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How Monsanto brought GM to Indonesia


We now know that, as part of its campaign to promote GM in Indonesia, Monsanto sought to corrupt over 140 well-connected Indonesians, including current and previous government officials, spending over $700,000 on bribes in the process.

It's interesting, in the context of these extraordinary revelations, to revisit the way in which Monsanto's GM seed was finally brought into the country in March 2001.

Biotech Sentries - Genetic State
"Monsanto officials..Air Force guarding..40 tons..U.S.-based Monsanto.. denied reports.. military area..concealed..tightly guarded..barred.. security reasons..must back off..amid strong protests.." THE JAKARTA POST March 17, 2001 Genetically modified cotton seed arrives in Makassar from S. Africa

"All technologies have some negative impacts and can marginalise people, creating inequality. This is the same with genetic engineering..." - Pak Siawang, Jene'berang Village, Gowa, Indonesia from 'A farmer's eye view':

In a lecture last summer sponsored by Australia's right-wing Institute of Public Affairs, CS Prakash lashed "the poor's new enemy". [,4057,912898^421,00.html] Prakash claimed GE was absolutely essential to solving problems of poor health, inadequate nutrition, food security and poverty in developing nations and went on:

"What I see is extremist groups opposed to biotechnology, using arguments about food safety and environmental impact to frighten Western consumers and to deprive the Third World of new technology that it desperately needs."

They thus hypocritically "keep Third World farmers in poverty".

Third World farmers "don't want authoritarian activists in wealthy industrialised nations preaching to them.." He also argued that western anti-biotechnology activists represented a "new imperialism" that would condemn developing nations to permanent poverty and despair.

"They have a broader agenda -- they want to control the production and distribution of food, on their terms. But I would rather see it done by multinational companies with enormous skills, resources and investment, which are all badly needed in the Third World."

What happened in Makasser just over a week ago, as reported in the Jakarta Post on March 17 (2001) gives the lie to all of this.

The arrival of 40 tons of Monsanto's GM cotton seed was greeted by "strong protests", not by Western activists but a whole raft of local NGOs:
1. YLK Sulsel
2. Yayasan JATI
4. Yasmid
5. Yapta-U
7. FIK Ornop Sulsel
8. JKPO Sulsel

Indonesia's wide-ranging opposition is not an isolated case. Last September the Thai newspaper The Nation (17 Sep 2000) reported on a 10 day farmers rally as part of "The Asian Long March to Protect Bio-diversity" in which around 1,000 farmers declared their opposition to both trade and research into GMOs. The Thai farmers were joined by representatives from the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Burma as well as Indonesia.

Next in November came the "People's Caravan 2000--Citizens on the Move for Land and Food Without Poisons!" which called for pesticide reform and opposed genetic engineering, focusing particularly on the unethical practices of many transnational corporations as they moved to take control of local food supplies and agricultural production systems. The Caravan comprised thousands of farmers, landless peasants, and farmworkers, as well as representatives of local NGOs, from countries including India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Korea, and Japan, as well, once again, as Indonesia.

Opposition in Indonesia has not just been at the popular level. Even before the Minister of Agriculture for the district government of Bantaeng in South Sulawesi finally gave his agreement for the importation of the Monsanto's seed, the state Minister for the Environment had repeatedly expressed his strong opposition, even saying he would order Monsanto's Indonesian subsidiary to stop using GM cotton seeds. [] Interestingly, there have also been claims that Monsanto's GM cotton was being promoted in Indonesia through abuse of statistics to give a totally false impression of its potential yield.

There have also been successful projects in Indonesia to boost food production without chemicals or biotechnology. Jules Pretty has reported on how a million wetland rice farmers in countries including Indonesia "have shifted to sustainable agriculture, where group-based farmer-field schools have enabled farmers to learn alternatives to pesticides whilst still increasing their yields by about 10 per cent".

A technique is also being tested, in a research project coordinated by Cornell University, in Indonesia that has already been proven to boost rice production in Madagascar on small farms, where already 20,000 farmers have adopted it, by as much as from 3 to 12 tonnes per hectare using simple, non-chemical techniques and existing rice strains.

