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August 2009



Philippines gung-ho about GM crops
18 Aug 2009, 1820 hrs IST, Rituraj Tiwari, ET Bureau
MANILA: Amid lingering scepticism about possible health risks of GM (genetically modified) crops, Philippines is going ahead with its biotechnological adventures in crops. After commercializing the GM corn, Philippines government is set to introduce GM Golden Rice enriched with Vitamin A.

The government funded Philippine Rice Research Institute (Phil Rice) executive director Ronilo A. Beronio told ET that GM crops are answers to food security. "We are aiming to be self sufficient by 2013. Currently we produce 16.8 million metric tonnes of rice, which falls short by 15% to our requirements. GM crops are likely to play important role in attaining food security. The government has set aside US$250 million for this food security programme," he said.

PhilRice is providing more than 60 high yielding varieties of rice to farmers. Apart from that, it is also developing two varieties of Golden Rice, which are likely to hit the farms in 2011. "There is high acceptance of GM Rice in Philippines. A survey reveals that 69% of the farmers accept biofortified GM rice while 25% accept it under certain conditions. Only 6% farmers have totally declined it saying that GM crops are detrimental to human health. However, Golden Rice will have top pass through tough regulatory process before it's released commercially," Mr. Beronio said.

According to researchers of PhilRice, the field trials of Golden Rice have been encouraging. The National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) under the department of Science and Technology (DOST) is providing regulatory oversight to GM research under contained condition while the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) is strictly monitoring field trials.

"The Vitamin A rich GM rice is likely to fight against Vitamin A Defieciency (VAD) in countries like Philippine where the staple diet is Rice. Rice provides 50-80% of total caloric intake of Asians who are most likely to be suffering from VAD. Rice can reach even remote areas as compared to vitamin A supplementation," he said.

Apart from that, Philippino farmers have been able to double their rice yields with the intervention of technology and sensible farming investment. "The average yield has increased from 4 tonnes/ha to 8 tonnes/ha within seven years. Around 20% improvement can be attributed to improvement in technology while 15% is due to extension of knowledge to farmers. The rest is due to the extensive use of high yielding varieties. We have clocked 2.7% yoy increase in yield as against the average 0.8% increase in other Rice growing countries," Mr. Beronio said.