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President of Bangladesh Opens National Conference to Advance ‘Dignity For All’

Honorable President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Mr. Md. Zillur Rahman inaugurated the conference entitled "Dignity for All: Bangladesh as a Model for the Global Community" as the Chief Guest. On his right are Minister for Home Affairs Advocate Shahara Khatun MP; and keynote speaker of the conference Dr. Robert W. Fuller, author of “All Rise”; and on his left are Minister for Information and Culture Mr. Md. Abul Kalam Azad MP; Chairperson of the conference Mr. Bayezid Dawla, Executive Director, Civic Bangladesh and also General Secretary, Bangladesh Dignity Forum; and Advocate Moiniuddin Miaji Ex MP, Chairman, Bangladesh Accreditation Board, Ministry of Industries.

The Honorable President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Mr. Md. Zillur Rahman inaugurated a daylong National Conference on Dignity for All: Bangladesh as a Model for the Global Community, on January 18, 2011 in Dhaka. The conference was organized at Osmani Memorial Hall by Civic Bangladesh in collaboration with Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.

The first national conference of its kind representing the culmination of four years of educational campaigns to rally and inspire people at all levels of society is expected to ignite a new social movement in Bangladesh that may eventually be replicable in the world.

Special guests at the conference included the Minister for Home Affairs Advocate Shahara Khatun; Minister for Information and Culture Mr. Md. Abul Kalam Azad; Professor AAMS Arefin Siddique, Vice-Chancellor, University of Dhaka; and Advocate Moinuddin Miaji, Ex MP, Chairman, Bangladesh Accreditation Board, Ministry of Industries, Government of Bangladesh.

The conference was keynoted by the Co-founder of the World Hunger Project, a global campaigner of “Dignity for All,” and author of All Rise Dr. Robert W. Fuller, who was also Advisor to late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1970-71.

The inaugural and working sessions of the conference were attended by national and international human rights activists, thinkers, intellectuals, political leaders, educators, students, lawyers, journalists, physicians, cultural and developmental activists, and the members of Bangladesh Dignity Forum. (Bangladesh Dignity Forum is a platform that Civic Bangladesh has built to spearhead its Dignity-for-All campaign across the country.)

The inaugural ceremony was followed in the afternoon by three different working sessions on dignity in governance, media, and education at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy to build new models of development using the concept of dignity and to expedite ongoing work in the fields.

With the participants assembling in the auditorium of Shilpakala Academy, the plenary was facilitated by Mr. Bayezid Dawla, Dr. Robert W. Fuller, Dr. Pamela Gerloff and Mr. Mustaque Shameem, Acting Director-General of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.


While addressing the plenary, Mr. Hasanul Huq Inu MP, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication emphasized the need to ensure dignity for all in order to strengthen the democratic institutions of the country.

The plenary also attended among others by Editor of The Independent and former advisor to the caretaker government Mr. Mahbubul Alam, and lawyer Barrister Tania Amir, split into three different working sessions on governance, education and media.

Mr. Bayezid Dawla, Executive Director, Civic Bangladesh, and Dr. Robert W. Fuller co-facilitated the working session on “Dignity in Governance: The Power of Dignity to Unify Political Factions and to Broker International Peace”.


Education and Human Potential Specialist and co-author of Dignity for All Dr. Pamela A. Gerloff and Chairperson of Bangladesh Dignity Forum Engineer Musbah Alim co-facilitated the session on “Dignity in Education: Realizing the Vision”.

Asia Regional Director of Internews Mr. Oren Murphy and Senior Vice-Chairperson of Bangladesh Dignity Forum Mr. Harunur Rashid co-chaired the session on “Dignity in Media: Establishing the Right to Information”, while senior journalist Mr. Hamiduzzaman moderated the session.

Professor Claire E. Sheridan of Saint Mary’s College in California, USA, and Mr. Sayeed Kazal, Executive Director, Communication For All, led an open video session on “The Voice of Dignity in Bangladesh”.

Before taking part in the working sessions at Shilpakala Academy, the participants took out a short road show from Osmani Memorial Hall and paraded the city streets between the two venues. The show drew public attention to the following call:Ensure dignity for all.


While walking down the city streets, the participants also delivered the following message:

Dignity is your right. It’s also everyone else’s.

Posters, T-shirts and caps containing the above message were distributed among the participants and organizations working across the country.

 

Pilot Training Program on Energetics of Change: Creating Miracles in Bangladesh Launched

Civic Bangladesh launched the pilot training program entitled Energetics of Change: Creating Miracles in Bangladesh on 22 January 2011 in Dhaka. Course facilitator Dr. Pamela A. Gerloff led the session of the program being piloted by Civic Bangladesh in collaboration with The Harnisch Foundation, USA to build the transformational capacity among the social changemakers at the local and national levels. The changemakers attending the course formed a “Miracle Brigade”.


Mayday Seminar on “Dignity and Rights of Migrant Workers”


Photo shows (from left) Mr. Bayezid Dawla, Executive Director, Civic Bangladesh and General Secretary, Bangladesh Dignity Forum; Ms. Hasina A. Inam, Chief Functionary, DanChurchAid (DCA) – Bangladesh; Mr. Mustak Hassan Md. Iftekhar, Director-General, NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), Prime Minister’s Office; Dr. Zafar Ahmed Khan, Secretary, Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh; Mr. Mohammad Bashir, Member, BAIRA; Mr. Syed Saiful Haque, Chairman, WARBE Development Foundation; and Ms. Lily Jahan, President, BOMSA.

