Advocates push for GM crops in Southeast Asia

  • 11 December 2014, Thursday

Source: BusinessMirror
29 Nov 2014

GENETICALLY modified (GM) crops are here to stay, particularly under conditions of aberrant climate that lead to prolonged episodes of drought and strong typhoons.

GM advocates made a pitch for broader propagation of biotech crops during the recent second International Conference on Agricultural and Rural Development in Southeast Asia (ARD2014) held in Makati City. ARD2014 was organized by the Los Baños-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, under Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr.

Saguiguit explained that biotech crops may help reduce food prices in the long run and cut down on the use of agricultural inputs since they are resistant to a variety of pests and diseases. Dr. Siang Hee Tan, executive director of CropLife Asia in Singapore, said that higher-yielding GM crops provide the cushion for a world fearful of food insecurity in the long run. A wide array of GM crops, Tan said, “allows farmers to manage pest problems, increase yields, use nitrogen efficiently, manage abiotic stress and grow more nutritionally improved crops.”

He said that in five to seven years, the world would see more of these GM crops developed in direct response to the threat of climate change and higher greenhouse-gas emissions.

These crops, he added, are corn, soybean, cotton rice, canola, alfalfa, bean, eggplant and potato.

Andrew McConville, chief of Syngenta in Southeast Asia, said, “40 percent of the world’s food crops would not exist without crop-protection products.” Dr. Leonardo Gonzales, founding president and chairman of the Strive/Sikap Foundation, noted that the impact of biotech crops in the Philippines was substantial based on the results of an analysis of six indicators he had analyzed.

These are yield, farm cost, net farm income, subsistence-economic carrying capacity, global cost competitiveness and return on investment (ROI).

The Philippines, Saguiguit said, was the first member-country in Southeast Asia to commercialize biotech crops, approving the propagation of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn in 2003.

Gonzales’s comparison of Bt corn and ordinary hybrid corn from 2003 to 2011 showed the following results: The average yield advantage of Bt corn over ordinary hybrid corn was 19 percent; Btcost advantage was 10 percent; real net farm income advantage for Bt corn was 8 percent; subsistence economic carrying capacity advantage of Btcorn was 29 percent; and ROI advantage of Bt corn was 42 percent.

Moreover, Gonzales said the combined macroeconomic impact of Btcorn was P17.178 billion ($399.5 million) in 2011.

This figure can be broken down as follows: P6.945 billion in incremental farm income; pre-harvest labor savings of P774 million; incremental farm income of P4.71 billion from seed sales; incremental income of P3.416 billion from fertilizer sales; and postharvest multiplier income of P1.333 billion.

As regards environmental impacts, Gonzales said, “the study showed that Bt corn seed users were more efficient by 15 percent from ordinary hybrid corn seed users in terms of land use; 9 percent more efficient in fertilizer use; 26 percent more efficient in labor use; and 54 percent less in pesticide use.”

In response to concerns on the safety of GM crops, Dr. Saturnina Halos, chief of the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Advisory Team, said the Philippine regulatory framework for biotech crops is strict since it requires that they are safe for humans, animals and the environment.

“A functional regulatory system for biotech crops ensures that biotech crops entering and being utilized and planted in the country are safe for people, animals and the environment. For a regulatory system to be functional, it must be science-based, transparent, predictable, manageable and responsive. The Philippines is one of the few developing countries that has a functional regulatory system for biotech seeds,” Halos said.

In 2013 175.2 million hectares of biotech crops were planted around the world by 18 million farmers. Biotech corn was planted in 800,000 hectares in the country in 2013.

“Numerous scientific studies and testimonies from farmers on its benefits, such as increased yield and profit, are evidence of its contribution to agriculture, particularly food production,” Saguiguit said.

Biotech crops, like the fruit and shoot borer-resistant Bteggplant, are being developed by the University of the Philippines Los Baños.