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by Melody M. Aguiba
04-September-2006 Manila Bulletin

The Philippines can achieve sufficiency in corn in one or two years if high-yielding hybrid corn including the genetically modified (GM) Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn can be intensively expanded on just an additional 200,000 hectares.

Jet G. Parma, Pioneer Hi-Bred Philippines Inc. (PHBP) country manager, told a press briefing the country needs to focus on propagating the use of hybrid corn that the country will no longer need to import corn.

"Hybrid corn area has stayed at 500,000 to 600,000 hectares over the past years. We only need five to six million tons of corn. If we can raise yield by five tons per hectare, we only need to expand hybrid corn on (an additional) 200,000 hectares to raise production by one million tons," he said.

Hybrid corn, a product of the cross-pollination of two varieties with superior characteristics, can readily raise farmers' yield from an average of about three MT per hectare to as much as 10 MT per hectare particularly for the hybrid pest-resistant Bt corn.

The key to achieving such corn sufficiency, Parma said, is in government's ensuring that corn prices does not go below P8 to P10 per kilo at farmgate and that importation is curbed in order to encourage farmers to plant corn.

"The question is how do we convince farmers to plant corn. It all depends on the prices," he said. "Government should stop corn importation."

The Philippines is expected to import at least 1.4 million MT of corn and corn substitute this year. Importation of corn is placed at more than 250,000 MT this year while corn substitute wheat's importation may reach to 1.2 million MT, traders said.

At a total of 500,000 hectares planted to hybrid corn, the country only has a 21 percent hybridization rate compared to Thailand's more than 90 percent hybridization.

The industry is also foreseeing an expansion in the corn borer-resistant Bt corn area by the end of 2006 to 70,000 hectares, up by 40 percent from about 50,000 hectares in 2005, according to Benigno Peczon, Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines executive director.

At this expanded rate, Bt corn has a lot of room for growth with its more non-polluting impact on the environment along with the tremendous increase in income it brings to farmers, even despite higher Bt corn seed's price compared to open pollinated varieties.

"Definitely (we have achieved a level of success in Bt corn propagation). We're now at 80,000 hectares, and we're getting positive feedback. It's very encouraging," Parma said.
If a farmer harvests 10 MT per hectare from Bt corn and sell this at P8 per kilo, bringing a net income of P50,000 per hectare (P80,000 less P30,000 production cost), cost of Bt corn becomes reasonable as it just amounts to 13 percent of total production cost (at Bt corn's seed cost of P4,000).

Peczon explained that if there was opposition on the use of Bt corn from environment-lobbying organizations like Greenpeace, this is not based on science.

"Opposition to Bt corn is ideologically-based and does not have a scientific basis," he said.

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