Bangladesh Ovibashi Mahila Shramik Association (BOMSA), Civic Bangladesh and WARBE Development Foundation jointly organized a seminar entitled “Dignity and Rights of Migrant Workers” on the occasion of Mayday 2010 in the VIP Lounge of National Press Club, Dhaka.

Sponsored by European Commission (EC) and DanChurchAid (DCA), the seminar was keynoted by Ms Sumaiya Islam, Director, BOMSA, and Vice-Chairperson, Bangladesh Dignity Forum; and Mr. Bayezid Dawla, Executive Director, Civic Bangladesh, and General Secretary, Bangladesh Dignity Forum.

Dr. Nurul Islam, Director, BMET; Mr. Kazi Abul Kalam, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment; Advocate Adilur Rhman Khan, Odhikar; and former Ambassador Ms. Nasim Firdaus, Executive Director, Bangladesh Alliance for Women Leadership took part as guest speakers in the discussion on the keynote papers.

The seminar was addressed by Mr. Mustak Hassan Md. Iftekhar, Director-General, NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), Prime Minister’s Office; Mr. Syed Saiful Haque, Chairman, WARBE Development Foundation; and Mr. Mohammad Bashir, Member, BAIRA.

Chaired and moderated by Ms. Hasina A. Inam, Chief Functionary, DCA – Bangladesh; the event was addressed by its chief guest Dr. Zafar Ahmed Khan, Secretary, Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

The discussion was covered by the print and electronic media including Boishakhi Television, Ekushe Television (ETV), and ATN Bangla Television.

 

Seminar on “Bangladesh Leading the World: Dignity and Destiny in the 21st Century”


Civic Bangladesh organized a seminar entitled “Bangladesh Leading the World: Dignity and Destiny in the 21st Century” on 03 February 2010 in the VIP Lounge of Jatiya Press Club, Dhaka. The seminar was keynoted by Dr. Pamela A. Gerloff, coauthor, “Dignity for All”, and Founder and President, Compelling Vision; and attended by Barrister Tania Amir, Lawyer, The Supreme Court of Bangladesh; as the special guest.

Professor Shafiullah Sarker, Executive Director, Climate Concern Foundation (CCF); Engineer Musbah Alim, Executive Director, Catalyst; Mr. Mozid Mahmud, Executive Director, OSACA; and Dr. Anisuzzaman, Assistant Professor, Gono University; took part in the panel discussion.

Mr. Bayezid Dawla, Executive Director, Civic Bangladesh; and General Secretary, Bangladesh Dignity Forum, moderated the seminar.


Launch of Book entitled “Sabar Jonno Marjada” (“Dignity for All”)


Civic Bangladesh organized the launch of a book entitled “Sabar Jonno Marjada: Padomarjadabadmukta Bishwa Gorhe Tolar Upay” on 02 February 2010 at the National Book Fair in Bangla Academy, Dhaka. Translated into Bengali by Mr. Bayezid Dawla and published by Civic Bangladesh, the book was launched by Dr. Pamela A. Gerloff who co-authored the original book entitled “Dignity for All: How to Create a World Without Rankism”, with Robert W. Fuller. The launch was attended by Professor AAMS Arefin Siddique, Vice-Chancellor, University of Dhaka, as the chief guest; and Professor Dr. Khondokar Bazlul Haque, President, Dhaka University Teachers’ Association (DUTA), as the special guest. Translator of the book, Mr. Bayezid Dawla, who is also the Executive Director of Civic Bangladesh, spoke on the occasion.


Discussion on Jago Sabai: Gonnobakti, Nogonnobakti O Marjadar Rajniti (All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies and the Politics of Dignity)

Civic Bangladesh organized a discussion on the book entitled Jago Sabai: Gonnobakti, Nogonnobakti O Marjadar Rajniti translated from its original book entitled “All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies and the Politics of Dignity” written by Dr. Robert W. Fuller.


Presided over by Mr. Bayezid Dawla, Executive Director, Civic Bangladesh, the discussion attended by Professor AAMS Arefin Siddique, Vice-Chancellor, University of Dhaka; Mr. Md. Sharful Alam, Secretary, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh; and Mr. Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, Editor, The Bangladesh Observer as special guests. (The Minister for Social Welfare of the Government of Bangladesh could not manage to attend the discussion due to change in his business.)


Roundtable Conference on Human Dignity, Democracy and Development


From left: Professor Claire Sheridan, USA; Mr. Bayezid Dawla, Executive Director, Civic Bangladesh; Mr. AHM Khairuzzaman Liton, Mayor, Rajshahi City Corporation; Dr. Robert W. Fuller, Author, “All Rise”; Ambassador Wali-ur Rahman, former Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh; and former Deputy Speaker of Parliament Professor Ali Ashraf MP

Building a dignitarian society is essential for a healthy and functioning democracy and while exercising and accessing equal dignity is the prerequisite for institutionalization of democracy. To make people aware of dignity as their right requires the involvement of all concerned including the political leaderships, civic and development activists and religious leaders, said the participants of a roundtable conference entitled “Rights and Justice: The Dignity Perspective of Development in Bangladesh” organized on 3 February 2009 in the VIP Lounge of Jatiya Press Club, Dhaka by Civic Bangladesh.


