Follow up GMO conference in August 2017
21-22 May 2018, Hanoi, Vietnam
Community Entrepreneurship Development Institute (CENDI) in collaboration with Towards Organic Asia (TOA) organized GMO Multi-stakeholder Meeting.
Drastic GM Corn expansion in Vietnam brings adverse health and environmental impact to farmers
In 2006, Vietnams Prime Minister issued Decision no. 11/2006/QD-TTg on the adoption of genetically modified crops (GMOs) as part of the “program on development and application of biotechnology in agriculture and rural development” aiming at having 30-50% farmland under GMO cultivation by 2020.
In 2010, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) started experiments of 7 corn varieties from the giant agrochemical and seed companies Sygenta, Pioneer Hibred Vietnam and Dekalb Vietnam (a subsidiary of Monsanto). Commercialization of genetically modified crops in Vietnam started in 2015 within pilot areas in An Giang, Dong Thap, Dong Nai, Phu Tho, Son La, Thanh Hoa, Thai Nguyen, Hoa Binh and Tuan Quang provinces. The expansion of GM corn production is in line with the proposal of the government to boost corn exports in the region.
The expansion of Bt corn has not just increased conversion of forest areas for monoculture plantations. Valuable insects, birds, medicinal plants are also lost along the way while paving for the erosion of traditional seeds. It has also increased the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides which contaminated land and water in the uplands. In 2017 and 2018, a series of media investigation within these GMO BT corn areas shows evidence of growing farmers’ woes, ill health and toxic environmental pollution. These include increasing cases of respiratory ailments, miscarriages and skin diseases. The poisoning of 78 farmers this May 2018 in Son La province is among the most recent of these evens documented so far.
International Participants on GMO issue
GMOs are not an isolated issue for Vietnam. Participants from other South East Asian countries, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Laos who were present at the meeting also shared their country’s experiences and actions to confront the harmful impacts of GM crops that have sustained the corporate takeover of agriculture in the last two decades.
To counter the detrimental impacts of the Green Revolution’s hybrid rice and conventional chemical agriculture, which eroded local genetic resources over the past four decades, MASIPAG, a farmer-led national network promoting farmers’ rights in the Philippines, develops and promotes local rice varieties and organic, diversified and sustainable farming systems. Now, more than 600 traditional varieties, 1,200 MASIPAG bred-lines and 500 farmer-bred locally-adapted varieties are kept alive by hundreds of farmers organizations across the archipelago. MASIPAG emphasized that diversity and rights to seed is the heart of farmers’ freedom and power against corporate control.
Despite strong opposition, the first GM Corn commercialization in Asia was in the Philippines. Cumulatively, more than 600,000 hectares or almost a fourth of the country’s corn area are now planted with GM Corn. MASIPAG launched a national socio-economic impact study in 2012-2013 revealing that GMO farmers experienced negative net income due to tightening seed monopoly, rising cost of seed and chemical inputs, usurious rates of traders’ interest which led to debt chains, bankruptcy and weakening of land rights.
Monoculture plantations of GM corn have also led to dwindling biodiversity, erosion and contamination of traditional corn varieties and massive land use conversion of upland forest for agricultural expansion. During the height of herbicide-resistant and Round-up Ready GM corn adoption, Glyphosate peaked at from 5.7 to 6 Million liters annual used in 2011. Meanwhile, estimates of corporate seed profit from GM corn in the Philippines ballooned to more than 115 million US dollars in 2014. An ongoing health investigation also revealed rising cases of cancer, and glyphosate contamination of land and water in upland areas where GM corn plantations are concentrated. Learning from Negative experiences with GM corn, Philippines civil society have linked with various sectors and organizations in Asia to opposed GM Golden Rice, a genetically engineered rice with the capability to produce beta-carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, which is intended to be released in Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
BioThai, a network in Thailand shared that the GMO debate started as early as 1999 when Monsanto planned to release BT Cotton in the country. Strong civil society campaigns led to the decision to ban all GMO field trials in 2001 and to the drafting of safeguards and regulation under Biosafety Bill in 2002, despite Monsanto’s strong influence in government during that time. Thailand is now facing a grave problem of GM contamination in papaya which has caused economic loss and export rejections in 2012 and 2013. Rising GMO contamination and leakage has also been detected in several agronomic crops, including cotton, corn, soybean, papaya and chili from 2007 to 2013, affecting Thailand agricultural exports negatively. From 2014 to 2015 Monsanto, through Charoen Pokhpand (CP) Company, lobbied anew to push for GMO planting in Thailand, but a strong and united public demonstration halted this plan. Currently, numerous organizations in Thailand are pushing for the promotion and support of sustainable, organic and indigenous agricultural systems, while protecting and promoting traditional local seed varieties and community values.
