BIOTECHNOLOGY can be the key to the country's food security and development issues.
Gil Saguiguit, director of Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) said that this scientific technology gives farmers a fighting chance to cope with the many challenges and obstacles they face in farming.
He reiterated the increasing importance of safe, and evidence- and science-based agricultural technologies in promoting agricultural productivity and food and nutrition security amid climate change and dwindling production resources.
Among these technologies is biotechnology, including both traditional (such as selective breeding and fermentation techniques) and modern (genetic engineering) techniques, which SEARCA looks at as an important tool in addressing most of the agriculture challenges.
He made these statements 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 last May.
Saguiguit, however, emphasized that biotechnology will never be a lone solution to the problems but an essential tool to complement with the existing solutions. Hence, SEARCA's push for "coexistence."
According to a report by the US Department of Agriculture Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, coexistence "is the concurrent cultivation of conventional, organic, identity preserved and genetically engineered crops consistent with underlying consumer preferences and farmer choices."
Based from the ISAAA report, global planting of biotech crops reached 185.1 million hectares in 2016, up from 179.7 million hectares the previous year.
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 are 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 10th five-year plan focused on Inclusive and Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development (ISARD), the center believes that due attention must be given to resource poor farmers by providing them access to information, best practices, and new technologies that will increase their farm productivity.
In a press statement, SEARCA stood firm that they only promotes agricultural technologies and practices that are known to be safe and do not compromise human and environmental health.
On the other hand, Chinkee Golle, acting executive director of Interface Development Interventions (IDIS), said that the recent announcement of ISAAA stating that Philippines ranked as the top grower of biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops in Southeast Asia and 12th biggest producer globally last year, is a threat to the environmentalists' call to ban GM crops.
"This is really alarming and truly a threat to our call to ban the GM crops. While here in Davao we continue to promote the implementation of organic agriculture, the production of Bt corn continues, it's not helping the farmers at all but more of helping the giant companies/producers of GM crops," she said.
With the continuing opposition to biotechnology, Saguiguit said it is all the more important for the public, particularly decision and policymakers, to understand the said technology in the context of scientific and empirical evidence.