Seeds in farmers’ hands: escaping poverty through diversity and local knowledge

14/09/2014 at 1:19 pm 1 comment

One of the outcomes of the much-lauded “Green Revolution” is that farmers in countries like the #Philippines have fallen into debt. Farmers needed to take out loans to buy the high-yielding crop varieties, and the chemical fertiliser and pesticides the plants needed.

To escape the debt trap, farmers, scientists and NGOs joined forces in the 1980s and founded MASIPAG. They collected and maintained more than 1,300 traditional rice varieties and bred 1,288 new MASIPAG rice varieties which are specifically adapted to local soils and climate conditions.



“International agricultural research is dominated by multinational companies. At MASIPAG, the farmers have regained control over their most important resource: seeds”, says Manny Yap, former coordinator of MASIPAG.

A recent study found that MASIPAG rice can keep up with high-yielding varieties without the need for pesticides. Since the farmers are largely independent from external inputs and as the great variety of products they cultivate enables them to compensate for crop failures, they are able to increase their income and earn more than the conventional farms.

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  • 1. justwoodlife  |  15/09/2014 at 3:47 pm

    We welcome the news that “At MASIPAG, the farmers have regained control over their most important resource: seeds.”

    Just Forests has always believed in the intelligence of local people with local knowledge. We made a submission to the Government’s Regional Development Programme 2014-2020 (RDP 2014-2020) recently. We have always insisted on a world where all people will have access to natural resources sourced locally as a means to improving their quality of life. And to this end, I am reminded that while serving an apprenticeship with a Tullamore woodworking family in the early 1960’s I learned how to make wheels – wheels for ass’s carts, horse’s carts, pony traps and bog barrows. We got all our wood from Clonad Sawmills, outside Tullamore, which was run at that time by the Dunne Family.

    We knew instinctively what woods to use for any particular job. Take the humble wheel for instance – three different locally-grown woods were used – each with particular characteristics that ensured the longest usage possible for that wheel and a quality piece of wheel-righting for the farmer or indeed townie who commissioned the work.

    The hub (center stock) was made of elm. Elm has an interlocking grain structure that ensures it is for all intent and purposes relatively split resistant. The spokes were made of ash because of its flexibility- thus ensuring that shocks from hard knocks and heavy loads would be absorbed by the spokes rather that shattering them. Then you had oak for the felloes (rim). Oak is strong and durable. It is hardwearing and for the most part rot-resistant. It could withstand tough wear and tear. During my apprenticeship we also made lots of bodies for cattle lorries. The most common wood used in the floor and ramps of cattle lorry bodies was larch – a tough local-grown resinous timber with excellent hardwearing properties to withstand the hoofs and waste residues of transporting cattle.

    So, considering that GOOGLE or FACEBOOK wasn’t heard of at that time where did we get all this knowledge about the inherent qualities and characteristics of each different wood? It was gained from centuries of tradition by craftspeople intimately engaged in their work and the knowledge was handed down to successive generations.

    Today our elm, our oak, our ash and yes our larch also, are threatened by serious infestations that could possible end any commercial exploitation of them going forward and may even cause their permanent exit from the Irish landscape. Considering the historic role Irish timber has made to the economic development of the agricultural sector in our country their decline is nothing short of criminal and no one has been held to account. Now, somebody has to be responsible for their decline.

    “RDP programmers should also place a very high priority on reducing errors,” (Commissioner Dacian Ciolos) and I would add that they should be held accountable for any further demise of the environment and natural resources considering the volumes of research that exists and the historical events that is driving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which was agreed in December 2013 and now has ‘three long term objectives within which rural development is also situated.’

    These include:
    Viable food production
    Sustainable management of natural resources
    Climate action and
    Territorial development

    Again the old Irish lament Cill Chais – a gaelic song describing the aftermath of the destruction of Ireland’s forests in the 16th century, is a reality.
    “Cread A dheanfaimid Feasta Gan Adhmad, Ta Deireadh Na Gcoillte Ar Lar.”

    Today we are witnessing the demise of our most commercially viable and bio diverse timber species, the destruction of our bogs nature’s great flood barriers.
    We must now ask ourselves what is “development” and who is it for? What have all the previous LEADER Strategies and Rural Development Initiatives failed to do that has brought us to a point where we brace ourselves for the ninth week of persistent rain and overflowing rivers that are causing unprecedented flooding across the country.

    “Development” cannot be delivered from the outside, and “Poverty” is not merely a lack of money, food or shelter. To be poor is also to lack control over one’s life and resources, and “poverty” is not simply a matter of scarcity, but a matter of distribution of, and access to, resources. And “Development” is about reversing poverty and inequality, increasing the choices and opportunities available to poor people, and protecting their human rights. (Source: Economic growth and development – Does one lead automatically to the other?)

    We live in an increasingly globalized society and everything we do today has local as well as global impacts. Sustained economic development cannot take place without attending to the ‘real development needs’ of society.

    More people-centered and sustainable forestry and farming practices have never been more urgent. Natural renewable resources, environmental goods and services and the protection and responsible use of biological diversity are the real backbone of all economic development, social protection and environmental sustainability.

    In summary we ask the RDP 2014-2020 to take due regard to the following food/agricultural related concerns of Just Forests:
    Soils all over the world have been degraded at a rate of 10 times faster than nature can restore them
    Intensification of farming/food production is harming the environment
    Population growth will lead to greater demands for food
    Independent and credible food labeling is needed for consumer confidence
    ‘True cost accounting’ -the RDP must account for the real costs of food, or sustainable food systems will never break through to the mainstream.
    Herd and food health is a serious problem as antibiotic/pesticide residues enter the food chain

    Human values are at the heart of our work with a particular focus on the following.

