The Philippines may yet learn a lot from India's experience in managing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton and thus boost the farm sector through agricultural biotechnology.
Experts say India's agricultural biotechnology has emerged as one of the fastest growing in the entire world in recent years, and the latest report of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) attributes this to the phenomenon of the genetically-improved Bt cotton.
Among the many institutions involved in biotechnology commercialization is the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which is based in India and has been at the forefront of promoting agricultural biotechnology in the country.
ICRISAT has an incubator that has done wonders in developing Bt corn and other products that are appropriate to India and has been utilized as well to develop new technology that promotes commercialization of biotechnology products.
One technology that it commercialized is BT cotton by Seedworks (I) Pvt Ltd. ICRISAT-ABI provided the enterprise with support on biotechnology techniques, biosafety consultancy, biotech lab and greenhouse infrastructure.
This has not been lost on Filipino biotech experts who nurtured the commercialization of Bt corn more than four years ago in their belief that it would boost the country's production and trigger an agri-biotech revolution.
A number of "Pinoy Biotek" products are in the pipeline and waiting commercial release.
Genetically-improved crops that grow faster, yield better, and are superior in traits can offer farmers a better chance to maximize output and increase incomes, experts said.
In India, agricultural biotechnology has become the third largest contributor among various biotech sectors, with total revenues of more than $229 million in 2006-2007, which meant a growth of 55 percent, the USDA said.
Export revenue from agriculture biotechnology has grown to $11.6 million in 2006-2007 from just $8 million the previous year, it added.
The report, entitled "India biotechnology" and prepared by Santosh Kumar Singh, claimed Bt cotton coverage has surged over the past five years to cover 70 percent of the area planted to cotton in 2007.
Data from India's Ministry of Agriculture, Bt cotton acreage stood at 24.4 lakh hectares, out of a total of 72.3 lakh hectares covered by cotton until July 20 of the on-going kharif season.
The USDA report said continuing legal issues on the pricing of Bt cotton seed are likely to be detrimental to technology transfer and foreign direct investment in India's biotechnology sector.
It alleged that the regulatory process governing the biotechnology sector is not entirely science-based. "The regulatory process, which is still evolving, is not entirely science-based," it said.
The Environmental Protection Act of 1986 lays the foundation for India's biotechnology regulatory framework, which involves many monitoring committees.
Commenting on import policy, USDA said India's trade policy stipulates that imports of all biotech food and agricultural products, or products derived from biotech plants or organisms, should receive prior approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).
"The only biotech product approved for commercial imports by India so far is soybean oil derived from round-up ready soybeans for consumption after refining," it said.
The balance of trade between India and the United States is heavily in favor of the former and is nearly 3:1.
"US exports to India was estimated at $365 million while India's exports to the US stood at $1.04 billion in 2006," the report said.
Agricultural trade between the US and India reached a record $1.4 billion in 2006, which excludes fish and forest products, it added.
India's major agricultural exports to the US include cashew, sugar, spices, essential oils, processed horticultural products, rice, tea and castor oil.
US exports almonds, cotton, fresh fruits, pulses, soybean oil, processed horticultural products and other consumer food products to India.
Biotech advocates in the Philippines said the only way to compete in agricultural trade and level the playing field somehow is through agricultural modernization.
Current advances in biotechnology, aided significantly by international networks like ICRISAT, promote technology transfer and speed up commercialization. – Biolife Media Service