Author of “All Rise” Dr. Robert W. Fuller keynoting the conference

Global campaigner of Dignity for All and author of All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies and the Politics of Dignity, eminent scientist Dr Robert W Fuller keynoted the conference addressed by Mr. AHM Khairuzzaman Liton, Mayor, Rajshahi City Corporation as chief guest; and former Deputy Speaker of Parliament Professor Ali Ashraf MP and Ambassador Wali-ur Rahman, former Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, as special guests. Professor Claire Sheridan contributed to the roundtable as a guest speaker.

The roundtable was addressed, among others, by Mr. Farid Hossain, Bureau Chief of The Associated Press (AP); Barrister Tania Amir, Barrister Jenefa Jabbar, Mr. Kieron Crawley, Country Director, Concern Worldwide; Dr. Kamrul Hassan Khan; Mr. Azizur Rahman Khan (Asad), Development Consultant. Vision and Method; Dr. Nafeesur Rahman, Director, National Forum of Organizations Working with the Disabled (NFOWD); Mr. Sirajuddahar Khan, CEO, Interaction; Ms Afroza Rina, Women’s Right Activist; Ms Shamima Nasrin, Shadhin Bangla Garments Shramik-Karmachari Federation (SBGSKF); Mr. Moloy Chaki, Programme Coordinator, Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Centre (BDPC); Mr. Badrul Hassan, Deputy Programme Manager, Save the Children (USA); Kazi Sufia Akhtar, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad; Ms Sonia Jesmin, Advocacy Specialist, Concern Worldwide; Dr. Anisuzzaman, Lecturer, Gono University; and Ms Kohinoor Mahmud, Karmajibi Nari. Mr. Bayezid Dawla, Executive Director, Civic Bangladesh moderated the roundtable conference.


Publication Ceremony in National Book Fair at Bangla Academy, Dhaka


The book entitled “Jago Sabai: Gonnobakti, Nogonnobakti O Marjadar Rajniti”, translated into Bangla by Bayezid Dawla from its original English version of “All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies and the Politics of Dignity” written by Dr Robert W Fuller was launched in a publication ceremony organized on 2 February 2009 in the National Book Fair at Bangla Academy, Dhaka, by Civic Bangladesh. Author of “All Rise”, Dr Fuller unveiled the cover of the book in the ceremony graced by the attendance of Professor Arefin Siddique, Vice Chancellor, University of Dhaka as chief guest and Dr Syed Mohammad Shahed, Director-General, Bangla Academy as special guest.

The author of “All Rise”, Dr Fuller, said he felt privileged to see “All Rise” had been translated into Bangla which is now a world language, and paid tribute to the language martyrs of the 1952. He hoped that the book now available in Bangla would be helpful for many of those willing to build a dignitarian society, a dignitarian nation and a dignitarian world.

The festive moments of the launching ceremony along with interviews of the author and the chief guest were telecast live on different TV channels. Radio channels also covered the event including the interviews of the author.


Seminar at the University of Dhaka


The Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Dhaka organized an academic seminar entitled Special Lecture on DIGNITY AND DEVELOPMENT by Dr Robert W. Fuller on 2 February 2009 at RC Majumdar Auditorium of the university. Presided over by Dr. Shaikh Abdus Salam, Professor and Chairman, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka; the seminar was attended by the university teachers and students.

Dr. Fuller delivered the keynote address in an interactive session which was participated in by the students and teachers. The address was preceded by introductory remarks by Mr. Bayezid Dawla, Executive Director, Civic Bangladesh. Professor Claire Sheridan and Professor Abul Monsur Ahmed also spoke on the occasion.


 

 
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Dignity of persons with disability
by Bayezid Dawla


IN APRIL last a physically handicapped young girl, 18-19 years old, was travelling by a bus in Kushtia. The conductor who was collecting fare in that bus also asked the girl for fare. The girl offered Tk 3 which she had in total but the conductor refused it and said the actual fare was Tk 10 which she must pay. She was helpless and apologetic but the conductor stuck to his demand for Tk 10. The bus was then running across a solitary place. Suddenly, it stopped and dropped there the unlucky, penniless, disabled girl. The sun was setting. The narrator of the story, Bulujan who is also the mother of a ‘disabled’ son said, ‘I don’t know what happened to that girl and if she had reached her home at last (Dr Atiur Rahman, Budget 2007-08: Protibondhider Chaoa Paoa, May 2007).’


What happened to that girl later on is unimaginable indeed. Yet, dear readers, let us imagine that no other bus stopped there to pick her up nor was a passer-by around to offer her a rescue. With her ‘disability’ she also could not walk far. Alone she disappeared into the darkness. If she had screamed her terror-stricken, feeble sound dissolved into the pitch-black night. That scary night alone could tell what happened to that disabled girl trapped into the unforeseen miseries of her ‘destiny.’


