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Philippines
OFW-TURNED-FARMER NOW BIOTECH HERO
by Rudy Fernandez
04-October-2009 The Philippine STAR
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MANILA, Philippines - Rosalie Ellasus has dabbled in many different fields. From working in medical technology, to becoming an OFW, then a farmer, and finally a leader and speaker giving testimonials on her success, Ellasus has truly crossed many boundaries and hurdled many obstacles to become what she is today.

It was 1987 when Ellasus worked as a nanny to two children of an American widow in Singapore, leaving behind her family and medical technology profession. Two years later, she moved to Canada where she again served as a nursemaid to a Canadian couple’s twins. While in Canada, she immersed herself in other fields that could improve her intellectual capabilities.

In 1992, she returned to Singapore where she landed a better-paying job as a market executive. Unfortunately, her husband died so she decided to return to the Philippines to take care of her sons.

Yet another transformation came when she turned to farming, particularly production of biotechnology corn, a genetically modified crop that has a built-in defense mechanism against destructive corn pests.

From her savings as an OFW, Ellasus bought a 1.3-hectare farm and tried producing corn. But aflatoxin contamination, as well as pests and weeds that reduced her yield, made it impossible to sell her produce.

Unfazed, Ellasus attended a 16-week Integrated Pest Management-Farmers Field School on corn conducted in 2001 by the Department of Agriculture. From the seminar, she changed her farm practices and, after seeing a demonstration farm on biotech corn, she decided to adopt the technology. She sold her bountiful biotech corn produce to feedmills and the corn husks to local craft producers because these were flawless and sturdy.

Subsequently, she expanded her farm to six hectares. “I was truly convinced that a marginal farmer can improve his life only if he will adopt biotechnology,” Ellasus asserts. She has since become one of the country’s successful GM corn producers.

In 2006, she was elected president of the prestigious Philippine Maize Federation (PhilMaize), a national association of corn farmers’ cooperatives. She was also elected municipal councilor of San Jacinto, Pangasinan in the 2007 elections.

Ellasus shot to global prominence when she was chosen in 2007 as the first recipient of the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award, named for Truth & Technology (TATT) chairman Dean Kleckner, an internationally known farmer-leader.

The award is given for “exemplary leadership, vision and resolve in advancing the rights of farmers to choose the technology and tools that will improve the quality, quantity and availability of agricultural products around the world.”

Ellasus was commended for using biotechnology to solve the production challenges on her farm.

Over the past two years, she has also been invited to speak at the Des Moines Roundtable Discussion on Agricultural Biotechnology in Iowa, USA; Minneapolis Conference of the Western Canada Wheat Association; a conference sponsored by Mexico’s Department of Agriculture; and a farmer’s forum in Medan, Indonesia.

When Peruvian and Vietnamese government officials and scientists visited the Philippines recently, she was tapped to share her experiences in biotechnology farming. She is also often invited as resource person in Philippine forums on biotechnology.

Now 49, she is featured in a book together with 64 other trail-blazers in biotechnology crop production in 14 countries in Asia and Africa.

The book, entitled “Communicating Crop Bio-technology: Stories from Stakeholders,” documents how farmers, media practitioners, policymakers, industry representatives, scientists, academicians, religious leaders, and students have benefited from science communication efforts and how in turn they are now part of the process of realizing a collective voice on crop biotechnology.

The 175-page volume was published by the New York, USA-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Edited by Dr. Mariechel Jamias-Navarro, ISAAA Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology manager, the book contains 49 articles from stakeholders (farmers, media practitioners, policymakers, scientists, academics, religious leaders, industry representatives and students) in 14 countries in Asia and Africa.

Aside from Ellasus, the other Filipinos featured in the book are former UP president Dr. Emil Javier, now president of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST); multi-awarded journalist Melody Aguiba of Manila Bulletin; Dr. Edita Burgos, wife of the late press freedom fighter and icon Jose Burgos Jr.; Dr. Cynthia Hendreyda, a professor and scientist at UP Diliman; Edwin Paraluman, a successful corn farmer from General Santos City, South Cotabato; and Fr. Emmanuel Alparce, former executive director of the Social Action Center in Sorsogon and now vice rector of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Guam.

Each of those featured in the book is an important figure in his or her field – a field that Ellasus has tended to, both literally and figuratively.

She says, “Here in the Philippines, many farmers are not proud of their job. I want to see them shine. I’m just a small candle, but even the weakest flame can spread fire.”

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SEAMEO SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center
http://www.bic.searca.org

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