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Protest against Monsanto-PDA-IRRI deal in Thailand

Mechai, PDA and Monsanto
SOURCE: PAN Asia Pacific, panap at panap.po.my
DATE: April 23, 1999
Archive: http://www.gene.ch/

Dear Friends,
Yesterday the letter below was faxed to Mechai Viravaidya, the Chairman of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) in Thailand. In March, PAN-AP discovered that PDA was working in collaboration with Monsanto and IRRI on a project to bring Monsanto's technology to rice farmers in Northeast Thailand with the use of micro-credit.

In early April, PAN-AP and BIOTHAI released a joint press release exposing the project. It has since caused a stir within all the parties involved and it is rumoured that the PDA is considering backing down from the project. Monsanto has approached other NGOs in Thailand, but the PDA is the first to cooperate. This is why your support is so urgently needed.

If you share our concerns with the proposed project, we encourage you to send your own letter to the PDA, Monsanto, or IRRI. We would also appreciate if you could CC your letters to us. Thanks in advance for your support.

Regards,
Devlin Kuyek
PAN-AP
(fax: 604-6577445 email: panap@panap.po.my)

Mr. Mechai Viravaidya
Chairman,
Population and Community Development Association (PDA)
April 22, 1999
Dear Mr. Mechai Viravaidya,
We are deeply concerned about recent information we have heard regarding a proposed project between the Population and Community Development Association, Monsanto Company, the International Rice Research Institute, and the Department of Agriculture. As you know, the project is entitled INPACT (Innovative Partnerships for Agricultural Changes in Technology) and its goal is to improve the livelihood of the rural community in North East Thailand. The project plans to attain this goal by bringing Monsanto and IRRI's technology to Thai rice farmers, through micro-credit. Some of the technologies to be introduced are:
-land leveling and water management;
-Monsanto's conservation tillage;
-tractor operations and harvesting and threshing technology;
-use of herbicides; and
-use of seeds with improved quality and traits.

Essentially the project will convert small-scale rice farms into extensive, industrial farms. It is our firm belief that such a transformation will not improve the livelihoods of the rural community in North East Thailand.

We are especially concerned about the promotion of herbicides. There is extensive documentation about the adverse impacts of chemical herbicides to the health of farmers and consumers. The World Health Organization's World Health Statistics Quarterly (43, 1990) reports that approximately 25 million people in the South alone suffer from occupational poisoning by pesticides every year. These chemicals also destroy the ecology and biodiversity of farms.

We believe that the use of seeds "with improved quality and traits" implies the use of hybrid seeds. These crops may generate high yields, but they have two essential characteristics:
1) They only thrive in response to the heavy use of chemical fertilisers and herbicides.
2) The crops deteriorate in the second year, thereby forcing farmers to buy seeds annually.

Monsanto is the world's largest selling herbicide company and the third largest seed company in the world. It is entirely in its interests to encourage farmers to use these seeds and this expensive model of farming.

We also fear that the project may encourage the use of genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto is currently field testing rice that is genetically engineered for tolerance to its herbicide. Scientists estimate that plants genetically engineered to be herbicide tolerant will actually triple the amount of herbicides used. In the US in 1997, expanded plantings of Monsanto's herbicide tolerant soybeans resulted in a 72% increase in the use of Monsanto's herbicide. Today, Monsanto owns the patent for the infamous Terminator Technology - which is a method of genetically engineering crops so that they will not germinate and will thereby prevent farmers from saving seeds. The current structure of rice farms in North East Thailand does not support extensive industrial farming. Most farmers produce high- quality rice, that they have bred through generations of careful selection, on small irrigated plots of land that are inaccessible to most industrial farming machinery and that use very little pesticide. Converting these farms into large-scale mechanized farms will force farmers to buy expensive machinery, inputs (chemical fertilizers and pesticides), and seeds, driving them into debt and eventually off their lands.

Those who will benefit from such a conversion are the companies that sell products designed for large-scale farms. Monsanto's annual report describes its "conservation tillage" as "the practice of substituting the judicious use of herbicides for mechanical tillage." Small Thai rice farms, that use little machinery, do not need this technology. It is only through the mechanisation of Thai rice farms that Monsanto can hope to sell its technology.

The farms envisioned in the INPACT project are neither sustainable nor environmentally friendly. They will increase the use of harmful agrochemicals, destroy biodiversity, and force farmers into a spiral of dependency and debt. You have made a name for yourself through your commitment to environmental and social issues in Thailand. However, we believe that your involvement in this project will undermine these objectives and will have adverse consequences for Thai farmers.

We call on you to withdraw from this partnership with Monsanto and invite you to join the growing world wide movement of people against Monsanto, chemical farming, genetic engineering, and patents on life.

Yours sincerely,
Sarojeni V. Rengam
Executive Director, Pesticide Action Network- Asia and the Pacific
(PDA, Mechai Viravaidya, Fax: 662-2294632, email:
pda@mozart.inet.co.th)
(IRRI, Dr. Robert Raab, Fax: 632-8450563, email: r.raab@cgnet.com)
(Monsanto, Charles Martin, email: charles.m.martin@monsanto.com)

-| Hartmut Meyer
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