We know that misery does not end in itself. It rather creates and recreates new stories and myths. If the dark creatures of hell were let loose to appease their insatiable hunger the victim could not but succumb to their desire and ‘earn’ a new, additional label of a ‘bad girl.’ Affixing this label to the ‘miserable’ girls, the ‘civilised society’ of ours thus awards punishment to the innocent victims.


Stigma is a never-ending social vortex that travels from lip to lip and even through generations. Entering a cave of ignominy is not difficult but managing a safe exit from this cave is more than difficult. With her ‘bad girl’ brand and ‘disabled’ stigma coupled thus, that girl with disability will continue to be cursed due to dignity denuded by the ‘able,’ ‘educated,’ ‘enlightened’ and ‘civilised’ people.


I do not intend to defend the girl thus humiliated to ‘pay the actual fare,’ and there is no point in trying to do so. The point, however, lies in understanding humanly the inhuman and impolite treatment done to the girl. It is a piety that the passengers of that bus were very polite, and taking the advantage of their ‘politeness,’ the bus conductor became wild and despotic. To his moral turpitude, the ‘disabled’ girl thus lost her human dignity.


Losing human dignity is a global reality. This happens in both ‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilised’ societies and in both the ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ countries. People with disabilities share a common destiny of experiencing discrimination and indignity in most cases of their socio-economic and political life. They represent ‘about 10 per cent of the population worldwide with 70 to 80 per cent of them living in developing countries.’ This big number of people suffers ignominy in many different ways but the experience of humiliation is common. They experience discrimination often when they are denied adequate access to education, employment, and information or to essentials goods.


To combat this global unreal ‘reality,’ however, organisations active around the crucial issue of ‘disability’ continued negotiations with the United Nations for five years to adopt the convention. They took part in creating the text of the convention with the principal aim to bring about a ‘radical change’ in attitudes to the people with disabilities. The text recommends ‘inclusive development’ of people with disabilities, which represents humanitarian actions and reconstruction such as emergency help and infrastructure accessible to all, and development programmes including access to education for disabled children.


The UN General Assembly adopted the ‘International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities’ on December 13, 2006 while the government of Bangladesh signed the treaty on May 9, 2007 (Saptahik 2000, pp 138-39, year 10). It is expected in article 1 of the convention that the signatory governments will ‘ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.’ Jan Elliasson, president of the UN General Assembly, said, ‘The message that we want to get across is that everyone has a right to a dignified life and that all human beings are equal.’


What does this convention mean to the majority of us who are absolutely unaware that all individuals irrespective of caste, creed, race and culture deserve dignity due to them be they able or disabled? How many of us have captured the meaning of the article 1 of the convention and the message of the UNGA president? The meaning is very simple and clear. The statements are charged with the purged passion for building a fair and just world where all human beings live with dignity and respect.


The incidence of humiliation inflicted upon the disabled girl by the bus conductor is the gross violation of the international convention adopted recently by the UN as his violent action denied respect for her ‘inherent dignity’ and ‘right to a dignified life.’ This again disregards the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in its article 1, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ Moreover, this tramples the spirit of the constitution of Bangladesh, which clearly states: ‘All citizens are equal before laws and entitled to equal protection of law” (article 27).’


In a pre-budget seminar organised on May 16, 2007 at CIRDAP auditorium by Action on Disability and Development, its country director, Mosharraf Hossain, echoed a passion for dignity and said, ‘If we can move ahead with support from all walks of life, we’ll perhaps find a society which seeks to bring about changes, which promotes democratic values, which respects the disabled people and where all the disabled people will be able to live with dignity.’


It is very appreciable that the government of Bangladesh has shown respect to the need for giving a fair share of its ‘development cake’ to the ‘disabled’ by signing the convention and expressed its support for the UN call for rebuilding a world equal and just. ‘Equality’ and ‘justice’ will, however, remain mere bookish words/terms in the history of human civilisation and progress if they fail to travel out of the UN Headquarters to the remote societies and communities that hardly draw the attention of their governments or to the dense forests where the ‘torch of civilisation’ hardly penetrates.


Development does not generate any sustainable results without redressing the bias that creases a historical sense of negation. Development is the change in mindset. Changing the mindset is inevitable for humanising the societal and individual values, practices, and behaviour that reflect human dignity as a universal right. It is, therefore, an obligation to recognise the ‘inclusive development’ which respects human rights of every individual, acknowledges diversity, eradicates poverty and ensures that all people are fully included and can actively participate in development policies and practices.


Signing the convention, the world leaders have done a great job. Now they have to face the great challenge ahead. That is to translate the UN words into community action and popular behaviour so that the human beings – be they ‘able’ or ‘disabled’ or be they ‘women’ or ‘men,’ or be they ‘poor’ or ‘untouchable’ – are not hurled down like disposables from a bus running along a highway. I am sure the conductor would not have ventured to misbehave with the girl the way he did if he were aware that there existed a law to protect her dignity and that he would have to compensate a lot more for the loss she incurred. Let us note, however, that people respect the laws when they get the equal protection of law. Justice works indeed when people themselves become just. Making them just remains a massive challenge now.


Bayezid Dawla is a civic activist and also general secretary of the Bangladesh Dignity Forum

(Source: The New Age, 18 December 2007)

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Published On: 2008-04-05

Point Counterpoint

Biofuel production hits food security?

