Friday, May 11, 2012

which of our visions will claim us

Manila is not good for my sleep cycle. On the ferry back to Luzon from Abra de Ilog I sat next to the municipal mayor after hitching a ride. The conversation on the swaying boat stayed mostly with development (Marx, Engels, Jefferey Sachs), using good governance as protection for IPs (his language, indigenous peoples) and the role of his Catholic faith in confronting misery and poverty (alleviating suffering while looking to Jesus as the long-term solution). He also said I looked tired, the only deviation from said conversation.

I spent the early morning this time in Manila studying hybrid rice. In a few hours I'll travel to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to begin a course entitled "Rice research to production" sponsored by a National Science Foundation grant, overseen by Cornell with IRRI. We will be 30 students from Brunei Darussalam, East Timor,  India, Myanmar, Philippines, France, Suriname, Sudan, Taiwan, Thailand, Germany the U.S. We come to IRRI to be instructed on how biotechnology is feeding the world.

Biotechnology: the science that manipulates living organisms to create biproducts. Biotechnology and food merge at the very beginning of life: seeds. A more detailed description of hybridized seeds, the Green Revolution and biotechnology's role in the lives of small farmers can be found here. Suffice to say I'm entering the belly of the beast. I asked for an invitation, even spent Christmas break writing the application to study at IRRI, whose fundamental premise and existence gives me a life's worth of resistance. I come to this course believing that the technology used to create higher yielding crops transmutes growing food for people into generating profits for corporations. Hybrid seeds cannot be saved because they do not produce the same plant the second season, they are designed to be used with chemicals to protect against pests and diseases, the germplasm is owned by private companies, and biodiversity tanks when one variety is deemed superior to all others.

But there are scientists, politicians, economists, farmers, social scientists, who believe that growing more food using biotechnology will save the world from hunger and poverty. And so I'm off to IRRI to understand how this works. How preventing farmers from saving seeds provides them the power to determine what they grow and how much. How encouraging the production of more chemicals to be applied on marginal soils ensures long-term health of natural resources. How selling corporations the rights to life forms assigns equal access to food, a livelihood, a future for farm communities and eaters. 

Recognize that I'm being confrontational, preparing to meet Goliath by drawing Goliath in black and white. How does one manage an open mind and stand firm, receptive but not wavering? I take my cue from Adrienne Rich as dawn spreads over Manila:

“and I ask myself and you, which of our visions will claim us
which will we claim
how will we go on living
how will we touch, what will we know
what will we say to each other.”
Adrienne Rich

For more on hybrid seeds and seed sovereignty:

La Via Campesina:
In the U.S. OSGATA:
First the Seed (Kloppenburg)

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