Govt should rethink the use of hybrid rice

Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government should stop a plan to introduce the wide use of a modified, high-tech rice hybrid as it will burden farmers, a farming NGO said Monday.

“The government should carry out research on the impacts of weather anomalies, which are more frequent due to climate change,” executive director of Biotani Indonesia Foundation, Riza Tjahjadi told The Jakarta Post.

“The government must also reveal results of the study to farmers.”

Riza, a member of the International Planning Committee Right to Food Working Group, made the statement ahead of World Food Day which is to be celebrated Tuesday.

More than 150 countries observe World Food Day, which falls every Oct. 16.

The Agriculture Ministry is set to push the use of hybrid rice in an effort to boost the country’s yield production to meet the local demand for rice.

According to the plan, more than 181,121 hectares of prime rice fields, mainly in East Java , will begin using the hybrid rice this year.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono marked the plan by planting the hybrid rice seed during a ceremony in Gorontalo earlier this year.

Agriculture Minister Anton Apriantono said Indonesia was expected to harvest 58.18 million tons of unhusked rice this year, or a 6.4 percent increase from the 54.66 million tons in 2006.

The government has set a 61.09 million ton target for rice production in 2008.

Riza warned Indonesia could experience a suicide phenomenon among farmers, as occurred in India, should the government go ahead with the plan.

India opened its seed sector to global agribusiness firms in 1998. As a result, traditional farm seeds were replaced with genetically-engineered seeds requiring repurchase for each growing season, which lead to poverty and severe debt among farmers.

The independent Human Rights Law Network, which researched suicide among farmers, believes more than 10,000 farmers in the important farming states of Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh committed suicide over the last five years.

Riza said most of the seeds were imported from China, India and the Philippines .

“Seeds from a hybrid rice harvest cannot be saved and planted in the following planting season, forcing farmers to buy new seeds the next season, and the season after that, and so on,” he said.

He said a kilogram of hybrid seeds cost some Rp 50,000 (US$5.49) per kilogram, far higher than inbred varieties at Rp 7,000 per kg.

“Hybrid rice is not suitable for our poor farmers. They are not ready for high-tech, hybrid rice,” Riza said.



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