Bayezid Dawla

Biofuel emerged as an alternative fuel to benefit the biotech companies and the trans-national corporations (TNCs) which claim that biofuel is a unique `green innovation' of the modern technology sensitive to the environment, ecology and the poor. Refuting this TNC claim, reputed and established scientists of the world are saying that the TNC claim is contrary to the reality as biofuel production causes food scarcity and environmental degradation. That by propagating this, they are rather committing crime against humanity.

Bio-fuel, also called agro-fuel, is available in solid, liquid and gaseous forms derived from biomass. Biomass develops from the living organisms of trees and animals or their by-products such as cowdung and the residues of plants and crops. It can be used for the production of heat or energy. The agricultural products that are used for developing biomass include maize and soybean in the USA; wheat, rapeseed and sugar beet in Europe; sugarcane in Brazil; palm oil in South East Asia; and jatropha, pongemia and sugar beet in India. Vegetable oil, bio-diesel, bio-alcohol, butanol, bio-ethanol and bio-methanol are the different kinds of bio-fuel produced across the world.

Biofuel began to be used before the World War II and was regarded as an alternative to the imported fuel. After the War, oil became cheap in the Middle East causing decline in biofuel production but while the global oil market encountered recession in 1973 and 1979 this created new interest in biofuel production. The trend of production registered decline in 1986 but began to increase in 2000. The trend thus oscillated due to the rise and fall in the international oil market price.

To promote biofuel as well as to replace fossil fuel, multinational companies (MNCs) have been active in growing soybean, maize, sugarcane, palm oil, etc, by using genetic technology in connivance with their local interest groups. To promote this technology, the proponents have placed a number of arguments. Firstly, biofuel will increase the security of fuel as a reliable alternative to fossil fuel. Secondly, biofuel is carbon-neutral, green and friendly to ecology and environment, and, therefore, it decreases the emission of greenhouse gas. Thirdly, poverty will decrease in the 'developing countries' through generation of new employments.

The proponents' statement that biofuel is carbon-neutral, so it does not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, has been supported with a research employing the technique of 'Life Cycle Analysis'. The analysis shows that biofuel emits less greenhouse gas than fossil fuel such as petroleum and diesel does. Refuting this research claim, the scientists have asserted that biofuel is neither carbon-neutral nor green because it requires energy to produce bio-crop as well as to transform biocrop into fuel. The scientists from Britain, the US, Germany and Switzerland, including Professor Paul Crutzen who won Nobel Prize for his contribution to the research on ozone, said in a research report in 2007 that the amount of greenhouse gas emitted due to production of biofuel from rapeseed and corn is much more than saved.

Hence, the statement that biofuel is environment-friendly is absolutely false, say the environmentalists, because it hastens deforestation, and endangers the biodiversity. According to them, the proponents of genetic engineering are damaging the environment in two ways in Indonesia and Malaysia, for example. They are cultivating palm oil by destroying the rainforest on the one hand and transforming palm oil into biofuel on the other, which emits more greenhouse gas than required for petroleum refinement.

Referring to a recent research, five noted scientists of different countries have said in a joint letter to Rajendra K Pachaur, Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the whole process of producing one-tonne palm oil emits 10-30 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The scientists are David Pimentel of Cornell University; Tad Patzek of the University of California; Florian Siegert, managing director, Remote Sensing Solutions GmbH, Munich; Mario Giampietro of Institute of Environmental Sciences, Barcelona; and Helmut Haberl of Klagenfurt University, Austria.

The five scientists have questioned the basis of the IPCC publicity that biofuel production is eco-friendly and it reduces the emission of carbon dioxide. Moreover, they have warned that massive plantation of bio-fuel crops may cause displacement, eviction and 'disforestation', which eventually will 'negate benefits for decades or centuries'.

Besides, chemical fertiliser and poisonous pesticides are being applied intensively to increase the production of biocrops. Moreover, mono cropping in Asia and Latin America is creating adverse impacts on biodiversity and ecology through chronic deforestation and biocrop production, which are contributing to the increase in global warming and pollution. This means that "the net effect of burning bio-fuels is an increase in greenhouse gasses".

According to the researchers of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), UK, which has been known as the "Think Tank of 2007" in international development, it is possible to alleviate poverty through increased employment opportunities and economic growth. This argument of the ODI researchers is, however, not acceptable to many experts because they consider a counterpoint that the rising pressure on cultivable land to meet the increasing demand for biofuel production will rather increase than decrease poverty and hunger. Eventually, this will hit the rural poor, especially the women-headed households which struggle hard to collect woods, twigs and cowdung from the forests, sell them in the market to secure their livelihoods and meet their fuel requirement. Thus, it is creating new grounds for the marginalised men and women to experience another dimension of policy deprivation.

GRAIN, an international organisation working on biodiversity, reveals that the use of biofuel has increased to power transports and generate energy. To cope with the global fuel crisis, many countries of America, Asia and Europe have started to produce biofuel from plants and food crops. The US has now replaced much cultivation of barley with maize which is used in producing bioethanol, and this is a significant reason for rise in the price of maize. In June 2007, the United Nations reported that "soaring demand for bio-fuels is contributing to a rise in global food import costs". Shalini, coordinator of Delhi office of GRAIN, said, "Interestingly, a few giant multinational companies that control the energy markets will also dominate the foodgrains or plants for producing biofuel. Thus, food prices will be hiked due to shortage of food." It is notable that the US will have to transform its entire maize grown to produce seven percent fuel currently generated from petroleum, and if this continues to work it is feared that a serious crisis will hit the global food security.

