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Philippines Biotechnology pushed to
ease food shortage by Marianne Go
10-June-2008 The Philippine STAR
Agriculture Secretary Arthur
Yap told delegates at an international agriculture conference
in Italy that biotechnology is key to the world's quest for
food security amid the current shortage in the global food
supply and escalating food prices.
An agriculture official clarified that it was not a blanket
endorsement of the use of genetically modified organisms.
The Philippines also appealed to international donors to
increase fund support for the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna, to improve agricultural
In his statement at the recent Special Meeting on the Food
Crisis convened by the Economic and Social Council of the
United Nations, Ambassador to the UN Hilario Davide Jr.
urged donor institutions to increase funding for the IRRI
as part of the measures to curb the global food crisis.
Yap cited the program of the Department of Agriculture
(DA) in the Philippines that applied biotechnology to raise
the quality and quantity of food crops through the development
of varieties and seeds that are virus and pest-resistant
which could survive dry spells and flash floods induced
by climate change.
"Ultimately, biotechnology has evolved to be the hope
in securing food for the world's growing population,"
Yap said last week during an international agricultural
biotechnology meeting hosted by the United States and Egypt
at the sidelines of a three-day global food summit of the
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, Professor Magdy Madkour
of the Ains Shams University of Egypt, United States Agency
for International Development (USAID) Administrator Henrietta
Fore, C.S. Karim of the Ministry of Agriculture of Bangladesh,
Dr. Shivaji Pandey, director of the FAO Plant Protection
Division, Minister Laurent Sedogo of the Ministry of Agriculture,
Water and Fisheries of Burkina Faso and Minister Hilary
Onek of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and
Fisheries of Uganda were among the panelists in the biotechnology
The meeting was held in between sessions of the FAO-hosted
High Level Conference on World Food Security in Rome which
was attended by heads of states and other top government
officials from over 40 countries plus representatives from
multilateral financial institutions.
The conference was held to discuss strategies and initiatives
that would squarely address the new challenges to global
Yap pointed out that the biotechnology revolution has benefited
Philippine agriculture in terms of increasing "overall
productivity through increased farm yields and competitive
agricultural products that would translate into higher farmers'
He said "biotechnology is not the panacea to all our
food security needs and economic development crusades."
"We consider it (biotechnology) as one of the means
to pursue agricultural modernization and achieve our national
economic goals," Yap said. Yap explained that the country's
policy includes measures to comply with international standards
on the safe use of genetically modified organism (GMO).
"We have enough protocol that comply with the United
Nations policy on the safe use of GMO products. Be that
as it may, we have enough non-GMO products right now that
deliver bigger yields for our farmers so we want to focus
on the propagation of these products first," Yap said.
Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Director Joel Rudinas, however,
clarified that biotechnology involves a wide range of operations
ranging from tissue culture to genetic manipulation and
the government's policy is not a blanket endorsement of
Rudinas admitted that the government allows certain GMOs
but subject to strict rules.
Any application for the use of GMO seeds has to undergo
a long process by the BPI before commercial distribution.
Yap said the DA has applied biotechnology to produce high-value
products from traditional crops such as rice, papaya, and
coconut, improving carabao reproduction and upgrading the
country's livestock industry, boost fish production.
Davide. the Philippines Permanent representative to the
UN, urged the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank,
the Internal Fund for Agricultural Development and development
partners to donate more research funds for IRRI.
"The research of IRRI, the world's main repository
of rice seeds as well as genetic and other information about
rice—the crop that feeds nearly half of the peoples of the
world—has been, unfortunately, tremendously slowed down
because of cuts in funding for agricultural research,"
The envoy cited the case of the brown plant hopper, a tiny
fly that has caused havoc across East Asia.
"Damage to rice crops which has caused reduced production
output would have been prevented if only IRRI's budget for
research had not been cut or reduced," he said.
He cited IRRI reports that the brown plant hopper is multiplying
by the billions and chewing through rice paddies in East
Asia, threatening the diets of many poor people.
Davide said China, the world's biggest rice producer, has
announced that it was struggling to control the rapid spread
of these insects which could destroy as much as 20 percent
of a harvest.
Although no fewer than 14 new types of genetic resistance
varieties of rice have been discovered, Davide said the
budget cuts prevented IRRI from moving further to develop
more hybrid rice varieties.
"If money is available for research, IRRI can accomplish
the task in four to seven years and save millions of people
from hunger, from death," he said. — With Pia Lee-Brago
SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center UPLB Campus 4031, Los Baños, Laguna, PHILIPPINES
Telephone +6349 536 2290 ext. 406 / 169 / 135
Fax +6349 536 4105
SEARCA BIC is one of the biotechnology information nodes of the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications Global Knowledge
Center (ISAAA KC) and hosted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center
for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA). It was officially
established in 2000 to address the needs of the region for a highly
credible, sound and factual biotechnology information center in the
Southeast Asian region accessible to various stakeholders.