Asian civil society groups condemn ‘hybrid rice’

Geneva, 29 Aug 2001 (TWN) - Hybrid rice, a variety first developed in China and sought to be spread through Asia by the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute, based in the Philippines), has been condemned by civil society groups in Asia as being of poor taste and suitable only for animal feeds.

This condemnation was voiced in a collaborative study by six civil society groups in Asia and has been reported in a press release by Masipag, a Philippine NGO.

The study, titled “Hybrid Rice in Asia: An Unfolding Threat”, was researched by Devlin Kuyek for the six civil society groups in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The groups are Biothai (Thailand), GRAIN, KMP (Philippines), Masipag, PAN Indonesia, Philippine Greens and UBINIG (Bangladesh).

Although the Baguio’s Grains Retailers Confederation, in an article published on Monday in Los Banos (the Philippines), claimed that consumers were patronizing hybrid rice because it has better quality than native rice varieties, Cris Panerio of the Los Banos-based Masipag painted a different picture. “Many of our traditional rice varieties have good quality incomparable to substandard hybrid rice,” said Panerio. “So, it’s ridiculous to claim that the hybrid tastes better than our native varieties.”

Claimed the study, the crop was produced from a rice variety considered as China’s lowest quality crop, making consumers despise the hybrid’s taste.

“In fact, much of the crop is purchased by the state (People’s Republic of China) and a large part of the harvest is used in state programs to feed the urban poor, stored in the country’s rice stocks, or used as animal feeds,” the study said.

The most glaring drawback of hybrid rice, it added, is that it is not intended for small-scale farmers.

Dr. S.S. Virmani, head of the hybrid rice program of the IRRI admitted that, “This technology is not for farmers still struggling at the level of two or three tons.”

In another document, the IRRI said, “The cost of hybrid seed, being 10 to 15 times higher than that of ordinary seeds of rice, it discourages poor farmers from taking advantage of the hybrid technology.”

The NGOs’ study noted that by favouring wealthy farmers, it would only exacerbate the problems of distribution and poverty. Moreover, this variety loses its “hybrid vigor” after one planting season, thus putting a stop to farmers’ traditional practice of saving and exchanging seeds.

The study points out that the biggest beneficiaries of this technology would be the agrochemical companies involved in the hybrid rice seed industry in Asia.

“As intellectual property regimes allow companies to charge an additional 10% to 30% over the cost of the seed, in the form of royalties or license payments, the income opportunities for the industry are attractive indeed,” the March 2000 study says.

“The real motivation behind the development of hybrid rice is to create a rice-seed industry as a motor for the deeper industrialization of rice farming,” the study adds.

The study notes that so far, three hybrid rice varieties have already been released in the Philippines: two from the Philippine Rice Research Institute and one from Monsanto’s Agroseed.

According to Masipag, in 1997, hybrid rice was planted in around 500 hectares in the country and the area was estimated to increase to 100,000 hectares in 2000. - SUNS4957

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