Chemicals and Credit
However, traditional practices that had been practiced for centuries were thrown out unceremoniously. In came rice varieties that required high inputs of pesticides and fertilizers, for which farmers had to rely on credit. It has also replaced diversity with uniformity and transformed farmers into mere farm workers.
All the "miracle" rice varieties produce little in the absence of liberal doses of chemical fertilisers and costly pesticides. And today they dominate the market. Extensive use of pesticides has also led to contamination of agricultural land and groundwater all across in developing countries.
Capturing The Seed Market
Interestingly, the commercial rice seed market is the only rice market where Asia doesn't dominate, accounting for less than a quarter of the $32 billion market. But there are other issues involved. Multinational seed corporations all run rice programmes in a bid to dominate and expand the seed market. Hybrids power seed markets.
Most of these do not reproduce and so force farmers to purchase new seeds every season. Rice, however, is a self-pollinating crop, making hybrid rice seed production costly and difficult, and nearly all rice in Asia is still grown with farmer-saved seed.
The seed industry believes that the combination of genetic engineering and patents can overcome this hurdle. Through patents and contractual agreements, seed companies will seek to prohibit farmers from sharing or saving seed, control what pesticides are used and even assert ownership rights over the harvest.
“Henry Saragih, an Indonesian delegate to the World Social Forum in 2001, cited the example of low rice prices (the result of imports of the grain from the United States), which are devastating the rice farmers in his country. The same dynamic affects European farmers, who face bankruptcy from a system that favours only the big farms, said Egidio Brunetto, a leader of Brazil’s Movimento dos Sem Terra’ (landless movement) underscoring their common struggle worldwide.”
High Price. Low Price
America and India handle their rice markets very differently. While the US pampers its farmers and pushes the rice price as up as it can to maximise its profits, India penalises its marketeers if they don’t keep the rice price down so that the poor can afford it.
That illustrates the rich-poor country divide in rice. Wealthier countries use a combination of domestic market interventions and border protection or export subsidies depending on whether they are importers or exporters. In contrast, poor developing countries in Asia tax rice producers, with domestic prices often less than three-fourths of world prices. Domestic controls are aplenty and diverse. Most of these countries have some form of price support system. These support prices are almost always below the international prices. (Rice Trade Liberalisation and Poverty, Gulati and Narayanan, EPW)