PH is top grower of GM crops in SEA

Ace June Rell S. Perez

MUNTINLUPA CITY -- Philippines ranked as the top grower of biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops in Southeast Asia and 12th biggest producer globally last year, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application (ISAAA) revealed on Friday, May 19.

ISAAA’s chair of the board of Trustees, Dr. Paul Teng, during a media conference on the global status of commercialized GM crops in 2016 at the Acacia Hotel, Alabang, Muntinlupa City, said the country reached a total of 812,000 hectares of biotech or GM corn planted here in 2016, a significant increase of 16 percent from the 702,000 hectares were grown in 2015.

Highest hectarage of GM corn recorded is at 831,000 hectares in 2014.

Adoption rates of biotech or GM corn here are up by two percentage points to 65 percent in 2016 from 63 percent in 2015. Growing biotech or GM corn has benefitted some 406,000 farmers last year.

“Biotech crops have become a vital agricultural resource for farmers because of the immense benefits for improved productivity and profitability, as well as conservation efforts,” Teng said.

In a global scale, a total of 185.1 million hectares of biotech or GM crops were planted in 26 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North and Latin America in 2016.

GM corn, being the lone biotech crop allowed here, has been planted since 2003 after its approval for commercialization in 2002.

According to the report, the farm level economic benefit of planting biotech or GM corn in the country from 2003 to 2015 is estimated to have reached $642 million, and for 2015 alone, the net national impact of biotech or GM crop on farm income was estimated at $82 million.

Average landholding of Filipino Biotech farmers is at two hectares.

The corn producing areas in the country are Isabela, Cagayan Valley, South and North Cotabato, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat, among others. Davao City is also producing corn but only minimal.

“The increase (of areas planted) is due to favorable weather conditions, and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks,” Teng stressed.

GM corn vital in export

Teng said GM corn can play a vital role in Philippines' target to finally export corn to neighboring countries starting this year.

“Philippines, with 101 percent sufficiency rate in corn, should capitalize on this vantage point. Bt corn can play a great role in this direction,” he said.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, in a previous report, said yellow and white corn harvest for 2017 is expected to hit 8.1-million metric tons.

Bill on Biotechnology pushed

Dr. Vivencio Mamaril, Bureau of Plant Industry’s officer-in-charge and director of the Department of Agriculture’s Philippine Agriculture and Fisheries biotechnology program, said Friday that the Congress shows interest of sponsoring a bill promoting Biotechnology.

“We were in the Congress last Tuesday and we are still thinking if we will submit a recycled bill or craft a new one,” Mamaril shared.

He underscored that food safety appears to be the top concern for most of the members.

He also said the challenge of BPI now is to make the available food safety reports and information sheets understandable to the public.

“What we have now are very highly technical reports on the safety of these GM crops, so we are in the direction of making it more understandable to non-science-inclined persons,” he said.

Future plans and initiatives

Teng presented that targets for 2017 and the next coming years were focused on the expansion of global GM crop area especially of developing countries, new biotech crop and traits in the pipeline and application of science-based and efficient GM crop regulation.

ISAAA, in its briefer, said current research and development efforts on GM crops in the Philippines include: fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant; biotech papaya with delayed ripening and papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) resistance; Bt cotton; and Golden Rice.

“Maybe, if everything went smooth, no problems will occur along the way, maybe in two years’ time Bt eggplant and golden rice will be mainstreamed,” Mamaril said.

Opposition

It is no secret that the introduction of GM crops here drew opposition from various organizations.

Chinkee Golle, acting executive director of Interface Development Interventions (Idis), said that the recent announcement of ISAAA is a threat to its call to ban GM crops.

“This is really alarming and truly a threat to our call to ban the GM crops. While here in Davao we continue to promote the implementation of organic agriculture, the production of Bt corn continues, it’s not helping the farmers at all but more of helping the giant companies/producers of GM crops,” she said.

Mamaril, however, said, in a span of 14 years since Bt corn was planted, no harm has been reported and proven to the people and environment.

“The mere fact that it grew to 813,000 hectares, from just some 50,000 hectares in 2003, it is but successful and no one can argue with that,” Mamaril said.

Southeast Asia Regional Center for Graduate Studies and Research in Agriculture director Dr. Gil Saguiguit, Jr., for his part, said the goal of biotechnology boils down to helping small farmers and achieving food security.