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7-Misc: Monsanto-IRRI project in Thailand under NGO attack

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TITLE:  Fears over joint farm project
        NGOs see arrival of 'monster' plant seeds
SOURCE: Bangkok Post, by Aphaluck Bhatiasevi
DATE:   May 31, 1999

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Fears over joint farm project
NGOs see arrival of 'monster' plant seeds

Several non-governmental organisations have expressed serious
concern that a joint cooperation project with a US-based
manufacturer of genetically-modified organisms will set the stage
for the introduction of "monster" plant seeds for large-scale
farming in Thailand. A pilot project to encourage Thai farmers to
use special rice seeds, herbicides and technologies of US- based
Monsanto Company will be launched next month. The project, called
Innovative Partnerships for Agricultural Changes in Technology
(Inpact), has been drawn up between Mechai Viravaidya's
Population and Community Development Association, Monsanto, the
Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute and the
Agriculture Department. Under the pilot project, a micro-credit
system will be used to encourage farmers in Nang Rong and
Lamplaimart districts of Buri Ram to turn to herbicides and
technologies like land levelling, conservation tillage, tractor
operation, and use of seeds with improved quality and traits.
Monsanto Thailand's business manager on corn and cotton, Sakorn
Tripetchpisal, said the project would demonstrate to farmers the
alternatives of rice farming. Talks are under way on provision of
loans from state-owned Krung Thai Bank to assist farmers in the
technology transfer. Mr Mechai is a senator and also chairman of
Krung Thai Bank.

The project has, however, come under heavy criticism from both
local and foreign-based NGOs which feel the scheme is being used
to perpetuate Monsanto's focus on modern agriculture with
reliance on genetically-engineered seeds and to improve the
doubtful image of Monsanto. According to Pesticide Action
Network-Asia Pacific (Pan-AP) and Biothai, the project would help
improve the firm's tarnished name through alliances with
established development groups. They said the project was
intended to develop large-scale industrial farming in the country
by introducing and increasing the use of Monsanto herbicides in
rice farming. They also expressed fear the project would be used
to introduce Monsanto's genetically-engineered seeds or hybrid
seeds into Thai rice farming. "Pan- AP and Biothai believe that
it is inappropriate for a development organisation to work with
Monsanto, a US transnational chemical giant that is responsible
for such products as PCBs and Agent Orange, both of which
continue to cause sufferings and death," they said in a recently
released statement. They pointed out that the infamous
"terminator technology", which is patented by Monsanto, would
make seeds sterile and prevent farmers from saving seeds from
year to year as they have done for generations. Such technology
would be especially damaging to Thai rice farmers, given that the
high quality of Thai rice was the result of generations of
careful selection and breeding, said Pan-AP and Biothai.

Monsanto is currently developing transgenic rice, which is
genetically engineered to be resistant to its herbicides,
according to Vitoon Lianchamroon of Biothai. He said though
Inpact claimed its goal was to improve the livelihood of rural
communities in the Northeast, the outline of the project was
designed to reorganise Thai rice farming in such a way that
multinational agro-businesses like Monsanto could make profits.
"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," said Mr Vitoon.
Samphan Campiranon, who is responsible for product development
and regulatory affairs of Monsanto Thailand, meanwhile, said the
firm realised the importance of minimising the use of chemicals
in farming, adding that its products were environmentally
friendly. "It is, however, important to use biotechnology in
farming to increase the efficiency of food production, otherwise
there would not be sufficient food for the rapidly increasing
world population in the future," Mr Samphan said. He added
Monsanto spent some 1.2 billion baht yearly, researching on its
products to ensure that it was safe for consumption.

Monsanto has encountered widespread resistance wherever it has
tried to introduce its agro-technology. In July 1998, it offered
the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, a pioneer of the micro-credit
system, US$150,000 to provide loans to poor farmers to buy its
agricultural products and to establish a Monsanto- Grameen
Centre. After a wave of local protests and widespread
international condemnation, Grameen withdrew from the agreement.

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