    Food MATTERS.

    Just Forests calls on the RDF Programme to take greater account of unsustainable food production practices that are very evident everywhere.

    The global population has just passed 7BILLION. Globally we are producing enough food to feed 11BILLION people but almost 40% of this food is wasted. This is an appalling situation as so many of the world’s children and adults go to bed hungry every night.

    Unsustainable farming systems/practices by big corporates that churn out vast quantities of food only to sit on supermarket shelves in shiny packaging must stop.

    This is seriously undermining the work of small and local (sustainable) food production that cares for the environment and stimulates social cohesion while boosting local jobs.

    A new insect-resistant maize, developed by DuPont and Dow Chemical, is presently being considered for approval by the EU’s General Affairs Council.
    In relation to this matter Just Forests fully supports the Afri position on GM crops.

    ‘Afri contends that given the scientific uncertainty around the risks to human health from GM crops, as well as the possibility of contamination, and the consequences for biodiversity, that this proposal should be opposed.  Greenpeace has claimed that would be “utterly irresponsible” as the EU’s own tests suggest the maize is “harmful to butterflies and moths”. (11th February, 2014)

    With global populations set to soar to 9.3BILLION over the next number of years the need for sustainable food/farming systems has never been greater. Ireland’s current industrialized farming practices are contributing to climate change.

    Between sheep, our national dairy herd, horses and beef cattle we now have more farm animals in Ireland than people. The methane gas expelled by our national (collective) herds is significant and must be curtailed if critical life support systems such as fresh water and fresh air are to be maintained in pristine condition.

    It is way past time to factor in the true costs of food production.

    Funding MATTERS
    Just Forests wants to see a larger portion of the allocated funds given to member groups of the Irish Environmental Network (IEN). Many groups in the IEN have done outstanding work over the years with very small budgets. The public trusts environmental groups to spend their funds wisely compared to statutory bodies that often get paid huge salaries and pensions.

    Basic hands-on education for sustainable development is urgently needed. Adequate funds for environmental training and education must be increased without delay.

    Education for sustainable development (ESD) MATTERS.

    Standing forests should be more valuable than cleared forestland. Stewardship of forests natural resources and services such as soil enhancement, flood prevention, carbon sequestration and fresh water provision by practicing sustainable forestry should be more profitable than clear-cutting an Irish woodland or tropical rainforest for that matter. Preserving wetlands and grasslands should provide far more long-term benefits to society than parking lots, or construction sites full of houses that no one wants.
    At Just Forests, we endeavor to change the economic mindset that fails to value natural ecosystems and ultimately results in nature being wasted or consumed by inefficient developments.
    David Meredith’s presentation from the RDP/LEADER consultation event that took place in the Tullamore Court Hotel on Thursday 6th February, 2014, states that:
    Youth unemployment in Ireland currently stands at 30%
    It was 9% in 2007
    Ireland has one of the highest rates of young people who are not in education, not in employment and not in training (NEET) in the EU at 21%.
    These figures suggest a need to develop alternative pathways to education outside of the current formal third level structures.
    Just Forests recommends a return to apprenticeships informed by Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Development Education (DE). In September 2013, Just Forests made a submission to the Minister for Education and Skills’ ‘Request for submissions to inform the development of a National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Ireland’. (
    Creating economic value in our natural ecosystems is one of the most powerful motivators for sustaining them. Once we start thinking about ecosystems as assets, environmental sustainability can become part of the economic fabric of our society.
    Conservation will be embedded in business activity – leading to an economic model that supports growth in a way that also is in harmony with nature. Such a paradigm shift of incentive – away from degrading natural ecosystems to recognizing the value in maintaining them by putting people at the heart of conservation – is the mission of Just Forests and we hope the driving force of the RDP 2014-2020. 

    Wood MATTERS
    Ireland is the least forested country (apart from Iceland) in the EU. We are also the largest per-capita consumers of tropical wood in the EU.

    In summary we ask the RDP 2014-2020 to take due regard to the following forestry/timber related concerns of Just Forests:

    Ireland needs to be less dependent on imports of timber from developing economies
    Ireland needs to plant more trees to help deal effectively with flood waters
    The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) which came into force in 2013 to deal with imports of illegally-logged timber must be seen as an opportunity to increase our own forest area
    Establishing more forests in Ireland will help sequester our carbon emissions and at the same time increasing our own timber resources
    All local authorities in Ireland must have a ‘responsible timber procurement policy’
    All government departments/agencies must have a ‘responsible timber procurement policy’

    Just Forests is calling on DOCHAS Member Organisations to ensure all their members/employees give preference to timber and wood-based products that are independently certified as coming from responsibly-managed forests.

    insist on locally produced timber-numerous Irish-grown timbers are very suitable for external and internal work
    insist on Irish-produced SmartPLY, OSB, Chipboard and other sheet materials-this is a very practical way of supporting the 4 major panel producing companies in Ireland and offsetting the large volumes of imported Chinese plywood that is often of poor quality and in most cased made from illegally-logged tropical timber.
    initiate a major national education campaign to inform their members of the importance and potential of ‘green’ trade in timber and wood-based products-this will add significantly to the economic, social and environmental value of Ireland’s forests
    push the public sector to give preference to sourcing goods and services locally- this will give SMEs a better chance of growing and staying in business.



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