Child in traditional costume of the local tribe. Traditional agriculture in this and across Asia is threatened by the planned introduction of GE rice.
Rice is the staple diet for most Chinese people and it is the
source of livelihood for more than 100 million farmers, it is
cultivated in traditional paddy fields such as these in the Yunnan
Province. During our Rice is
Life tour in Yunnan, four buses carrying farmers, journalists,
volunteers and rice experts looked for the best ways to ensure the
sustainable development and agriculture of rice as well as
educating locals against the dangers of GE rice.
During the week diaries cataloguing the tour's progress and its
amazing experiences were written by five different volunteers. Two
of the volunteers,
Lisa (aka Lizardfish) from Bermuda and
Akiko from Sweden via Japan wrote about their experiences in
English. Lisa is one of our most active
online community members and earned a place on the tour by
getting the most people
involved in online actions against GE rice.
To catch a glimpse of the beauty of this province and the way of
life that is at risk from GE rice,
watch our slideshow and read the diary highlights from Akiko
and Lisa below:
The tour kicked off with an opening ceremony in Kuming,
Lizardfish: "It was a cloudy and misty morning with birds I had
never heard before twittering to us as we walked along the pathway
past ornamental flower beds bursting with colour.
My first task of the day was to remain stationed at a junction
in the pathways and direct bus tour people towards the stage where
we were having the opening ceremony. Pretty soon though it began to
rain and before long I was rather soggy. So many of the people who
needed my directions offered me their umbrella and seemed quite
concerned about my excessive moisture situation. Thankfully it
didn't last long. I stood there for an hour or so and said "nee
how:" (hello in Mandarin) to everyone as they came by. Some people
were rather shocked that I could speak so much Chinese.
Akiko: Farmers and host guests put stickers on 4 buses for the
tour. The stickers said "Cheil Lal Ku". It means "Call for the
spirit of rice". Wow! The Hani's way. Ask the rice spirit to come
back. I will follow the wisdom of rice and express my deep
appreciation to rice and people who have been farming rice for many
generations. I am very excited about visiting the rice field
of the first stops for the tour was in Xinping where the buses
visited a village of Doi people and experienced the Doi way of
Lizardfish: I have never seen rice harvesting taking place
before. The farmers pick up a large bunch of the rice plants and
smack them against the inside of a wooden trough and all the rice
grains simply fall off. Some of the farmers on our bus tour picked
up some rice plants and helped out. Apparently many farming
communities work this way. They help each other all the time. So
one family's farm will have everyone in the entire community
working it at one time.
When we arrived at our destination everyone was split up into 3
groups and each group was to go into a paddy field to greet working
farmers and help them to take Polaroid pictures expressing "rice in
When we got to the paddy fields I was shocked at how narrow the
mud wall was on which we had to navigate. My nerves took hold of my
legs and as I stepped sideways along the slippery wall my knees
began to wobble like jelly.
Akiko: A few times during the day, I felt tears in my eyes,
while sitting on the bus looking outside. It happened when I was
looking at mountains through the window. First I thought they are
so beautiful and very natural. Then I remembered about mountains I
saw when I was in Japan travelling by trains this summer. Most of
the mountains had big electric power plants on the top. I felt
really bad every time I saw mountains that had metal stacked in it.
I felt the mother earth, who is wise enough to be so patient. Maybe
that's why I felt relief today, when I noticed about natural
mountains in Xinping.
The tour travelled further into the province of Yunnan.
Akiko: Today, we were on the bus for about 9 hours to come to
Yuan Yang. We left Xinping at 8 in the morning, after the
breakfast. I knew it will be a long journey, so I have planned
yesterday to ask some questions to a farmer, Li Shuin To, from the
north part of Yunnan, who is a participant of the bus tour.
He is from a farmer's family and he is the 8th generations
following the family path. He is 31 years old, and lives with 4
generations together. He has a little daughter. I was very curious
first of all about how much Shuin To knows about GMOs. He said he
did not know anything about it until he came to the tour.
"It is very scary", he said. He is very concerned and he wants
more information in order to tell his friends and local farmers
about it. He said he will try to find books about GMOs and research
more about it."
tour arrived in Honghe where the Hani people live and also practice
traditional farming methods.
Lizardfish: The days have been very long and I feel as if I
have been in China for many weeks already. However, the tour has
only been going for 4 days (we have 4 days left). Mostly the views
are spectacular especially when the sun is out.
