Bangladesh: Brac's hybrid seeds catch flack in international press

by GRAIN | 26 Feb 2008
In the February 20th issue of The Guardian (UK), Bangladesh's biggest NGO came under fire for its role in pushing hybrid rice and maize seeds in the country. The NGO in question, Brac, is no ordinary NGO. According to Guardian reporter Annie Kelly, Brac coordinates a whopping $300 million budget and a staff of 108,000 from a 19-story building in the heart of downtown Dhaka.

"Brac's swelling economic clout and increasing monopolisation of Bangladesh's development sector is causing concern in some ranks," writes Kelly. "There are accusations that Brac is acting like a parallel state, but one that is accountable to no one."

Kelly goes on to describe how Brac made a controversial move into hybrid seed production in the 1980s, working first with Chinese seed producers to provide poor farmers with hybrid rice and maize seeds. "Now teams of Brac scientists make their own in two Brac seed production plants. So far, it has cornered much of the hybrid seed market in Bangladesh."

From the article:

The Bangladesh government has also heavily promoted hybrid seed planting, and aims to boost hybrid seed production from 250,000 hectares in the last planting season to 1m hectares in 2008. Brac and the government are working hand-in-hand to promote the usage of drought-resistant and flood-resistant hybrid seeds developed by international multinationals.

In December, two groups - Nayakrishi Andolon, a movement of 100,000 farmers, and the Ubinig social policy research organisation - accused Brac and the government of being "unethical" and dishonest in their promotion of hybrid crops.

"A group of seed dealers and micro-credit based NGOs are active [in the introduction of hybrid seeds] and are taking advantage of the natural calamities and disadvantaged condition of the farmers. These activities are totally unethical," says Ubinig executive director Farida Akhter, who claims that Brac is complicit in deceiving farmers about true production costs of hybrid seeds and inflating predicted crop yields.

The two groups say Bangladeshi farmers have enough of their own high-yielding varieties of aman and boro rice, which need to be protected and promoted.

"The total agricultural system is now under threat," says Akhter, who blames the promotion of hybrid crops for Bangladesh's increasing mono-crop rice culture. "Due to irrigation for boro rice cultivation through extraction of underground water, the water table has gone down. There are arsenic problems in drinking water, and desertification in the northern region of the country has been intensified."

More damningly, Nayakrishi Andolon and Ubinig also accuse Brac of linking access to micro-finance loans with the purchase of a particular hybrid rice seed, along with fertiliser and pesticide.

It is a claim Brac denies. "Our borrowers always have a choice," says Brac's executive director, Mahabub Hossain. "They can either use our seed or not, but the simple fact is you can get twice as much profit from a hybrid rice or maize seed than you can from traditional strains.
Author: GRAIN
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