Drought reduces Bt maize area, but sector still upbeat
Rudy Fernandez (The Philippine Star) - May 26, 2016 - 12:00am

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – Drought reduced the area planted to genetically modified (GM) corn in the country in 2015.

Over the past decade when the country began producing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize, the area planted to this pest-resistant and high-yielding crop peaked at 831,000 hectares in 2014.

In 2015, however, drought conditions in the country’s corn-growing regions decreased the area to 702,000 hectares, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Drought also diminished the number of farmers growing Bt corn, from 415,000 in 2014 to about 350,000 in 2015.

“Maize planting and production in the Philippines were affected by the continuous drought in the country since the first half of 2015,” ISAAA noted in a report titled “20th Anniversary (1996 to 2015) of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015.”     

But the corn-growing sector is undeterred by the unfavorable weather-induced temporary setback as it continues to look forward to bright prospects as “homegrown” biotech products are likely to be commercialized in the near future. Their optimism stems from the fact that over the short period of 12 years (2003 when Bt corn growing began in the country to 2014), the Philippines has gained $560 million (about P26.3 billion) from biotech maize.

ISAAA presented the 20-year report at the “2016 Media Conference on the Global Adoption of Biotech Crops” held recently at the Acacia Hotel in Alabang, Muntinlupa City organized by ISAAA and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) based in the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB).

United States-based ISAAA is a non-profit organization sponsored by public and private sector organizations with an international network of centers that contribute to the alleviation of poverty and hunger by sharing knowledge on crop biotechnology applications. One of the network’s units, the ISAAA Southeast Asia Center, is based in Los Baños.

The speakers at the media forum were ISAAA board chair Paul Teng, SEARCA director Gil Saguiguit Jr., Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology program director Vivencio Mamaril, ISAAA global coordinator and SEAsia Center director Randy Hautea, Rhodora Aldemita (also of ISAAA), Eufemio Rasco Jr. of the National Academy of Science and Technology, ASM Mahbubur Rahman Khan and Gour Pada Das, both of Bangladesh.

Since 1996, ISAAA has been publishing an annual report on the global adoption of GM biotech crops with particular emphasis on their impact in developing countries.

SEARCA’s support for this event and many others “is part of our commitment to push for technologies and practices that will address the challenge of feeding a growing population struggling with poverty and hunger amid natural resources threatened by changing extreme climate conditions,” Saguiguit said.

ISAAA also asserted that despite the adverse climate change conditions across the world, farmers – particularly the small, resource-poor ones – have not been deterred from growing biotech crops.

On the whole, it stated, an unprecedented cumulative area of two billion hectares of biotech crops equivalent to twice the land area of the US (937 million hectares) were cultivated globally in up to 28 countries annually, from 1996 to 2015.

“Farmer benefits for 1996 to 2015 were conservatively estimated at over $150 billion,” ISAAA said. Up to more or less 18 million risk-averse, small, and resource-poor farmers (90 percent) in developing countries benefited annually.

The annual global area of biotech crops peaked at 181.5 million hectares in 2014. It increased a hundredfold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015, “making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times,” ISAAA stressed.

In the case of the Philippines, it said, the country continues to be in the forefront of biotech research and commercialization in Asia as well as a model for science-based and thorough regulatory policy.

“Biotech maize has been planted since 2003 and the country is gearing up for the possible commercialization of public-private sector collaboration such as Golden Rice, Bt eggplant, virus-resistant papaya, and Bt cotton,” ISAAA said.

In a study, the Filipino farmer-respondents said that they continued to adopt Bt corn because of its high income, pest resistance, good grain quality, available financing, lesser production cost and availability of seeds.          

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