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by Melody M. Aguiba
13-June-2008 Manila Bulletin

Monsanto, global biotechnology pioneer, has initiated a collaboration on a $47-million research on drought-resistant corn that could over the long term also benefit drought-prone farms in the Philippines.

The drought-resistant corn project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, involves the development through genetic modification (GM) of a corn variety that can withstand extreme absence of moisture over maybe three to four weeks. The drought-resistant gene may come from a wild plant.

Drought-resistant corn that have so far been developed under conventional means can last without moisture over one week.

The germplasm for the research which will be donated by the International Maize and What Improvement Center, a sister agency of the Philippines- based International Rice Research Institute.

The project, really meant for the benefit of more arid areas in Africa as it is called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), may in some way benefit the Philippines in the future as local farmers also need it.

"We don’t know if the Philippines can get it, said Vic Alpuerto, Monsanto Philippines Inc. commercial acceptance director.

"But of course our farmers look for this. All of our corn lands are in rainfed areas. No corn growing areas have irrigation facilities. Drought is farmers’ most damaging problem."

A private-public partnership program, the development of the droughtresistant corn will involve no royalty for the developers. With such system, the technology could perhaps be generously donated to other needy countries.

Because of the food crisis, Monsanto has introduced a three-point program which are developing better seeds, conserving resources (to cut by one-third the resources like land, water, and energy used by 2030), and helping improve farmers’ lives.

This program targets the doubling of corn yield from 109.1 bushels per acre in 2000 to 220 bushels by 2030 (in popular markets in Argentina, Brazil, and the US). With two times the yield, farmers will utilize just half the land of what they are utilizing at present.

Researches on increased soybean and cotton yield will also be launched.

The GM technology may be brought in under the private-public partnership by Monsanto and German firm BASF which has started embarking on life science researches. Researchers from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa will participate together with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.

"These commitments represent the beginning of a journey that we will expand on and deepen in the years ahead," said Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant.

Most of Monsanto’s Dekalb hybrid corn varieties (including those with borer resistance and herbicide resistance) already have drought tolerance. But GM may enhance existing technologies.

For the first time in several decades, a significant increase in price of commodities have been observed due to the higher demand for protein in people’s diet particularly from China and India, according to Grant.

And only an international collaboration can enable a more extensive research that can benefit countries most impacted by drought and the adverse effect of climate change.

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