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Study Adverse Effects of Transgenic Cops: Pawar

Philippines: GM Crops Provide Key to Greening Barren Lands
Rudy A. Fernandez
The Philippine Star, July 27, 2008

Once lahar-mantled, now lush greenfields. Barren hills once upon a recent time, now lush corn farms. Open fields that used to reek of the acrid smell of toxic pesticides, now wafted by fresh, healthful air. The friendly insects are back too, helping Mr. Farmer control the insects that have been attacking his cornfields.

These are some of the magical transformations in many areas in the countryside, thanks to Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn. Bt is a bacterium that naturally occurs in soil. Through biotechnology or genetic engineering, a specific Bt gene has been inserted in the corn variety. Bt corn produces its natural pesticide against the Asian corn borer. One of the most destructive pests attacking corn in Asia, including the Philippines.

For almost a decade now, the new genetically modified (GM) corn variety has excited the interest of many Filipino farmers because of its high yield and resistance to the dread corn borer. Take the farmers of Barangay Anao in Mexico, Pampanga. Following Mt. Pinatubo's eruption in 1992, the village's farms were covered with lahar. But Bt corn brought back greenery to the landscape.

When we visited Anao two years ago, we learned that almost all its farmers were already planting the transgenic crop. A barangay leader had told us that GM corn yield as much as 10 tons per hectare, or three or more times the yield of ordinary varieties.

In one cropping season (more than three months), a farmer using the biotech crop can earn as much as P100,000. Another said he could now send his children to college because of the bountiful harvest from Bt corn.

About 95 percent of the barangay's farmers are now planting biotech corn, Anao outstanding farmer Carlos Guevarra recently told Sonny Tababa, coordinator of the Los Baños-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture-Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA-BIC).

Many farmers in Iloilo also have a success story to tell: Their Northern Iloilo Corn Producers Association Inc. (NICPAI) won the PLEDGE, the highest international award given by Monsanto, a global agriculture corporation, to outstanding projects in agriculture.

NICPAI's "From Grassland to Corn Land" saga bested 197 other entries to get the Judges' Choice Award and $20,000 cash prize.

The farmers' group started in 2005 as the Sara Corn Financiers' Association organized by youthful farmer-leader Delson Sonza of Sara town.

Before, many farmers in northern Iloilo could hardly eat three meals day. Their lives have improved considerably since they turned to GM corn.

"With biotech corn farming, families without a carabao and other farm implements can now cultivate their grasslands which were converted into corn lands," Sonza told journalists at a science forum held recently in Makati City. Monsanto, assisted by NICPAI, had earlier introduced the zero and minimum tillage technologies to the farmers. In just three years, the area covered by GM corn significantly increased from 800 hectares to 9,300 ha.

Now, Sonza said, the farmers can afford to buy home appliances, vehicles, and postharvest facilities. "The families can now send their children to school and provide well for their needs." In view of the strides achieved in GM crop production, the area devoted to biotech corn continues to expand, noted Dr. Randy Hautea, global coordinator of the International Services for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

As of 2007, about 300,000 hectares had been planted to transgenic corn in the Philippines, he reported at a recent media forum in Los Baños jointly sponsored by ISAAA, SEARCA-BIC, US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD).

The country is now the world's 10th biggest grower of GM crops, thus, joining the ranks of biotech "mega-countries" (those planting biotech crops in 50,000 ha or more).

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