Contrast these successes with Prakash's claims that, "The anti-GM activists claim that organic farming is sustainable, but the only thing it is sustaining in India and Africa is hunger, misery and poverty." In the end, of course, in order to bring in Monsanto's GM cotton, as reported by the Jakarta Post, they had to use the military and a press 'black out' was attempted.

In short, powerful indigenous opposition has been met by the authoritarian imposition of this technology - the same pattern that is occurring globally in multiple guises.

The claims of those like Prakash that GM opposition is "imperialist" and "authoritarian" and in opposition to the peoples of the Third World, who would welcome the introduction of GM crops and their food production and distribution coming under greater control from multinational companies, are nothing short of a big lie.

Prakash's idyll of northern corporate ag benignly controlling the south's food supply could also be contrasted with the continuing export to the Third World of animal feed made from the ground-up remains of infected cattle long after it knew that the pellets spread BSE to other cattle. As a result, as the New Scientist recently reported, "the likes of Indonesia and Thailand face a disease that even the richest countries can barely afford to control".

The fact that Prakash gave his speech on a platform sponsored by a right-wing Australian oganisation enjoying massive corporate sponsorship and with such friendly multinationals as Phillip Morris, Rio Tinto and Shell on its board, says it all.

Genetically modified cotton seed arrives in Makassar from S. Africa THE JAKARTA POST March 17, 2001

MAKASSAR, South Sulawesi (JP): A total of 40 tons of genetically modified Bollgard cotton seed arrived at the Makassar airport from South Africa on Thursday amid strong protests from environmentalists. The cotton seed, belonging to U.S.-based Monsanto, was imported by Jakarta-based PT Monagro Kimia. The seed will be distributed to seven regencies based on the recommendations of Minister of Agriculture Bungaran Saragih. A number of activists, waving banners reading "Reject Genetically Modified Cotton in South Sulawesi", tried to intercept the convoy of trucks carrying the cotton seeds, which contain Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and block them from leaving the airport. A sign reading "Logistic Depot Rice" was placed on the front shield of the trucks. The activists said that genetically modified products should be prohibited from directly entering the province, because the goods were still controversial. They should be quarantined for detailed examination before being distributed, the activists said. The Ministry of Agriculture issued decree No. 107/2001 on Feb. 6, 2001, allowing limited sales of genetically modified seed in Sulawesi. This decree was, however, criticized by State Minister for the Environment Sonny Keraf. Sonny has said that his office had to take precautionary measures as nobody could assure the safety of such crops (which are scientifically developed). The authorities had apparently concealed the seed's arrival from the press. The provincial plantation office denied reports of the seed's arrival on Thursday morning, but at approximately 1 p.m. on Thursday The Jakarta Post noticed a Russian Ilyusin transport plane, with body number IL-76T, unloading the seed in the airport's military area. The wide-bodied plane, chartered by Norse Air Charter from Johannesburg, was tightly guarded, and reporters and photographers were barred from approaching the plane.

Members of the Indonesian Air Force guarding the area said that reporters must back off for security reasons. Four Monsanto officials, president director for Indonesia Hans Bijlmer, communications manager Tri Soekirman, regional manager Edwin Mudahar and public affairs officer Wahidin Alauddin eventually spoke to reporters in the airport canteen.Tri Soekirman said that the cotton seed was imported to meet the needs of the province's farmers. "It's the first import of such seed into the country. There are at least 400,000 hectares of cotton plantations to be developed by the farmers here," Tri Soekirman said.

Responding to the environmentalists' protests, he said that his office had been approaching the non- governmental organizations. "Apart from the fact that we hold the permit from the Ministry of Agriculture, we are also taking precautionary measures. Pros and cons are common in the world."

"People should not worry about the negative impact of the crops. There have been no complaints from the U.S., South Africa, China and Argentina (where genetically modified cotton has been grown)," he said, adding that Australia had cultivated genetically modified cotton for the past five years.

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