered (GE) rice. Far from ´feeding the hungry´, as biotech advocates claim, the real purpose of genetic engineering in rice is to expand monocultures of profit that agribusiness built through the Green Revolution. Here, the possibility of asserting exclusive rights to new seeds by Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), especially patents, promises high profit. Under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the “Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights” (TRIPS) forces all members to introduce laws on IPRs, with very little option to avoid patents. IPRs threaten the Food Sovereignty of countries and local communities, because they prevent peasants from planting their own seeds.
Research and development is highly dominated by Transnational Corporations (TNCs) like Monsanto and Bayer Crop Science, which are also the worlds’ biggest producers of agrochemicals. Hence, it is not surprising that the bulk of research on GE rice is done in the area of herbicide-tolerant rice, which is able to survive the total poisoning of a cultivated field with the corresponding herbicide of the company.
The current process of globalisation and liberalisation has further intensified the control and gains of TNCs and is a threat to Asian farmers. On one hand, Asian countries are forced to open their markets to highly subsidised agricultural imports from the North (due to the WTO’s “Agreement on Agriculture” – AoA), while on the other hand, corporate agriculture introduced as part of the Green Revolution is leading to a crisis in agriculture including loss of soil fertility, pest problems due to pest resistance and mounting debts and monopolies. These processes are causing massive bankruptcies and displacement of farmers and agricultural workers. Again the TNCs have gained and are increasingly taking control of natural resources belonging to the farmers.
To counter these impending threats to local knowledge, culture and consumption; and in order to protect the cultural heritage of Asian farmers and communities, PAN AP organised a Task Force Meeting on the “Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom” in February 2003 in Penang to launch an Asia-wide “Save Our Rice” campaign. Since rice has such important political, social, cultural and economic significance to Asians, there was a need to develop a common strategy for the campaign. The main objectives of the campaign are to fight a corporate agricultural system which calls for the massive use of agrochemicals and increasingly, GE seeds; to counter the threats of the WTO and the Agreement on Agriculture to Asian peasants as well as to promote and ensure more support to small-scale, ecological cultivation systems and the related wisdom of Asian peasants.
On the first “Rice Advisory Group Meeting”, which took place in June 2005, attended by 30 representatives from grassroots movements and civil society organisations, these objectives were affirmed. Furthermore, a special focus for the campaign on the threats of GE rice, the research policies of IRRI and the dangers of IPRs was set by the group.
Four years since its inception, PAN AP’s Save-our-Rice Campaign has provided substantial impact in terms of its policy work, networking, and information support. It has challenged the corporate agenda, and at the same time, gained recognition among network groups via various activities and initiatives. For the coming years, PAN AP with its network partners needs to sustain and intensify its efforts toward building solidarity, raising awareness amongst various sectors, and deepening perspectives and critique on rice-related policies and issues. The campaign will further strengthen its link with PAN AP programmes reinforcing perspectives on crosscutting issues.
The Save Our Rice Campaign focuses on five major areas, known as the Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom:
The “Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom” is a dynamic concept, whereby the five pillars are inter-related and the objectives of each pillar of the campaign can only be achieved in tandem. None of the pillars can develop to perfection without the other pillars. “Rice Wisdom” is not only the overall objective, it is also the necessary process to achieve these objectives.
Rice culture. Rice is an integral part of the way of life and the spirit of Asian peasants and communities. It is more than just the staple food in Asia. For Asians, life without the sustenance of rice is simply unthinkable. To protect rice means also to protect the spirituality of the people, especially women, and to preserve the wisdom of rice culture. Under this pillar, documentation of rice culture, rice celebrations and festivals and a sharing of experiences among rice farmers will take place.
Community Wisdom focuses on the authentic knowledge of the farmers as a counterpoint to the so-called “modern” science systems. Science does not necessarily mean knowledge. Corporate science claims to be sound science and therefore universal and superior to all other knowledge systems. Farmers look at seeds as a very ethical issue, not solely as raw material for agricultural production, and basically women are the ones preserving the seeds. Community wisdom is a concept of farmer-led research, upholding and promoting farmers’ knowledge.
Biodiversity-based Ecological Agriculture is a genuine peasant-led initiative that incorporates farmer-to-farmer exchange, the documentation of alternative agricultural projects and a seed conservation network. The objective of this approach is to maintain biodiversity in rice, its quality and soil fertility. This includes alternative and sustainable land use, the cultivating of food crops in an organic manner and aiming towards community self- reliance.
Safe Food means food without poisons i.e. rice production without the utilisation of hazardous technologies such as pesticides and genetic engineering. It also means the rejection of “High Input Varieties” (HIV) and hybrids. Commercial GE rice is supposed to be released in China, soon. Combined with the new possibilities of seeking patents on (genetically-engineered) rice, this will lead to complete control over rice production in Asia. The “Safe Food” pillar encompasses community empowerment, monitoring and documentation of TNC tactics and IRRI’s research policy and the documentation of strategies for resistance.
Food Sovereignty is based on the human rights framework and encompasses the rights of people and communities to decide on food and agriculture policies, the right to adequate, culturally appropriate and safe food, the right to land and productive resources, the right to sustainable production and livelihoods and gender justice. This pillar focuses on the threats to the decision-making rights of peoples and communities, i.e. globalisation and particular WTO agreements that supersede local and national decisions on food and agriculture. The topics under this pillar include the agricultural dumping and export subsidies from the North, the rights to land and productive resources, the Convention on Food Sovereignty and the call for alternatives to WTO in agriculture. This will be processed by means of various documentation, impact studies and workshops.
The project strategy is to empower peasant movements, to sharpen analysis and create awareness as well as to campaign and undertake policy advocacy. This will be done by means of holding workshops and conferences, undertaking research and producing documentations, and campaigning. Furthermore, regular communication and consultation processes with partner groups will be maintained. Additionally, a continuous information drive will be guaranteed by the PAN AP webpage on rice, the rice listserve and various fact sheets. Networking within Asia and worldwide will be safeguarded by active participation in networks such as the “East Asian Rice Working Group” (EARWG) or the “Working Group on Agricultural Research” (WGAR). Furthermore, there is co-operation and sharing on rice issues with “Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration” (ETC – Canada), Berne Declaration (Switzerland) and EcoNexus (UK).
The broader goals are:
- For rice to be recognised as one of the most important factors for the formation of Asian societies and rural communities.
- For rice to be produced, owned and controlled by small-scale farmers, who cultivate it in a biodiversity-based ecological manner, related to the wisdom of Asian peasants and communities.
- For rice to be liberated from corporate control through chemical-free, GM-free and patent-free rice cultivation.
- For food sovereignty of Asian rice peasants to be achieved.
There are five main objectives of the project, following the logic of the “Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom”.
- To raise awareness about local Asian rice culture among societies and to facilitate a sharing of experiences among rice farmers.
- To highlight farmers’ knowledge and community wisdom by encouraging factors such as intuition, spirituality and ethics in rice cultivation.
- To promote chemical-free and productive biodiversity-based ecological agriculture, aiming towards community self-reliance.
- Awareness building among farmers and consumers about the threats that “high input varieties” and genetic engineering will bring to their livelihoods.
- Community empowerment and support of the resistance against the impacts of globalisation and trade liberalisation on Asian rice cultivation.