The following is a post from guest blogger Sri Ranjini Mei Hua, a research associate at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. We hope you enjoy the read!
At least one-third of Indonesia’s babies and toddlers below two years old are stunted as a result of being severely malnourished—which means that they are considerably shorter than children of their age. In addition to a lack of health staff and treatments, the poor quality of food further exacerbates the problem.
With rising prices of pesticides and fertilizers, farmers and fishermen invariably end up with poor harvests due to rampant pest attacks. These problems are not particular to Indonesia, but are also prevalent in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia.
As GM crops were aggressively marketed as the solution to end world hunger, farmers and families were promised increased yields and incomes. The deputy minister of Indonesia was even convinced that GM food was “help from God”.
However, since the introduction of GM foods in India just a couple of years ago, doubts abound that this green revolution is really the miracle it appears to be.
Today, some 5000 children in India continue to die of hunger and malnutrition. As if that is not enough to worry about, many distraught farmers, bereft of their livelihoods, are committing suicide at an alarming rate. On average, at least one farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes, according to a report by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University’s Law School.
As suicide is considered taboo, many deaths go unreported, thus underestimating the total death toll. A combination of failed investments in GM crops, a lack of water and land resources to carry out GM farming, years of dry spells, and poor agricultural planning has led to its widespread failure in India.
Multinational corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta are often vilified for profiting from Third World inefficiencies. However, they are not all to blame as the Indian government had a part to play in dangling the promise of greater crop yields with less labour input and lower costs, in an effort to entice unwitting farmers in India to take up GM crops.
In fact, the problem does not lie with GM seeds so much as it does with poor planning and execution of agricultural policy. While many studies have been done on GM agriculture, there is no evidence of any health or environmental dangers associated with it. In the US, no adverse effects have been found with its soya, 90% of which is GM.
In Europe, although people used to have reservations about the “Frankenstein food” and exercised caution when it came to importing such food, their sentiments are slowly changing today in response to projected rising prices and anticipated shortages of food.
Although India accounts for only about 15% of the world’s output of vegetables, much of its production goes to domestic consumption. Hence, it is important for the country to get its agricultural policy right in order to boost its economy, increase productivity and improve food self-sufficiency.
As farmers in India incur large amounts of debt in order to purchase expensive pesticides and fertilizers that are needed to grow GM crops, many end up distressed as crops fail and they are unable to pay off what they had borrowed. Thus, the extent of resources required for GM production is not easily available to small-scale farmers.
Despite India’s failed experience with GM crops, the Agriculture Ministry in Indonesia has given farmers the green light to grow GM foods. It has been alleged that Monsanto had bribed government officials so as to obtain regulatory approval for its crops in Indonesia.
What is needed now is a greater exchange of information and research to highlight the conditions and outcomes of GM farming. Unless and until the costs and risks involved with such techniques of food production are made more transparent, farmers in Indonesia, like those in India, will need to resist GM farming as a method of food production.
Governments need to resist pandering to the tune of multinationals and look into long-term investment in agricultural infrastructure i.e. irrigation, fertilizers and seeds, needed for the success and sustainability of GM food. That means regulating the activity of MNCs and not leaving “the invisible hand” of the market to determine the fate of its people.