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by Melody M. Aguiba
20-February-2008 Manila Bulletin

Monsanto, world’s pioneer in modern biotechnology, is introducing an old conservation practice, "contour farming," on corn expansion areas targetted by government at 75,000 hectares of hilly grasslands.

Advanced in technology yet conscious of current environmental protection needs, Monsanto has already started adopting a farm conservation practice in areas where it supplies genetically modified (GM) Bacillus thuringiensis (borer-resistant Bt corn) and Roundup Ready (herbicide-resistant) corn.

In Sara, Iloilo, conservation tillage (zero tillage or no plowing) is being practiced by farmers which controls erosion on this upland.

But to complement this ecology-friendly technique, it is interspersing contour farming on all corn areas where there is conservation tillage.

Dr. Victor V. Alpuerto, Monsanto commercial acceptance director, said the company is aligning its conservation farming techniques with the corn expansion program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) on 75,000 hectares for 2008.

DA’s expansion program is after hilly lands that are mere idle grasslands. Without proper conservation farming, these lands can have erosion problems which threaten land productivity and farming sustainability.

Contour farming is the planting of crops across mountainous slopes instead of up and down the slope.

This way, topsoil is kept on sloping fields, rainwater flow is controlled, water soaks into the soil and is conserved, irrigation is improved, labor need is reduced, and harvest becomes easier.

Monsanto will work with the International Center for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) on this technique as ICRAF has successfully demonstrated productivity and environmental harmony of conservation farming through its pilot sites in Claveria, Misamis Oriental.

Alpuerto explains that in contour farming, a strip of natural vegetation of half-a-meter in between plots is be retained as part of the environmental conservation system. This strip takes up space that should otherwise increase production.

However, the tradeoff from the loss of this productive area, he said, is a long-term gain of a sustainable high yield from the land owing to retention of the soil and its nutrients.

"If you don’t have contour farming, the land becomes unproductive after a short period of time. The soil is then lost to erosion. When you have the terraces (from natural vegetation strips), farm area is reduced. But you can use the land for a very long time," he said.

Monsanto keeps a staff that will train farmers on contour farming in upland areas earlier identified in Ifugao, Aurora, Zambales, Bataan, Zamboanga and in corn-after-rice areas in Ilocos and Central Luzon provinces.

But it is coordinating further with the DA on government’s identified corn land expansion areas.

As global warming poses serious threats of erosion and landslides, Alpuerto said the use of these conservation farming techniques becomes more imperative.

"This is very significant (in helping reverse climate change). Without cultivation of soil, there is reduction in fuel usage (by land preparation tractors) which reduces carbon dioxide emission," said Alpuerto.

The use of borer-resistant corn seeds also spares spraying of environmentally-destructive fossil fuelbased pesticides. Bt corn which omits the need for spraying is being used in corn borer-infected areas in Pangasinan, Ilocos provinces, Pampanga, and other Central Luzon provinces.

It is estimated that less than 10 percent of all 2.3 hectares of corn lands in the country practice conservation farming. And this technique may be targeted at a big 1.62 million hectares of potentially hilly corn lands outside of hybrid corn areas (680,000 hectares).

Apparently, there is a need to teach farmers on contour farming and zero tillage in hilly areas in Northern Mindanao, Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino, and Nueva Vizcaya.

DA is targeting to raise corn production in 2008 to 7.384 million metric tons (MT), up by 9.61 percent from 2007 by developing an estimated 66,502 hectares of idle grasslands. It has programmed a P660 million budget for farmers’ training, establishment of 50 post harvest centers, and seed subsidy to farmers.

Monsanto enabled commercialization in the Philippines of Bt corn in 2003 and of Roundup Ready corn in 2005. Its history dating back to 1901, Monsanto introduced the first bollworm-resistant cotton, stacked trait corn (with corn borer resistance and herbicide resistance), and corn hybrids that yield more ethanol per bushel.

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