The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) reiterated the increasing importance of safe, and evidence- and science-based agricultural technologies in promoting agricultural productivity, as well as food and nutrition security amidst challenges like climate change, dwindling production resources, rapid population increase and extreme poverty.
Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr., SEARCA director, said that these technologies included traditional (e.g., selective breeding, fermentation techniques) and modern (i.e., genetic engineering) techniques, which the Center looked at as an important tool in addressing these challenges.
"SEARCA particularly pushes for 'coexistence' which, according to a report of the US Department of Agriculture Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, is the concurrent cultivation of conventional, organic, identity preserved (IP) and genetically engineered crops consistent with underlying consumer preferences and farmer choices," Saguiguit said.
Saguiguit issued the statement following the Philippine launch of the annual report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) on the global status of commercialized biotech crops.
According to the ISAAA report, global planting of biotech crops reached 185.1 million hectares in 2016, which increased from 179.7 million hectares in 2015. A total of 26 countries grew biotech crops, including the Philippines, which planted around 812,000 hectares of biotech yellow corn last year.
Biotech corn varieties, which have been grown in the country since 2003, are pest resistant and herbicide tolerant, thus providing various documented benefits to Filipino farmers, including significant increase in yield and reduction in production costs.
Saguiguit said that through SEARCA's Tenth Five-Year Plan focused on Inclusive and Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development (ISARD), the Center believed that due attention must be given to resource poor farmers by providing them access to information, best practices, and new technologies that would increase their farm productivity.
"Our goal is to give our farmers a fighting chance to cope with the many challenges and obstacles they face in farming," he said.
Through biotechnology and many other innovations, SEARCA hopes to offer these farmers better opportunities so that they can provide not only for their families but also contribute to the nation's food security and overall development.
"Along these lines, SEARCA qualifies that it only promotes agricultural technologies and practices that are known to be safe and do not compromise human and environmental health," said Saguiguit.
With the continuing opposition to biotechnology, the official said that it was all the more important for the public, particularly decision and policymakers, to understand the technology in the context of scientific and empirical evidence.