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Bt variety eyed to save local cotton industry

() - August 7, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Cotton Development Administration (CODA) says the salvation of the domestic cotton industry lies in the  commercialization of disease-free Bacillus thuringiensis(Bt)) cotton.

CODA Administrator Eugenio D.  Orpia Jr. , who has a doctorate in soil science from the University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB), believes that barring hitches, Bt cotton’s commercialization here may be expected next year.

“We project that Bt cotton will be commercialized in the country by September 2012,” he said.

Bt battles the corn borer in corn, the fruit and shoot borer in eggplant and bollworm in cotton.

“These are related insects, all lepidopterans, insects comprising the butterflies, moths, and skippers that as adults have four broad or lanceolate wings usually covered with minute overlapping and often brightly colored scales and that as larvae are caterpillars,” he added.

“Bollworm is a major pest. It’s a relative of the corn borer and the fruit and shoot borer of eggplant. It causes the most problems among cotton pests in the Philippines, in fact, in the entire world,” Orpia noted.

Orpia, who has been at the helm of CODA since it was established on Feb. 11, 1998 by virtue of Republic Act 8486, which merged the Philippine Cotton Corp. (PCC) and the Cotton Research and Development Institute (CRDI), said approval of Bt cotton will encourage cotton growing, expand areas planted to the crop and increase farm productivity and reduce production costs.

 “We will start the multilocation trials in September this year. We are still complying with the requirements.  We have submitted a listing of sites for evaluation by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and they are now evaluating which sites qualify,” he revealed.

“We intend to conduct it in five sites. One in Batac, Ilocos Norte, one in Alcala, Pangasinan, one in Santa Barbara, Iloilo, one in Polomolok, South Cotabato and one in Tupi, South Cotabato,” he added.

The trials were delayed since the technology owner or developer failed to collaborate with CODA, Orpia noted.

It has been more than 10 years when the clamor for the introduction of Bt cotton started but things changed in  2004, when the Biotechnology Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) initiated efforts to introduce and evaluate Bt cotton varieties locally.

As an aside, Orpia Orpia admitted that Bt cotton should have been commercialized earlier than Bt corn but the technology owner thought there was not much commercial value for the product in the country.

 “We negotiated with another technology developer which are the Chinese, we negotiated with the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Biocentury Transgene Co. Ltd. in China for a collaborative project on Bt cotton commercialization in the Philippines,” he said.

               

“A Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) was signed in 2003. It was signed and the DA committed to fund it, to fund the initial trials. The agreement involves the evaluation of existing hybrid Bt cotton varieties. It’s just plain evaluation as to efficacy and agronomic potential under local conditions and then we can already start to introduce the Bt cotton after complying with the biosafety requirements here in the Philippines,” Orpia added.

However, China banned the export of genetically modified (GM) materials and the government had to work with BioCentury Transgene Co., which was tasked by Beijing to commercialize the Bt cotton technology, and eventually ended up dealing with a franchise seed company in India, Nath Biogene Ltd.

“They were given the franchise to commercialize it by introducing the gene to their own varieties in India,” he said.

Orpia said CODA was lucky enough since the Indian government does not ban the export of genetic materials.

Though the technology and seeds may have come from China, which they call the fused Bt gene, they were used on Indian cotton varieties, Orpia revealed.

“China has an IPR on this. This is the gene that they gave to the Indian seed company, and the Indian seed company inserted this to their own varieties. So, what is provided now as Bt cotton seeds are seeds of Indian-developed varieties but inserted with the China developed Bt gene,” Orpia said.

A MEMORANDUM OF AGREEMENT ADMINISTRATOR EUGENIO D BIOTECHNOLOGY PROGRAM OF THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE BUREAU OF PLANT INDUSTRY CHINA ACADEMY OF AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES AND THE BIOCENTURY TRANSGENE CO COTTON ORPIA SOUTH COTABATO
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