Research compares the current food situation to a 'food riot' that hit Mexico about 100 yeas ago. The New York Times published on 8 June 1915 a report entitled "Fatal Food Riot in Mexico City" saying, "The agitation of the people owing to the scarcity of food is daily becoming more serious. Women carrying their babies in their rebozos and basket in hand scour the town from 5 O'clock in the morning till late at night in a vain quest for corn." The report adds that the previous day the 'crowds of the common class' clamoured for maize, surged around the doors and filled the city streets where babies were 'smothered to death' and 'women fainted'. While the impatient crowd rushed to the door, 'the military fired a volley into the air'.

With this reality of food crisis and hunger experienced so far, the TNCs have been active in promoting the market of biofuel in the 'developing' countries where huge biomass resources exist. According to International Energy Agency, the 'developing countries' meet 30% of their primary biofuel requirements from their existing biomass stocks, and two billion people of the world are dependent on biomass to meet their primary fuel requirements. Due to the increasing demand for biofuel, the biomass resources in the 'developing countries' have been more expensive.

President Bush in his 'State of the Union Speech' in 2006 declared that the US would cut its 75% fuel import by 2025 through biofuel production. Meanwhile the US has allocated 375 million dollars for research on biofuel. India has planned to set up a National Biofuel Mission and a National Biofuel Board for biofuel development. Both India and China are implementing their bio-ethanol and bio-diesel programmes while biofuel industries have been set up in many 'developing countries'. The countries involved in developing and expanding biofuel industry include Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, Canada, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. It has been reported that Honda Denki Company of Japan has expressed its interest in investing one billion dollar in the biofuel and sugar sector in Bangladesh.

Expressing concern at the growing expansion of biofuel market, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in its summit that the production and use of biofuel added no improvement to the environment; it has rather created market instability. Calling for a five-year ban on agro-fuel market expansion, Mr Jean Ziegler, UN Special Rapporteur on Food Rights, has said, "A moratorium on the conversion of land for agro-fuel production should be accompanied by the development of new energy technologies that do not compromise global food security." George Monbiot, an environmental campaigner, has argued in the British newspaper "The Guardian" that it is important to impose a 5-year freeze on biofuels and assess their impact on poor communities and the environment.

Environmental and human rights organisatons in different countries have voiced protests against biofuel production affecting food security. Simlar protests are being echoed also in Bangladesh. With the conscious global society we may also have to realise that biofuel production is a 'crime committed against humanity'. And with the global conscience, we may also have to stay alert and vigilant against it.

Bayezid Dawla is a development researcher and advocacy activist.

(Source: The Daily Star, 24 December 2008)




Committed to PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO KNOW


Vol. 4 Num 194

Thu. December 11, 2003




Point-Counterpoint

 

Questioning the success of the Green Revolution
Bayezid Dawla

The world appears to be divided into two major camps of different interests -- the innovators and the consumers. Specifically, the rich North is a reckless innovator and the poor South an unprotected, helpless consumer. In other words, the South is supposed to consume with politeness and obedience what the North produces. This unequal North-South power relation is conducive for creating a global market open to technologies like Genetically Modified (GM) Food, a product of the recently innovated yet highly contested Biotechnology. To open this biotech market also in Bangladesh, meantime, a section of multinational companies (MNCs) and their local agents and naïve admirers as well as the vested interest groups have become active to manipulate the policy decisions in a variety of ways.

Advocating the adoption of biotechnology, former Vice Chancellor of Jahangirnagar University Professor Abdul Bayes wrote an article entitled Biotechnology for Food Security: Risks and Rewards published in The Daily Star on 30 September 2003. In justifying this technology, the article defends the Green Revolution as a "Messiah" that "salvaged" two-thirds of the crop areas now covered by modern varieties. The author reminds his readers by saying, "Had we not hailed adoption of modern rice technology in the 1960s and 1970s, we would have probably experienced a worse situation to turn into a beggar's bowl. Many of the forecasts at that time turned out to be futile. We can only hope that we shall be able to find a judicious path for our survival." He, therefore, prescribes the "judicious path for our survival" while he notes that "biotechnology can bring forth a revolution . . . in food production," and asserts that "Bangladesh . . . must strive for the alternatives, especially the opportunities created by the rice biotechnology."

The renowned, learned professor's concern about food insecurity is genuine because Bangladesh will have to face the toughest challenge to feed its fast-growing population in this century. According to a forecast, the current population of 130 million will nearly double over the next 30 years and the food requirement will be four times higher from now. This reality will continue to widen linearly and generate an increasing tension to feed the estimated 226 million people by 2030 (though, according to Dr.

NI Bhuiyan, Director General of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), the population will be 190 million by 2030).

Yet, any attempt to brand the Revolution as a success is not justifiable at all because it has proved to be a futile and wrong approach to sustainable development as now it is groaning due to the chronic decline in crop yield coupled with the "intricate problems of pests and diseases." The defence of the Revolution as "Messiah," therefore, remains an illusory notion, a confusing perception, and misleading complacency. Below I will narrate how and why.

