US savant pushes ‘coexistence’ agriculture for hungry world

  • 28 September 2015, Monday

Source: InterAksyon
26 Sep 2015

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna - Dr. Pesach Lubinsky, a science advisor at the New Technologies Division, Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), told a seminar at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) here that an expanding global population and the threat of severe weather events compels not only the United States but other nations, as well, to propagate "coexistence" agriculture.

Dr. Lubinsky argues that the concept of coexistence agriculture has the potential to boost yields for rice and other crops by simultaneously nurturing genetically-modified (GM) and organic plants in a specific area.

AC 21 also covers issues like the impact of GMOs on traditional organic varieties and how the state can compensate organic farmers should their plants be affected by GMO crops.

"There will be compensation for those affected, but this can be facilitated through the establishment of eligibility standards as well as the specific tools and triggers of impact as well as the testing protocols for verification," Lubinsky said.

AC 21 is also concerned with the conduct of research on coexistence farming as well as gene flow management and assessment of the quality and diversity of US seeds and germplasms.

Lubinsky noted that USDA is trying to reach more farmers and promote best farm practices and is working on GMO-related economic losses for organic farmers while improving crop insurance for them.

Lubinsky underscored that as the world population grows, the food requirement also increases and one way of boosting yields is through coexistence farming.

Asked to comment on the issue, longtime Philippine Confederation of Grains Associations (Philcongrains) president Herculano "Joji" Co said "the issue is hunger, and champions of both organic farming and GMO crops have to provide the solutions. My take is that we have to cut post-harvest losses and mechanize. But remember what Lincoln Steffens said: 'Nothing succeeds like failure.'"

The seminar was organized by the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP) and USDA in partnership with the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), IRRI, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture-Biotechnology Information Center (Searca-BIC), University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB) and the UP League of Agricultural Biotechnology Students (UPLABS.)

Under the concept of coexistence farming, different types of crops will be grown in an area using different production systems similar to the concept of "making a hundred flowers bloom and a thousand schools of thought contend" as practised in Chinese agriculture and politics.

Coexistence, as defined in a report of the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21), "is the concurrent cultivation of conventional, organic, identity preserved (IP), and genetically engineered (GE) crops consistent with underlying consumer preferences and farmer choices."

Lubinsky noted that the USDA has been promoting coexistence farming in order to rationalize agricultural production since the demand for organic crops has been rising even as the global requirement for food has been growing apace.

Under the USDA concept, all the stakeholders, from organic farmers to those who nurture GMO crops, have to confront the issue of global hunger, with 868 million people sleeping nightly on empty stomachs.

Lubinsky said USDA wants farmers, consumers as well as government to act in a collective manner "to help US agriculture remain competitive," and revealed that coexistence had been in the works since 2000, when policymakers realized that hunger is the issue bigger than GMOs and organic produce.

Searca Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. said Philippine research institutions are actually more into traditional crop breeding rather than developing GMOs, and noted that both PhilRice and IRRI are also conducting work on organic crops.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala has been quoted time and again as saying there is room for both organic agriculture and GMO breeding to compete in solving the country's principal principal, which is rice self-sufficiency.

Alcala authored the Organic Agriculture Act, which sets aside 400,000 hectares of land for organic rice farming, when he was still a representative of Quezon.

BCP's Abe Manalo said the lure of GMO crops lies in the fact that the land per capita for food production has been slashed from 4.3 hectares per person in 1960 to only 1.8 hectare per individual by 2020.

"Biotech crops can fill the crop deficit that the world faces in 40 years, with 9 billion people to feed using less land, less water and less nutrients," he added.

USDA is addressing the issue of seed purity and quality seed availability for organic and non-GMO farmers. The department is conducting stakeholder workshops on current and future actions on coexistence farming.

Lubinsky said the market demand for US-grown crops is increasing and output from the organic, conventional and biotechnology sectors must rise in order to meet the demand.

Thus, the expert noted, the differences and challenges of each sector must be studied and opportunities for growth in each sector should be determined in order to maximize the potentials of the three types of crops.