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7-Misc: Monsanto and IRRI plan micro-credit system to change Thai's rural agriculture

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April 6, 1999

Pesticide Action Network-Asia and the Pacific and BIOTHAI strongly oppose the proposed project between Monsanto, IRRI, the PDA, and the Department of Agriculture to encourage Thai farmers in the Northeast to use Monsanto's agrochemicals and technologies.

A project outline has been drawn-up between the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), Monsanto Company (USA), Monsanto Thailand, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Department of Agriculture (Thailand). The project, entitled "Innovative Partnerships for Agricultural Changes in Technology" (INPACT), will use a micro-credit system to encourage rice farmers in the Nang Rong and Lamplaimart Districts in Buri Ram Province, Northeast Thailand, to use Monsanto's pesticides and other technologies. Both IRRI and Monsanto will train farmers on how to use their recommended technologies. The technologies include:
- land leveling
- Monsanto's conservation tillage technology
- tractor operation
- use of herbicides
- use of seeds with "improved quality and traits"
- harvesting and threshing technology
The participating farmers will then work with PDA to teach other farmers to "increase the number of farm households impacted."

The intentions of the project are clear:
1. To develop large-scale extensive and industrial rice farming in Thailand;
2. To increase and introduce sales and use of Monsanto's herbicides in Thai rice farming; and,
3. To improve Monsanto's tarnished name through alliances with established development groups.
It is also likely that the project will be used to introduce Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds or its hybrid seeds into Thai rice farming. Monsanto is currently developing rice genetically engineered to be resistant to its herbicides. It also holds patents on the infamous Terminator Technology-- which makes seeds sterile and prevents farmers from saving seed from year to year as they have for generations. Such a technology would be especially damaging to Thai rice farming, given that the high-quality of Thai rice is the result of generations of careful selection and breeding by Thai farmers.
PAN-AP and BIOTHAI believe that it is inappropriate for a development organisation to work with Monsanto, a US transnational chemical company that is responsible for such products as PCBs and Agent Orange -- both of which continue to cause suffering and death. Currently, the company is trying to create a new image as a "life sciences" company seeking to feed the world. Monsanto has invested heavily in biotechnology, buying up many smaller companies, and, due to recent acquisitions, is now the world's third largest seed company. Almost all of its biotechnology work on agriculture focuses on the development of crops resistant to its herbicide, Roundup Ready. Farmers that buy these seeds are required to sign stringent contracts and are not allowed to save seeds or use other agrochemicals. Monsanto has encountered widespread resistance wherever it has tried to introduce its genetically engineered crops. Also, the seeds are costly and not compatible with the small-scale farms of As!
ia that are not heavily reliant on agrochemicals.
In response, the company has tried to forge alliances with development groups that can not only "clean" Monsanto’s image, but also bring Monsanto's products to farmers through development programs and micro-credit schemes. For instance, in July 1998, Monsanto offered the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, a pioneer of the micro-credit system, US$150,000 to provide loans to poor farmers to buy Monsanto's agriculture products and to establish a Monsanto-Grameen Center. After a wave of local protests and widespread international condemnation, Grameen withdrew from the agreement.
Monsanto's efforts in Thailand mirror what happened in Bangladesh. Like Mohammad Yunus (the founder and President of the Grameen Bank) Meechai Viravaidya (the founder and head of PDA) is a high-profile innovator of development projects. He is also a former Minister of Industry and is currently a Senator. Monsanto has offered support to other non-governmental organisations, such as BIOTHAI, and they have refused to accept it. We hope that Mr. Viravaidya will follow Mr. Yunus and the other Thai organisations' example, by withdrawing from the INPACT project.
We also believe that it is entirely inappropriate for IRRI to be working in conjunction with Monsanto. IRRI is an international agency funded through the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research, which operates from the World Bank. It is based in the Philippines and its gene bank contains nearly all Asian rice cultures, including Khao Dawk Mali (Jasmine) rice. The director of biotechnology of Monsanto (USA) and the company's main contact for the INPACT project is a former high-level employee of IRRI. Also, Meechai Viravaidya is on the IRRI Board of Directors. Working relationships between IRRI and Monsanto will increase opportunities for Monsanto to access the genetic resources of Thai farmers for its own profit. INPACT claims that its goal is to "improve the livelihood of the rural community in North East Thailand", but the outline suggests the opposite. The project is actually designed to reorganise Thai rice farming in such a way that multinational agribusin!
esses, such as Monsanto, can make profits.
For example, the project will use Monsanto's "conservation tillage", described in Monsanto's annual report as "the practice of substituting the judicious use of herbicides for mechanical tillage." At the same time, the project aims to mechanise Thai rice farming with tractor operations and threshing technology. In other words, INPACT will create farms suited to Monsanto's technology and its financial interests. Mechanised farms that are highly dependent on the products of multinational companies will never improve the livelihood of Thailand's rural communities!

For more information please contact:
Witoon Lianchamroon
Tel. +662 952 7953
Fax. +662 952 7371

Devlin Kuyek
Pesticide Action Network- Asia and the Pacific (PAN-AP)
Tel. +604 6570271
Fax. +604 6577445

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