Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Neglect of farming led to rice crisis"

IPS: The headlines screaming about a global food shortage have not aroused surprise in a leading non-governmental organisation (NGO) working with farming communities across Asia. To its members, warnings of hunger on a biblical scale are hardly news. After all, the Asia-Pacific arm of the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a global environmental lobby, has been raising the alarm about an impending rice shortage for years. Among its more recent campaigns was one launched to coincide with ‘’The International Year of Rice,’’ which was marked globally in 2004.

But the alarm bells rung by PAN were ignored by governments in the region, home to nine of the world’s top 10 producers of the grain. They are China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, the Philippines and Japan. The only non-Asian in this rice league is Brazil.

‘’Governments refused to listen to our concerns. In the last five years we have been saying that we are in rice crisis, that food security and food sovereignty were being undermined,’’ Clare Westwood, campaign coordinator for PAN’s ‘Save Our Rice Campaign, said during a telephone interview from Malaysia. ‘’It was only a matter of time before the warnings became real.’’

PAN’s primary concern was the push towards rice cultivation on an industrial scale that promoted monoculture, where a few high-yield rice varieties that needed large doses of chemicals were held up as the answer to growing demand. Marginalised, consequently, were the small farmers, who came from rural communities that had used local knowledge over centuries to generate new varieties of paddy seeds that blended with the local environment.

‘’The high-yielding seeds prompted in the monoculture style of farming are not as hardy as local varieties produced through the ecological style of farming,’’ adds Westwood. ‘’This hybrid rice can only perform well under certain circumstances and they need a lot of fertiliser and pesticides and they are water intensive. These are their inherent weaknesses.’’…

Rice paddy shot by Jean-Louis Vandevivère from Paris, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

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