GENTECH archive


RE: trangenic/ hybrid seed

Below is an item I picked up from the GENTECH list that partly answers
the question what do you do with a country like Bangladesh. A lot of
so-called "help" from other countries and corporations have done
Bangladesh farmers more harm than good, that it would probably be
better if you simply stayed away.

Roberto Verzola


AGRICULTURE-BANGLADESH: Hybrids Hit By Farmer Resistance

By Dev Raj

TANGAIL, Bangladesh, Dec 18 (IPS) - Abdul Rahim is grateful for the
micro-credit he received to cultivate hybrid rice in Bangladesh. The
money, he says, will come in handy for his daughter Romesha's marriage.

''I don't trust hybrid seeds,'' he says stretching out a palm full of the
golden grain from a one kilogram pack left him by the monolithic
non-governmental organisation (NGO) Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee

As for repaying the 5,000 takas (110 dollars) and the 22 percent interest
it carries, Rahim is certain that he can do it better by sticking to
traditional seeds, rather than switching to hybrids newly introduced in
post-flood Bangladesh.

''I will just tell the BRAC agent that the hybrids did not work,''Rahim
said adding that he would not have got into the deal at all except that he
has just fixed Romesha's marriage.

Rahim has made a quick decision on an issue which the government has been
dithering over - whether or not to allow large-scale introduction of
imported hybrids to tide over seed and grain shortages following this
year's devastating floods.

''The corporate NGOs are unethically taking advantage of the floods to
pushing in hybrids as part of flood relief packages,'' said Khushi Kabir,
coordinator of Nijera Kori, a leading NGO advocating the rights of
grassroots groups.

Farmers in Tangail, a major rice-growing region, are a savvy lot and not
likely to fall for slick promotional talk from the corporate NGOs or fall
prey to their micro-credit packages. But most are marginal and not likely
to fall for slick promotional talk from the corporate NGOs or fall prey to
their micro-credit packages. But most are marginal and the times are hard.

''About half of Bangladesh's 120 million people are now ensnared by large
micro-credit dispensing organisations like BRAC and Grameen and vulnerable
to pressure from them,'' Kabir said.

Gulab Jan from the Delduar area who approached BRAC for a 3,000 taka loan
to repair her leaky house was given 2,700 taka in cash and the rest in
hybrid seeds.

''When I protested that I had no land to cultivate it on they asked me to
find someone who has - but nobody wants hybrid seeds around here,'' she

The government, despite warnings from agricultural scientists, recently
allowed private companies to market hybrids in the country - fulfilling
the long-held wish of seed transnationals. recently allowed private
companies to market hybrids in the country - fulfilling the long-held wish
of seed transnationals.

Protests were heard after Agriculture Minister Begum Motia Choudhury said
the country had no option but to go in for hybrids. ''Coming from her this
is surprising because she was always an outspoken critic of
non-sustainable farming methods - she is definitely being manipulated,''
Kabir said.

But the government and the NGOs never reckoned with fierce farmer
resistance. With less than an acre of land to play around with, Rahim is
in no mood for potentially disastrous experiments - never mind the
promises of fertiliser and advice from BRAC.

Rahim's neighbour, Abu Bakr, says farmers here are wary of hybrid seeds
from sheer experience. ''With hybrids I know I cannot set aside a portion
of crops for seeds and I will be forced to buy them at whatever prices the
market dictates.''

At 75, what Abu Bakr does not know about paddy cultivation is not worth
knowing. ''I have seen it all including the havoc created during the
sixties and seventies by the so-called green revolution with all its
hybrids, artificial fertilisers and pesticides.''

''There may be a smaller yield with local varieties but I would be
spending much less on costly and poisonous chemicals - my body too feels
much healthier.''

Abu Bakr said the pesticides and fertilisers also killed off the fish that
flourish in the wet paddy and in the many ponds that dot the patchwork
quilt landscape of smallholdings that make up most of deltaic Bangladesh.

Farmers in Tangail consider themselves lucky that located in their
district is a branch of the privately-run research organisation UBINIG
which provides expertise in sustainable farming methods, particularly
district is a branch of the privately-run research organisation UBINIG
which provides expertise in sustainable farming methods, particularly in
efficient storage and exchange of seeds.

Although UBINIG's programme is called Naya Krishi (new farming) it builds
on the traditional wisdom that farming interfaces human beings with

Abu Bakr, for example, would never dream of allowing a tractor onto his
land. ''Unlike a bullock-drawn plough, tractors kill off worms and other
microorganisms that keep the soil in condition - tractors are costly and
don't produced dung.''

Mixed cropping and crop rotation on UBINIG's plots demonstrate to farmers
in the area how up to 12 different crops can be interspersed to form a
small system in which each plant helps the other.

''Legumes take care of nitrogen fixation eliminating the need for
fertilisers while marigolds take care of pests and bring in extra cash,''
says UBINIG coordinator Jahangir Alam Jony.

''The idea is to maintain as much crop diversity as possible so that
farmers have ready and affordable options at all times rather than the
perilous monocultures that seed companies are trying to introduce,'' Jony

One of the important activities of the UBINIG centre is the maintenance of
a seed exchange from which farmers can borrow free on the condition that
after harvest they return twice what they took.

The system takes care of the increasing demand for seed each year, Jony
said adding that farmers are also encouraged to store their own seed in
simple, mud-sealed earthen pots.

So successful has UBINIG's work been that the government has stopped
scoffing at its 'retrograde' farming and now pays money to learn from its
expertise, Jony said.

The Bangladesh Rural Development Board (BRDB) now sends batches of women
from around the country to UBINIG's farms to learn how they can augment
their incomes and the diets of their families through simple and
sustainable methods.

''We want the seed in our hands and not in the 'pricey' and undependable
markets,'' says Begum Hasina who has come to UBINIG from nearby Ferozepur
district for a week long course in kitchen gardening, medicinal plants and
keeping livestock and poultry.

UBINIG Executive Director Farida Akhtar says the government has no right
to allow private seed companies to freely bring in seeds to make up for
supposed shortages.

''There are no shortages and the stories appearing in the press about
farmers eating up their seeds because of the unusually prolonged floods
are motivated,'' she said.

The agriculture minister has announced that the private companies are
being allowed to import seeds on the condition that they develop varieties
specifically suited to the country.

However, many argue that by the time hybrid seed companies get to that
stage of research they would have gained firm commercial control over
farming in this country and perhaps changed it forever.

Agricultural scientist Dr S.M.H Zaman says the imported hybrids would
rapidly deplete soil fertility and cause new problems beyond the means of
farmers to tackle.

Dr Zaman said multi-national pesticide companies which were rapidly losing
their business around the world and switching over to the lucrative seed
and genetic engineering business were looking to developing countries like
Bangladesh for markets.

According to Dr S.S. Virmani, a world expert on rice hybrids, this country
has neither the technology nor the infrastructure to handle delicate
hybrid farming. For a start less than 20 percent of Bangladesh is

If at all the country goes in for hybrids in a big way it should be with
seeds developed by the country's own well- developed facilities at the
Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), most experts are agreed.

But that option poses another problem. Bangladesh's best agricultural
brains have long since left for greener pastures in Australia and New
Zealand. (END/IPS/rdr/an/98)

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