Written by Christina G Abadilla-Frediles
As the scientific community is assuring and affirming the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops, especially corn, an often rice-based crop, more farmers are supporting the use of GM seeds. They are asserting that in knowing the best crop and seed to plant, farmers themselves have the right to choose.
Such is the case in Oriental Mindoro. Although the Mindoro Ecological and Sustainable Agriculture Federation (MESAfed) appealed to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala this year to keep the province free from GMOs after they discovered that their agricultural-supply stores are selling GM corn seeds, corn farmers` groups had been advocating the lifting of the province’s ban on GMOs.
In 2012, their leaders petitioned to remove the GMO ban in their province, arguing that Bt corn poses no known risk to human health and environment. They contended that the Department of Agriculture duly approved Bt corn`s cultivation after a series of rigorous laboratory and field tests.
The petition underscored that prohibiting farmers from planting GMOs violates the principle of “Farmers` Choice” and it deprives them from their freedom to plant crops that will provide them more produce.
This petition resulted from the farmers` education on biotechnology conducted by the National Corn Competitiveness Board (NCCB), a non-government organization based in Diliman, Quezon City that supports GM crops. Headed by Salvador Umengan, it advocates that biotech could help increase farmers’ income and enhance their competitiveness.
NCCB is composed of all major private sector participants in the supply chain of corn from inputs, seeds and technology providers, small and large farmers, post harvest facility and storage operators, and supply aggregators, land and sea transportation and logistics, port operators to end-users or markets in the feed milling and swine and poultry industries.
“Banning the cultivation of GM crops in Oriental Mindoro, Bohol, and the Negros provinces without adequate research, is like suppressing their freedom. We are not robots, we have the right to know why they’re banning GMOs,” a community organizer of the NCCB, who refused to be named, said in an interview.
Since 2002, DA has been promoting the production of Bt corn after six years of trials and safety evaluation in not a few PH areas. BT corn has been proven safe to humans and the environment in studies conducted by UP Los Baños.
NCCB campaigns for and strongly promotes biotechnology in areas where access to modern agricultural practices is limited. The campaign aims to empower farmers to freely and knowingly access and participate in the development and utilization of biotechnology in agriculture that can be beneficial to their lives.
To engage farmers in the project, trainings on rice production were conducted and demonstration farms were also established. Through these activities, farmers can learn and witness for themselves the potentials of GM corn.
Reaching the ground
The Negros provinces had banned the entry of living GMOs to maintain their organic production status and prevent what they feared as contamination of standing crops from GM varieties.
However, Negros Occidental recently created an ad hoc committee to find a win-win solution to the call to lift the ban on GMOs. Public consultations were done and the struggle between GMO supporters and anti-biotech groups continues. Some sectors brand it as a tug-of-war affair.
Yet, the fact that it is banned cannot prevent farmers from wanting to plant Bt corn. The committee was surprised to know that some farmers were already planting GM corn for several years, enjoying higher yield and income. On the other hand, the farmers were also surprised to know that GM corn is banned in their province, which made them realize why few farmers plant their kind of variety.
Information materials, technology demonstrations, and several workshops were distributed and conducted during the campaign. More than 12-ha demonstration trials on GM corn were facilitated in 2012.
On the average, GM corn can yield 6.0 t/ha that can be sold at P12.50/kg. With a total expense of P35,182 for seeds, fertilizers, and other crop management activities, a farmer can earn P27,318/ha of Bt corn.
“The farmers will always protect their crop as it is their source of living,” the campaign organizer said. After all, they are family providers who work while most of the province is still in bed.