Declaration on biodiversity protection and local people’s rights in Asia

Representatives of peoples’ organisations in Asian countries - Cambodia, India, Malaysia, the Philippines -  joined Thai farmers and citizens from all regions of the country in a ‘Long March’, which included events in Bangkok, Songkhla, Phetchaburi, Roi Et, Loei and Chiang Mai from 6-17 September 2000.

The following declaration was issued by the participants of the Long March, which was co-organised by Biothai (Thai Network on Biodiversity and Community Rights) and the Thai Network for the Protection of Traditional Varieties. 

ALL of us have recognised that:

1)   Biodiversity can only be protected and properly managed by local people. Importantly, Asian communities do not perceive biological resources as commodities for agri-business and industry.  Instead, they have a sacred and spiritual value to sustain our lives and our survival.

2)   Our biological resources have been destroyed on a massive scale with colonialism.  It was exacerbated by the Green Revolution, which was imposed by our governments in cooperation with international agriculture research institutes.  The great pressure towards genetic engineering and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by agricultural transnational corporations (TNCs) led by Monsanto and Novartis will inevitably exacerbate destruction of the world’s biodiversity and rapid genetic pollution.

3)   The development of GMOs, the promotion of GM food and products as well as the intellectual property rights system imposed by the industrialised countries all stand against religious and ethical principles and faith of Asian people.  All this violates the rights of farmers, consumers and entire nations.  Self-reliance and sovereignty in the Asian region will be threatened to the point that we all become slaves of giant international corporations.

4)   As human beings, we are both part of and highly dependent on biodiversity.  Rice, corn, and other staple crops, food crops, medicinal plants and all other life forms are significant genetic resources that shape our culture and lifestyle.  We oppose any plan to transform these into genetically modified organisms.

5)   IPRs on biodiversity grant exclusive monopolies to private individuals and firms and are thus a threat to our food security.  We therefore oppose such IPRs on life, biological materials and processes.

On behalf of the people of Asia, we demand that:

1)   The US government, US embassies and biotech corporations in Asian countries must stop their interventions into the functions of Asian governments, media and people’s organisations to get them to accept GM crops and products.  On many occasions, the US embassy acts as a mouthpiece of US firms such as Monsanto that use dirty tricks to get support from government officials as well as academics through financing research projects, which are meant to show the benefits of their technology and products.

2)   Government and state agencies, which have been involved in the development of biotechnology, must reorient their policies and emphasise alternative agriculture that enhances economic self-reliance, like organic and natural agriculture.   Governments’ justification attempts that the development of GE technology and the introduction of GM crops will enhance the status of technology in their countries and are for the benefit of society are deceptive and must be opposed.

3)   Governments must stop field trials and other experiments on GM crops outside contained laboratories because there is a high possibility that GMOs will spread out in an uncontrollable way and contaminate other agricultural areas through cross-pollination with local varieties.  The risks will be even greater if existing biosafety control measures fail.

4)   Governments must immediately adopt laws to require food production companies to label their products that contain GMOs to ensure the basic rights of consumers.  In case any damages occur, the responsible agencies - whether they be foreign companies, international research institutes or local authorities and institutions - must be punished and be made to pay compensation.

5)   Governments must unite to oppose IPRs on biodiversity and pressure the industrialised countries and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to abandon patenting of biological resources and indigenous wisdom.  Legal frameworks should be established which allow countries to bring cases to court if companies illicitly patent biological resources.

These demands to our governments cannot be achieved without strong unity of the people in each country and solidarity among peoples’ organisations in this region.  Therefore, we will jointly engage in the following activities:

1)   Exchange information concerning developments and problems of GE and biodiversity among people’s organisations and NGOs, particularly information about TNCs that promote GE technology and GMOs as well as information from people’s movements against GMOs and GM food in each country.  The objective is to strengthen grassroots actions and to enable people to participate more in policy-making processes for the benefit of farmers, consumers and the majority of the people.

2)   Take action by all means to stop GMO field trials through public voting, lobbying governments, legal action, direct action, boycotting products of TNCs and local firms that promote GMOs, media campaigns and public protests.

3)   Cooperate in the protection, conservation, exchange and breeding of local varieties Š plants and animals, which can be managed and controlled by local farmers and do not depend on TNCs and elite international institutions.

4)   Promote alternative and sustainable agricultural systems like organic and natural farming; and establish and strengthen networks between producers and consumers because consumers’ awareness and their involvement will support farmers’ movements towards a better quality of life.

5)   Intensify the distribution of information and discussion on GMOs and their risks in order to mobilise the public against GE and IPRs on biodiversity and to expand people’s networks at all levels.

We realise that the problem of GE and IPRs on biodiversity will cause devastating impacts on people and the environment all over the world and will especially affect farmers and consumers.  As such, the majority of the world population will support people’s power at all levels and everywhere to protect our biodiversity even if we will be confronting powerful governments and giant TNCs.

This mobile campaign of Asian people has been widely lauded by our allies all over the world in the form of support letters and solidarity statements. The end of this Long March Campaign for Biodiversity is really the beginning of a new strong movement that will involve more and more people  to  achieve  our  ultimate  goals.