Biothai crashes CP's party

With the power struggle between political parties grabbing the headlines these days in Thailand, another power play is happening behind the scenes. Charoen Pokphand (CP), a Thai-based multinational conglomerate controlled by the family of Danin Chearavanont, involved in everything from poultry and seeds to telecommunications and real estate, is now making a big move for control over the country's enormous rice economy-- and hybrid rice is at the centre of its plan.

But Biothai, a Thai NGO that supports people's control over biodiversity, was well-prepared to take on the Thai corporate giant. The day before CP's highly publicised commercial release of its new hybrid rice seed varieties this past June, Biothai released a devastating report (English version will soon be available on this page), detailing how CP's varieties were not at all what the company was claiming (see article in The Nation). 

CP advertised that its hybrid rice would yield between 20-50 per cent more than the other conventional varieties on the market, with a yield potential of over 9 tonnes per hectare. It also said that farmers would get higher incomes and would use less chemical inputs.

Biothai conducted its own survey of nine farmers test growing CP's hybrid rice in Kamphanpet and Audtraradit provinces between February and May of this year. They found that the average yield for the farmers was only around 6 tonnes per hectare-- 36% below what CP was advertising. More importantly, while the CP hybrid rice did yield slightly higher than the average for conventional varieties grown in the same area (by about 15%), this was canceled out by the increased costs of production. The costs of seeds for the CP hybrids were 5 times the cost for conventional varieties and the costs for both fertilisers and pesticides doubled. The net income for farmers growing conventional rice was in fact 60% higher than those growing CP hybrids.

The farmers surveyed by Biothai also said that the quality of the CP rice was low, and not suitable to the local food markets. According to Biothai, CP buys the hybrid rice from farmers, processes it into parboiled rice and ships it to Africa. CP manages its hybrid rice seed business and its rice trading activities through its subsidiary CP Intertrade.
 
 
So far, Thailand's Rice Department has said that it will not support hybrid rice, mainly because of its poor quality and the complex production process that it requires. But CP is a highly-connected, politically powerful company in Thailand and the company's president, Danin Chearavanont, has put forward a plan to reorganise the country's rice production. Danin is calling on the government to convert a large part of the rice area to growing rubber and palm oil (organised by CP of course), and to switch the remaining rice area to hybrid rice, which he says can both yield more and be grown three times a year as opposed to two.

Already, Biothai says CP's hybrid rice push is advancing at the local level. The local agricultural officers are acting like promotional agents for CP and the rural banks are telling farmers that they won't loan them money unless they use hybrid rice seeds.

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