Green Revolution

The search for Green Revolution began in the 1950s on a similar ground of tension for food security, which paved the way for channelling the modern rice technology into the "Third World" countries to grow more food and overcome the food shortage. The American agricultural advisers prescribed package of agricultural technology to the "Third World" countries including erstwhile East Pakistan. The package consisted of four major elements: use of high-yielding varieties (HYV), irrigation, and agrochemical and agricultural machinery. The Green Revolution technology, however, generated dramatic results while it boosted agricultural production by breeding "fertiliser-responsive varieties" of rice in the early 1960s and increased grain yields to 3.6 tons from 1.4 tons per hectare during 1934-58.

Massive Adoption of Chemical Farming

Chemical farming produced cheap popularity among the farmers and the growers for a quick yield of crops. The growers found that it was much easier to cultivate crops without taking much trouble of preparing organic manure. The number of crops rose high round the year. The farmers took the advantage of growing more food with the chemical fertiliser and pesticide available from the local market. To it was added the high sounding propaganda that quickly motivated the agricultural experts and the farmers to flock around with an enormous response. This created huge marketing opportunities for the western industrialists to make quick money from their chemical fertiliser and pesticide business.

Frustrating Results and Disastrous Impacts

The Green Revolution, however, ended up with inalienable frustration, as it is found that the rate of crop yields has climbed down and that it cannot be increased even with the optimum application of chemical fertiliser and pesticide. Moreover, the high yields have been cropped at the irrecoverable costs of the environment, ecosystem and human health. Following are some of the disappointing and disastrous impacts of the "Revolution."

Rapid Decline in Soil Fertility and Productivity

The fertility and productivity of the soil in Bangladesh is declining at an alarming rate due to the depletion of organic matter caused by the intensification of the cropping pattern and rampant use of chemical fertiliser to meet the higher nutrient demand of the HYV crops. Notably, the depletion of organic substances degrades the soil structure which limits the penetration of roots, the infiltration of rainwater and the retention of water, making the soil and the crops susceptible to drought. Further, the microorganisms essential for the maintenance of soil structure and fertility, and the several varieties of bacteria and algae which fix nitrogen and make it available to the plants have been damaged. The depletion of soil fertility has thus become one of the most serious threats to the future sustainability of agriculture in Bangladesh. This decline is one of the major "rewards" that modernisation has injected into the agricultural sector over the last 40 years.

Loss of Biodiversity

The HYV has largely affected the biodiversity and traditional local varieties of rice, which have grown through centuries of cultivation in Bangladesh. Many local varieties that existed in the 1960s have disappeared now. The massive use of hazardous pesticide has been central to the depletion of biodiversity. Most insecticides are toxic to fish, birds and other flora and fauna. The habitats of plants and animals that reproduce are getting lost and a large number of them are threatened with extinction.

The Silent Killing of Life on Earth

Chemical pesticides cause widespread environmental problems such as water pollution, soil degradation, insect resistance and resurgence, destruction of native flora and fauna, and human hazards. The sprayers are getting poisoned and facing premature deaths. The growers who are indiscriminately using pesticides in the field are not aware that they are facing health risk.

The chemical pesticides have largely dissolved in water-bodies through rainfall and floods and are destroying fishes and poisoning the groundwater we drink. Insecticides are heavily sprayed on the dried fishes for their storing and marketing. The potentials of rice-fish mixed agricultural practices to enhance fish production are threatened because the application of pesticides in boro rice crops causes fish mortalities.

Birds, beneficial insects, bees, fishes, etc are the most vulnerable to insecticides.

Insects are becoming stronger equally to beat the action of pesticides. The overuse of pesticides has caused massive destruction of natural enemies of insect pests and resurgence of pest species. This has ultimately increased the use of pesticides.

People are exposed to these toxic elements when manufactured, transported, stored, mixed and sprayed. According to the WHO, pesticides poison 25 million lives every year. About 20,000 unintentional deaths occur every year due to pesticide poisoning. Ninety-nine per cent of all these deaths take place in the developing countries using only 20 per cent of all these pesticides. Most of these pesticides are prohibited but are smuggled into the "Third World" countries and black-marketed in private capacities. For example, the USA exported more than 344 million pounds of hazardous pesticides during 1992-94.

Our Threatened Existence

The use of chemical fertilisers in growing foods is threatening our existence as these foods have been found with nitrate residues of chemicals. A high dose of nitrite used in processing the fertilisers gets easily diffused amongst the minerals that plants consume for their growth. Dependent on these natural sources, we are consuming foods along with the residues of poisonous pesticides which are highly persistent and accumulated quickly in tissues. Experts have warned that nitrite throttles the oxygen uptake in the blood, and reduces amino acid which is essential for the human biological system.

The farmers are making a chronic use of chemical fertiliser and pesticide for an increased harvest at the irrecoverable cost of soil fertility driving the future generations into a total uncertainty, says a report published on 19 October 2003 in the daily Ajker Kagaz. Mr. Mahbubul Karim, with a reference to a report entitled Human Development in South Asia: Agriculture and Rural Development, correctly argues that the so-called Green Revolution has not only damaged our ecology and environment but excluded millions of people from their livelihoods as well. The small farmers of this country have become the victims of a silent but savage process of marginalisation and pauperisation since the HYV was introduced in the 1960s (The Sangbad, 10 November 2003).

