Thailand : Long March against GMOs

A ten-day mobile campaign (6-16 September) has been launched in Thailand to sensitise public opinion on the threat of GMOs and the promise of peoples’ alternatives for food security and agricultural biodiversity in Asia.

by Someshwar Singh

Geneva,12 Sep 2000 -- A ten-day mobile campaign has been launched in Thailand to sensitise public opinion on the threat of GMOs and the promise of peoples’ alternatives for food security and agricultural biodiversity in Asia.

According to BIOTHAI, the long march (6-16 Sept) is a continuous caravan-type campaign that will traverse six areas of Thailand (five provincial sites plus Bangkok). The sites that will be visited are all areas where farmers and other local organizations have already initiated their own activities concerning these issues.

Since 1997, genetically modified crops and foods have stirred up a huge debate as they are being introduced into Thailand and other countries in South and Southeast Asia. The controversy focuses on the implication of genetic engineering for food security, the increasing domination of transnational corporations in the region, and the impact on local bio-diversity.

In the past few years, transnational corporations, which develop genetically modified crops, have collaborated with governments in countries such as Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia to bring GM cotton, corn and soon, rice seeds for field testing.

This poses many problems, says BIOTHAI. “There are many uncertainties about the technology and regulatory systems in these countries are so weak and lacking in public participation that GM seeds are introduced with insufficient oversight and information. Already, Bt cotton seeds from Monsanto have been found growing illegally in Thailand. While NGOs blew the alarm on this finding in 1999, no one has yet taken responsibility for this act nor solved the problems it raises.”

The challenge at hand is for Asian countries to better define their options and set directions for agricultural research and development that are most appropriate to the people, BIOTHAI points out.

“Northern governments, transnational corporations, private foundations and international agricultural research institutes have played a major role in guiding and informing policy-makers to influence their decision-making as well as conducting mass media campaigns to boast “the bright side” of this technology and win over Asian scientific and political consent through the lure of funding.

“So the governments and institutes for science and technology in these countries are likely to support this technology. For example, researchers in Switzerland who developed vitamin-A rice now claim that scientists and policy-makers in Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh are eager to embrace this new technology, despite the total lack of discussion on the implications for - and with - farmers and local people. Farmers and people in Asia have learned and experienced the failure of the Green Revolution.”

Therefore, agricultural development should not take that direction any longer, maintains BIOTHAI. At present, transnational corporations, international agricultural research institutes and some schools of scientists rationalize their slant with the problems of increasing populations, lack of food, drought and pests.

“This was the same justification for the Green Revolution four decades ago - although now we have soil infertility, genetic erosion, debt, landlessness and much greater dependency on external inputs because of that Green Revolution,” says the Thai NGO.

“Farmers, consumers and local people in these countries have been marginalized from these discussions and decisions, despite the fact that they are the first and most directly affected,” the organization adds. “So they should be encouraged and empowered to play a more significant role at national and regional levels in these discussion and to generate more people-oriented ideas for action.”

The Long March is designed to bring information from the national and international levels to the grassroots people and, at the same time, generate information, ideas and concrete planning proposals from the local perspective that can feed the national and international campaigns.

It is expected that the foreign participants will engage in constant sharing with the Thai communities to enrich peoples’ strategies on GE and IPR across the region.-SUNS4738

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