GRAIN, an international organization working to advancing community controlled and biodiversity-based agriculture, emphasized that there is a need for the public, including policy makers, to be more discerning and critical of the two decades of deception and false promises coming from GMO promoters, that GMOs will help feed countries like Vietnam with its increasing population; that it is more productive, helps eliminate the use of agrochemicals and thus contribute to farmers’ economic improvement, and that it’s perfectly safe for humans and the environment.
Experience from neighboring countries, as well as from other part of the world, has provided us with vast evidence that GMO is only working to increase corporations control over seeds and to put farmers in further economic dependence and indebtedness. Lesson learned from disastrous Bt cotton in India shows how growing Bt cotton has created massive indebtedness in farming communities due to high input cost and this has led to huge numbers of farmer suicides. The failure of Bt cotton promises also experienced by more than 4000 farmers in Sulawesi, Indonesia in 2001 lead to that country still not allowing the commercial planting of GM crops until now. In Latin America where GM soybean is planted on a large scale, the glyphosate use has rocketed to over 550 million litres per year, with terrible consequences for the health of its inhabitants. It also causes soil depletion and thus forces farmers to use more and more fertilizer if they want to have sufficient yields.
Moving forward: protect traditional seed diversity, environmental health and farmers’ rights against GMOs
The rich and diverse discussions in the workshop provided an important and much needed venue for the stakeholders to gather information, discuss perspectives, analysis and propose solutions to address issues surrounding GMO commercialization in Vietnam. While corporations profit, farming communities are suffering from declining health, growing debts, loss of cultural agricultural knowledge, and increasing social vulnerability and undeniable ecological degradation. The introduction of herbicide-resistance GMOs is evidently responsible for the increase use of glyphosate in the farm. GM seeds helps multinationals seed companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, CP Thailand to control seeds and prohibited farmers from developing farmers own seed system and erode local agriculture biodiversity. Vietnam has experience big shifts in agricultural production from self-sufficient to market oriented and this can bring grave consequences for Vietnamese farmers and environment if it continues to grow this way.
The two days of collective discussions and debates brought forth important recommendations. The workshop concluded that nationally in Vietnam there is a need to:
- Having broader public participation on the policies concerning GMOs in the country,
- Cooperative action among different sectors in Vietnam to push for more responsive government action to investigate, regulate and address multi-faceted issues experienced from three years of GMO commercialization in the country,
- Learn from and work with other countries in facing GMO threats, and in defending local and diverse seed varieties, farmers rights, consumers health, traditional indigenous culture and environment,
- Push for a more responsive Biosafety policy to ensure regulation, safeguards, accountability, social-environmental protection and the primacy of peoples’ rights against corporate takeover of agriculture and GMO commercialization,
- Foster stronger solidarity and unity to strengthen network collaboration across South East Asia, particularly between Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia to challenge GMOs; protect and promote traditional local seed varieties; enhance learning exchanges and collaboration to build capacities in the development of diversified and sustainable agricultural systems in the region.
In unity, participants also echoed that sustainable agricultural development can only be realized when the environment is protected, culture is respected, and farmers rights to seeds and land is upheld against corporate greed.