The mountains are all covered in lush green vegetation and the 4
buses climb up winding roads to the tops of mountains and drive
along valleys through clouds and mist and forest. The journeys
we've been doing are usually quite bumpy and bendy so just as you
are falling asleep you nearly slide off your seat and are awoken in
a state of panic. Sleeping on the bus is therefore almost
Akiko: I really feel from the native farmers I met on this bus
tour that they truly love their livelihoods, and their strong
connection to the mother earth. When we stopped the bus for taking
some photos of the terrace field, I noticed a sign. It said,
"Protect Our Natural Environment. Let this warning message be with
you!". A very powerful message for us humans.
I could see a part of the terrace, since the father sky asked
the mist to go away for a while for us. I thanked to the father sky
and to the mother earth. My 6th day in China started with this
powerful experience. So far I like this day best, I said to
Rice New Year celebrations in the heartland of rice.
Lizardfish: WOW! What a day! We are in Jiayin, which is a Hani
village. They are celebrating the New Year today. The Hani have
their own calendar which it is based on rice growing and
harvesting. Now that the rice is harvested there is cause for much
celebration. This place is very famous for the rice festival of the
Hani's because everyone eats dinner on the street in a long line of
hundreds of tables.
Akiko: The Hani festival for the rice harvest, which is their
new year, reminded me of my childhood time. The atmosphere in the
whole village was very similar to the summer festival I have had up
until my teenage time in my town. Everybody was so excited and very
busy preparing the foods. A lot of food. Different thing was the
way they prepared the food. The Hani people prepared meat dishes
from the very beginning. They brought a cow, a pig and chickens in
the morning from their farms into the town, and killed them, cut
them and cooked them with different vegetables and spices in the
centre of the town.
More celebrations and experiences in the neighbouring
Lizardfish: The walk to the village was breathtaking. We went
through forest and stood overlooking the lush, green valley. It was
very tranquil and I wished we could have walked more or stayed on
this path for longer.
First we walked to some terraces with local farmers and helped
them use Polaroid cameras like last time. I was in charge of the
equipment again and would you believe it, they had me walking down
steep slippery rocks with all this stuff (flash back to paddy field
instability)! We also went into a farmer's house and took pictures
there. My favourite place to help them take photos was on a roof
where women were raking the rice out to dry. I had never seen this
being done before. Rice is everywhere! In the fields, in the
kitchen, in the grinding sheds and on the roofs.
Akiko: The proper way to enter the village of Hani's is to go
though the main gate. A few of us witnessed this afternoon that a
young man was invited to a very old Hani woman, who seems like the
most wise woman of the village. She gave him a ritual ceremony by
singing and giving him some initiation. I would like to be a wise
old woman who can understand the deep meaning of life.
I must say that I am very impressed that Greenpeace together
with the co-organizers could prepare this wonderful and amazing
tour. I noticed that the farmers who are participating with the
tour are very satisfied and pleased to be here with us. Thanks
End of tour
Akiko and Lizardfish's thoughts on GE
Lizardfish: These kind and trusting people are completely
oblivious to the dangers that lie ahead. Someone could walk into
their village in 2005 and convince them to grow GE rice so easily
by telling a few lies. If rice growing communities in China are all
similar in this respect, then they are all vulnerable to this kind
of persuasion. If something goes wrong with the GE crops then these
communities will disintegrate and the people will have to move to
the cities, which will then engulf the countryside more and
The evidence indicates that the probability of agricultural
catastrophe resulting from the use of GE crops is significant
enough to warrant great concern. I am pleased that Greenpeace China
is going to continue to raise awareness about this issue together
with ecological rice farming.
Akiko:GMOs should not be released into the nature anymore. This
is our responsibility to stop this. It is our responsibility to
keep the traditional knowledge alive. GMOs are destroyers of the
long lasting relationship between nature and us. This is one of the
biggest challenges for all of us. We should all stand up on this
urgent matter, it is not too late, but really urgent. GMOs should
not be released into the nature.
The Rice is Life Tour is now over but we'll leave it to
sum it up:
I hope with all my heart that these beautiful (inside and out)
minorities will continue to farm rice without interference from the
biotech companies. However, hoping isn't enough to ensure this. We
can sit here and hope as much as we like but we still need to DO
What you can do:
Send a selection of
beautiful ecards or an animated
ecard to spread the word about GE rice.
Like Lisa you can sign up as a Greenpeace cyberactivist.