Michael Commons, from Earth Net Foundation, is sharing some thoughts with fellow members of the Agricultural Biodiversity Community not long after its general meeting in Thika, Kenya, in November 2015, about the battle they won against GMOs in Thailand and how they are raising awareness of farmers, consumers, general public and the media about agricultural biodiversity through an annual seed event at local level.
“When Therasit and myself were in Thika, we received news that a motion was passed to legalize GMOs (for open use) in Thailand. Prior, no open use or open field trials have been legal. Fortunately there was a mandatory period of public review. This action was like a call for so many of us working on agricultural biodiversity, agroecology, organic farming, self-reliance, etc.
Quite quickly a wide and diverse campaign of actions against GMOs and to promote awareness of the risks and hazards of this potential law developed. This involved much use of social media as well as organized protest, reaching out to the media (and media coverage), and other diverse actions. After a period, quite surprisingly (and very welcome) the prime minister publicly withdrew this motion. This is quite rare. In our own review, we feel we were successful as we had strong cases on many different sides and gained visibility in many different places.
The GMO supporters argument was primarily scientific, just arguing something like “we need GMOs to address population growth, climate change, etc.” We had strong scientific arguments but we also had other very strong arguments, such as the great risk to trade and commerce as there is no preference for GMOs, and many countries and consumers avoid GMOs. Also, we had clear data and arguments about environmental and biodiversity risks. Then, while the data is less clear as to the direct human health hazards of GMOs, it is clear that people who are aware of these issues, see GMOs as a health threat. There are strong arguments that GMO seeds (costs and rights) weaken the position of farmers. Lastly, there is a very strong ethical argument found among all of our communities (Buddhist, Muslim, Christian) who practice ethical behavior “Right Livelihood”, that Genetic Modification is not ethical. The movement against GMOs was cross all normal political lines.
So this was an important battle to be won. It also was founded on over 10 years of working on this issue with farmers and others to understand GMOs and their risks and so forth. Thus, we had many people who could speak out clearly and confidently with strong arguments. Many farmers who know very clearly the harm that GMO’s may bring to their livelihoods, to the environment, and that many of the promoted myths are false (such as GMOs use less agrochemicals).
Unfortunately, like it always seems, this is never over. We know that those supporting GMOs are now working behind the scenes to convince government agencies. On the other side, we see that we need to do more to show the strengths and benefits of our agricultural biodiversity heritage (our seeds and breeds). While many in the movement know of the benefits of this biodiversity and that we have a great number of traditional varieties with resistance to flood, drought, salinity, disease, with greater nutrient and health benefits, beautiful and delicious and so much more, most of the public (which means most voters) know so little.
This year we decided to try and upgrade an annual seed event to be larger and reach more of the public and media. I just joined this event over the last 3 days in Khon Kaen. There was quite wide farmer involvement and good involvement from the local public and media. The municipality of Khon Kaen city gave its full support, working to become a Green City and with the Mayor himself practicing some organic rice farming. While this one event may probably not change everything, it is one step. I think many of you are doing similar things. I wish to share a few photos (see below): we wanted to have captivating displays of agricultural biodiversity, where many may take photos and share in social media.”
Earth Net Foundation is a non-profit organization that promotes and supports initiatives related to production, processing, marketing and consumption of organic food, natural products and ecological handicrafts, and works with Green Net Cooperative, aThai social enterprise working to link sustainable farmers and community enterprises with consumers.
The Agricultural Biodiversity Community is aimed at preserving and conserving the agricultural biodiversity worldwide.
Earth Net Foundation