Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Conversation with Syngenta Bangladesh

Jute Tote Bag

Jute: An Eco-Friendly Alternative for a Sustainable Future’ was the title of the workshop I attended this week at the IDB Auditorium in Dhaka, home to the United Nations, Bangladesh.  In attendance were trade and agriculture dignitaries who promote exports from the country, as well as fair trade organizations like the one I am interning with – Development Wheel (DEW) – which promote the producers of crops and handicrafts both regionally and internationally.

The workshop was a trade show of sorts, with numerous fair trade organizations displaying their lovely fabrics, papers, rugs, handbags, and the like, all made from jute.  It was delightful! Making a comeback as an ‘eco-friendly’ cash crop in Bangladesh, jute fibers make elegant, tactile papers and fabrics.

As I wandered around the display of jute products, my supervisor and mentor at Development Wheel, knowing I am interested in how agriculture and agribusiness works in Bangladesh,introduced me to an executive at Syngenta, the Switzerland-based multinational seed company that ranks with Monsanto and Dow among the top 5 patent holders of seeds in the world today.

Of course I wanted to talk with him!

In this country where as much as 80-85% of the population lives in rural areas, agriculture plays an enormous role in the lives of millions of people.  There is a dearth of government support at the local level, however, with agriculture extension offices remarkably understaffed.  As a result, private businesses and NGOs make up the gap for farmers, but many of them behave unethically or are not well-trained in best practices in their own right.

Inputs such as hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides are frequently misused by farmers due to lack of training. Worse, some unscrupulous retailers will actually mix cement in with the fertilizer – you can imagine the devastating effect this would have on crops, on soil, and on farmers’ livelihoods.

Mr. Ali, the executive from Syngenta who was gracious enough to talk with me, said his company is committed to providing technical and safety training to farmers in order to mitigate the extensive exploitation farmers have experienced. In fact, Syngenta staffs a small army of 1,200 community workers throughout Bangladesh to do outreach and training.  Mr. Ali reported each of those outreach workers has daily contact with up to 30 farm families.

In addition, Syngenta has franchised about 7,000 exclusive outlets selling hybrid seeds and chemical inputs to farmers.  The training of franchise owners is done through the Boghata Learning & Development Center and Development Wheel has been involved in this process to ensure accurate information is reaching vulnerable farmers.

Naturally, I asked Mr. Ali about seeds.  He said Syngenta has increased its market share from 1% to 10% in just 3 years in Bangladesh, with seeds mostly coming from Thailand,India, and Italy. I specifically asked him about genetically modified seeds.  He told me Syngenta has patented 2 varieties – brinjal (eggplant) and soybean – but the government of Bangladesh has up to now denied permission for an GM seeds to be used in this country. The seeds Syngenta imports to Bangladesh are mostly hybrid vegetable varieties.

As I spoke later with Development Wheel’s executive director about the conversation, I mentioned Syngenta’s efforts to introduce GM seeds into agriculture in Bangladesh. He assured me DEW would organize to protest if the government ever indicated a change in policy and I assured him I would be back on a plan to Bangladesh to join in!

A Guide to Non GMO dating (Warning: tips might outlast the relationship)

Sent to A Patented Life from an anonymous follower of our project…  Pretty funny stuff!!   🙂 

A girl’s adventure in Non GMO dating….

Our adventure begins via text messages prior to a first date. Now, since you feel that the person has a right to know about your dietary restrictions,  you start off with: “Oh by the way I am not usually this high maintenance, however I have recently joined a project which severely limits my food options. You see we are giving up GMOs….And what is a GMO you ask??? Ah, well there is this extremely evil company that produces genetically engineered seeds and is destroying our food supply and our health. So for the next couple of weeks I have joined with a couple of my friends and we are going GMO free.  Hello, anyone still there?” Surprised to find that the boy was not frightened away after a short explanation into the world of Non GMO living, a day was chosen for date number 1…let the lessons begin.