Hence the demise of the prospect of the GM approach to feed the huge global population.

Biotechnology appears to be another trap set by the industrialised North to hunt the vulnerable South and popularise another catastrophic rhetoric of feeding the hungry and malnourished population in the "developing" countries. This is a new form of the processes of imperial and post-imperial exploitation that have historically underdeveloped the South through unequal power relations with the North. The generations ahead may have to pay for these costs and sacrifice enormously over an unknown period of time to address the concerns and repair the damages if we fail now to choose the right path to our survival.

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Committed to PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO KNOW


Vol. 4 Num 230

Fri. January 16, 2004




Editorial

Opinion


Genetic engineering
Bayezid Dawla

Professor Zeba Seraj expressed her sententious reactions to my 'sweeping remarks' against the 'Gene Revolution' in a letter published in your esteemed daily on 9 January 2004. I am afraid Professor Zeba has captured a set of wrong notions about the application and utility of biotechnology. Therefore, I would like to make the following points for her kind attention and judicious consideration.

First of all, the analogy of putting a ban on knives seems to construct a naive argument. True, like any technology, biotechnology too has positive and negative outcomes and impacts. The negative impacts may, however, be dangerous and devastating. The danger occurs when the negative forces outstrip the positive outcomes in a fashion similar to the catastrophes caused by the nuclear bombs, which with their current reserves on earth can destroy this planet so many times. "To me, it signifies dreadful things. The end of imagination" (Arundhati Roy: The Algebra of Infinite Justice, 2002). Therefore, it is important to beware of the disastrous outcomes of technology instead of subscribing blindly to the choices dictated by the multinational companies.

Secondly, the professor argues for a 'need to double our food production in the next 20 years' ... [because the] 'current strategies in yield enhancement have already been exhausted'. This argument implies the unguarded ambition of a scientist reasonably with inadequate understanding of the politics of food and hunger. The thesis that increased ('double our food') food production is the sole panacea for hunger and poverty is, in essence, a myth that has been constructed historically by the western 'developers' who sold their 'Green Revolution' technology to the 'developing countries' to 'grow more food'. The 'Revolution' finally harvested illusion and ended up with ecological disaster. (I tried to reflect on a few issues in an article entitled Questioning the Success of Green Revolution published in The Daily Star on 11 December 2003.) We, however, know that poverty is the result of unequal distribution of resources, so the technological quest for 'yield enhancement' will rather increase inequalities than address the structural causes of poverty and hunger. Winner of Nobel Prize for Economics Amartya Sen argues, "A person may be forced into starvation even when there is plenty of food around if he loses his ability to buy food in the market" (Development As Freedom, 161: 2002 Oxford). "We do not need GMOs [genetically modified organisms] to feed the 800 million people who are hungry," says Jacques Diouf, Director-General of UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). "Food supply is usually enough even in the poorest countries but hungry people often cannot afford to buy. It is poverty, inadequate purchasing power, lack of access to resources, such as land on which to grow food, which are the root causes of hunger. GM technology does not address those causes."

Thirdly, scientists have warned that the technology will bring about environmental wreckage and ecological degradation. I believe that the professor has also been aware of a 'long-awaited field-scale trials [which] showed that the [GM] crops damaged wildlife, and would have a serious long-term effect on bee, butterfly and bird populations' (Paul Brown and John Vidal: The Guardian, 17 October 2003). Biotechnology thus threatens our common access to food safety and food sovereignty.

Finally, the professor argues, "It is of no use citing Europe's aversion to genetically modified crops -- they have plenty of food and their citizens can enjoy the luxury of choosing what they eat." This argument suggests a double-standard principle and judgement giving the rich 'luxury' of choices and exposing the hungry, poor in the 'developing countries' to subhuman realities. This means we have no choice and no freedom indeed! As human beings we are so base and so hungry that we have to gobble anything up without consulting our conscience at a time when the global conscious voices are staging protests against genetic contamination and the 'unethical' consumption of transgenic products.

Hence, the quest of science must consist with the spirit of societal progress towards common interests and welfare. Any innovation of science that fails to respect our human values and that subverts the ethical considerations of our judgement simply becomes a narrow means of pursuing individual passions.

Let us, therefore, hope that scientific investigation be not the pursuit of passion for narrowed interests; that scientists do not run after 'cheap popularity' and strive to heighten their reputation to the global level; and that they do not get 'lured' by an imported notion of 'modernising the mindset' to construct 'the exciting future of biotechnology' by undermining the age-old indigenous cultures and thousands of years of seed-saving tradition. The sudden, dramatic turning point may hit our food chain, which "would be effectively padlocked with the [transnational] corporations [TNCs] the sole owners of the key". It is, therefore, sensible and urgent to stop the profit-obsessed TNCs from taking control of our common destiny. Let us not succumb to the "fatal passion which misled our first parents..." (Bertrand Russell, The Corsican Ordeal of Miss X, In: “Horrors Manufactured Here”).