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GLOBAL Biotechnology enters mainstream
agri-production in Asia by Munawar Hasan
15-April-2012 The News International View
SUBIC BAY, PHILIPPINES: Asian
countries are increasingly adopting biotechnology for enhancing
agriculture production. This emerged at a session organised
Asia and Biotech
Coalition of the Philippines as part of Sixth Pan-Asia
Farmers Exchange Programme at Subic Bay, the Philippines.
Representatives of as many as nine Asian countries participated
in the session and talked about issues relating to adoption
of biotechnology in their respective countries.
Talking about Plant Biotech Benefits, the Executive Secretary
of Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines, Abraham Manalo
said the Philippines was the first country in Southeast
Asia to establish a regulatory system for genetically modified
(GM) crops, while it is the sole country in the region currently
commercialising GM/biotech crops.
“The advancements made by the Philippines are significant
as it is the first country in Southeast Asia to be included
in the top 15 biotech mega-countries. Its National bio-safety
policy is considered as a model framework to other countries,”
He claimed that the adoption of biotechnology had helped
corn farmers in lowering production cost and led to a 60
percent reduction in pesticide use, as well as lowered labor
costs associated with weeding and spraying.
Yield benefits are also huge as farmers harvested 34 percent
more produce of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn over non-Bt
varieties. It is estimated that benefits of planting biotech
maize to farmers has been to the tune of $108 million during
2003-2009, Manalo observed. More importantly, it is claimed,
he said, that no negative effect has been recorded on beneficial
During her session, Lucy Li, a Communication Specialist
at Bayer CropScience China, discussed issues pertaining
to Biotech Application in China. She said adoption rate
of Bt cotton in China stood at 71.5 per cent with 3.9 million
hectares under cultivation.
She added that Bt cotton virtually saved China’s cotton
industry as it was badly affected due to disaster of cotton
bollworms in 1990s, which resulted in great production loss.
She said that as many as 95 percent of Bt cotton cultivated
in China is locally developed varieties. In total, 64 varieties
of Bt cotton are grown in China, while seven million cotton
farmers planted it at 3.9 million hectare in 2011.
An increase in the income of farmers- by approximately
$220 per hectare, on average- has been estimated due to
a 10 percent increase in yield and a 60 percent reduction
in insecticides use, she said.
Besides Bt Cotton, GM papaya and GM poplar have also been
allowed to be sown commercially, she said, adding several
other GM crops were on various stages of approval.
With biotech crops expected to provide an important contribution,
the Chinese government has aimed to increase the total production
to 540 million tons by 2020 and to double Chinese farmers’
income by the year 2020, Li concluded.
In his presentation, Dr Nadoor Seetharama, Director Association
of Biotechnology led Enterprises (ABLE), said that only
one GM crop is officially being cultivated on a large scale
in India and that is cotton. He added that the area under
cotton sowing had phenomenally increased, ranking India
at the second position in cotton production in the world.
Nevertheless, he said, the introduction of Bt cotton and
GM crops had also resulted in several undesirable controversies
for the nation.
On the other hand, there has been no tangible development
in Thailand for the adoption of biotechnology, despite the
introduction of this technology in the country some 20 years
Dr Sujin Patarapuwadol, Assistant Director, Centre for
Agricultural Biotechnology, Kasetsart University, said that
based on the cabinet’s decision on April 3, 2001, Thailand
does not allow import and production of any transgenic plants
for commercial purposes and field trials except for processed
food and imports or sales of soybeans and corn for feed
use, human consumption, and industrial use.
In 2003, the genetically modified organisms (GMO) roadmap
was acknowledged and endorsed by the Thailand National Biotechnology
Policy Committee. She added that work on development of
yellow leaf curl virus-resistant tomato and virus-resistance
papaya had been done.
Prof. Dr Bahagiawati Amir Husin, Scientist, Indonesia Center
for Agricultural Biotechnology and Genetic Resources Research
(ICABIOGRAD) said that Indonesian scientists and decision-makers
believe that biotechnology potentially increases agriculture
However, even though the government has been supporting
the establishment of several centers of research facilities
for research and development of GM crops since the early
1990s, there has not been a visible advancement on this
front on ground.
In October 2010 and January 2011, Husin said, the Ministry
of Agriculture stated that the biotech crop has a role in
helping to sustain agriculture production in the perspective
of climate change.
Limited field trials of GM crops are being conducted for
drought tolerance sugarcane, potato resistance to late blight
and rice resistance to stem borer.
Work is also being done on food safety approval of maize
herbicide tolerant GA21 and insect resistance maize BT11
etcetera, Husin added.
Pakistani representatives at the Programme highlighted
that introduction of formal certified GM crops in the country
had been a distant reality due to various factors.
Ilyas Nadeem, Commercial Operation Lead Monsanto Pakistan
and Dr. Mohammad Zafar Hayat District Governor Lodhran,
Farmers Associates Pakistan (FAP) said that almost all the
Bt cotton in the country was not properly certified and
largely came from informal sources.
About commercialisation of GM maize, Nadeem said, field
trials were being carried out in the country and it is hoped
that commercial plantation of GM maize would be allowed
following completion of prescribed procedure.
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.