Tip 1: Research

Well since the truth about your new lifestyle did not seem to scare the person away, after some diligent research you find a place where you might be able to eat. While doing so, you are also mentally preparing food you can bring or deciding if it is safest to just eat before the date even happens…you know, and then sit and stare while your date eats…my, how romantic!!  Like you’ve already been doing for most things, you have to call to check if the restaurant is, in fact, GMO free.

Tip 2: Interview

There is no answer at the restaurant, so you pack a granola bar safely in your purse and decide to go to the place early to “case” the joint.  You need to ask the chef just a few questions…you know… what ingredients are they using?…is it organic?…and do they know what GMOs are? You have made the decision that it might make a better first impression to interrogate the restaurant before your date rather than in front of your date.

Tip 3: Planning

Going out for a simple movie now means doing some serious prep work… you have to plan for food. If you are not sure that dinner is in the plans or even if you will have access to Non GMO food, you have to eat either a late lunch or early dinner before the date…be very full just in case you can’t eat for hours.

Tip 4: Shopping

Also since we are planning to go to the movies you are definitely going to want popcorn.  This is not about missing out from eating your faves, so the night before the date go to the grocery store again and pick up popcorn and put some in a bag and hide it in your purse for the movie. Also, like most days there is an emergency granola bar in your bag as well (there’s no leaving home without it these days).

Tip 5: Suggestion

Now, the person you are dating is beginning to understand this adventure and decides to be cute by researching organic places to eat ahead of time. He tells you he found a place in NYC that is USDA organic. (Although very endearing, he has actually forgotten you mentioned that same information on the date prior…mmm… was he not actually listening to you?  Or was the non-gm seed planted without him realizing?…  things to ponder).  Regardless of who actually came up with the idea, the restaurant is super yummy and you can eat and drink anything there.

Tip 6: Appreciation

He has really figured this whole Non GMO thing out and gets you a treat, a Non GMO snack bar he found on his own! This has to be one of the more thoughtful gifts you have gotten.

Tip 7: Database

You have now done so much research that there is a list of places where you can go out for a meal together on a date… all over the state and including other states.  Is this becoming fun???

Tip 8: Baking

Non-GMO homemade treats are always a good thing for both on the date.  And, they can be there even if the next dates don’t work out.  It’s basically a win-win.

Tips to be continued… it’s a work in progress… Enjoy!

From: Anonymous now non-gmo girl sending this message in solidarity with the Monsanto-free project. 

The “Regional Mosaic” of Permanent Agriculture

As we navigate through this Monsanto-free minefield for six weeks, we have the overt goals of getting people to stop eating genetically modified foods and to contribute to international efforts at having GM products clearly labeled.  Yet, the foundation of that goal is seeking transformative social justice in which people reclaim autonomy and power over the food systems which sustain us from the multinational corporations which have appropriated them.  What does that transformation look like? How do we get there?

At last Saturday’s Northeastern Organic Farmers Association, New Jersey’s (NOFA-NJ) annual winter conference at Princeton University, Andrew Faust of the Center for Bioregional Living hosted a workshop on the concept of a bioregional economy that encompasses a confluence of issues:  restoration ecology, land use equity, sustainable agriculture, responsible economy, and social justice.  It is about development of agricultural practices in context with a deeper look at the landscape of the region, appropriate to the geography and heritage of the place.  It is about accountable stewardship of urban cityscapes to dramatically reduce the enormous waste generated by those spaces.

Andrew asks, “How do we retrofit this infrastructure to be more ecologically sound and socially responsible?” He seeks the answer to this question in permaculture, articulating the interconnectedness of ecology and economy and describing tangible, simple, and yet somehow revolutionary urban and rural designs .

Ultimately, Andrew Faust wants us to begin to “nurture our nature” rather than our culture, as our culture often has misguided ideas.  So as we think about a people-focused food web to replace the corporate-dominated food chain, it is to insightful and brilliant thinkers and doers like Andrew we could turn for guidance and inspiration.

As overwhelming as this Monsanto-free endeavor feels at times, we can take heart in knowing people like Andrew are out there, propagating a wisdom from which all of us can benefit.