In a new reality show featuring farmers in Thailand, BASF, the world’s largest chemicals corporation, is collecting German development funds to advertise for artificial pesticide use, causing NGOs to question government cooperation with big business in development aid campaigns. EURACTIV Germany reports.
German development policy is taking new and innovative measures to combat poverty among farmers in developing countries. A new TV reality show is meant to teach smallholders in Thailand “safe and effective use” of pesticides.
The series dubbed “Farmers love safety” features two opposing farmer-teams who compete over which group can produce the highest yields and the best quality harvest.
“We want to support Thai farmers to help them achieve top performance in the long-term,” said Pakorn Suchare, head of the pesticide department at BASF (Thai) Limited.
“Our TV reality series brings farmers closer to best-practices for sustainable rice production in an entertaining way,” Suchare stated.
The new reality show is produced by chemicals giant BASF in cooperation with the Thai Agriculture Ministry. But the effort was launched within the framework of the German Food Partnership (GFP), a project spearheaded by former development minister Dirk Niebel in 2012.
Working through public private partnerships (PPPs), the German Development Ministry (BMZ) hopes to foster stable value-added chains in developing and newly industrialised countries to increase food security.
Development cooperation with leading agriculture firms
In Southeast Asia, the German government acts through the GFP project, Better Rice Initiative Asia (BRIA), designed to help rice farmers increase their income.
The BMZ works with seed producers BASF, Bayer CropScience and Yara in target countries Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and prospectively Vietnam.
Currently valued at around €9 million, the project receives €2.3 million of its budget from public coffers. The rest is covered by private companies.
The initiative is centered around training sessions, in which farmers learn to aim for higher yields and increase the quality of the rice they produce.
Around 300 farmers in Thailand attended such sessions over a number of weeks, on the topics of soil cultivation, rice sowing, irrigation, fertilisation and integrated plant protection as well as business and marketing management.
Then so-called “lead farmers” are supposed to pass on the knowledge to their neighbours, the website of the GFP says.
But a recent television campaign only advertises the use of artificial pesticides as a form of cultivation, a development that has garnered harsh criticism from the aid organisation Oxfam.
“With training through the GFP, the BMZ claims to present a variety of cultivation methods. But the mass-media TV show, alone, only shows a certain image of agriculture: input-oriented agriculture through the use of pesticides,” explained Marita Wiggerthale from Oxfam in a statement for euractiv.de.
In the end, agribusinesses can advertise their products undisturbed and increase their sales in the long-term, she said.
For this reason, Oxfam is calling on GFP to present alternatives to the use of pesticides, such as stronger agro-ecological development strategies.
“After all, the region is also dealing with challenges caused by climate change and related adaptation strategies, bearing in mind ecological diversity,” Wiggerthale concluded.
BMZ: “We offer the farmers protection”
Defending its practices, the BMZ pointed out realities in Southeast Asian agriculture.
Thai rice farmers often do not use pesticides “correctly”, the BMZ stated.
“Locally, this endangers the health of farmers, leads to losses in income due to excessive application [of pesticides] and threatens the environment,” said a spokesperson from the ministry.
The reality show is about encouraging correct application and use of pesticides and not promoting one single product, the BMZ said, indicating that it conducts regular “product-neutral trainings”.
Oxfam: “German development policy abandons the poorest”
But for months, a broad network of NGOs has been criticising the GFP for this project.
Under the “guise of fighting poverty”, the BMZ is promoting commercial and industrial agriculture with government tax money. The campaign bypasses the needs of smallholders and is not sustainable, said the aid organisation.
“The partnerships are directed toward smallholders, who already bring substantial resources and education with them. Famished subsistence farmers are completely ignored,” Oxfam explained.
But the involvement of the private sector is “no charity event”, commented Hans-Joachim Wegfahrt from Bayer CropScience at the GFP project presentation last November. On the contrary, the project must pay for itself, he said.
If the value chain functions better, Bayer will benefit just as much as farmers, Wegfahrt told euractiv.de. “If a farmer has more in his pocket and produces more, then of course he will also purchase more of our products.”
In the future, the BMZ hopes to add more transparency to the GFP’s activities. A new website is currently under construction, that will replace the old portal. The BMZ said the new site will offer a regular supply of “relevant information and essays”.