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PHILIPPINES A decade after: Bt corn
farming robust in PH by Bong S. Sarmiento
17-April-2012 MindaNews View
MANILA (MindaNews/16 April)
–Ten years after the commercial propagation of Bacillus thuringiensis
(Bt) corn in the Philippines, the transgenic crop seemed to
have found a place in the hearts of Filipino farmers.
Between then and now, the controversy stirred by Bt corn,
a genetically modified organism (GMO), has simmered down,
a far cry from what happened a decade ago when massive protests
marred its proposed introduction in the country.
In fact, Bt corn cultivation in the Philippines has now
become a sort of a case study for farmers from neighboring
countries in as far as the transgenic food crop is concerned.
To date, the Philippines is the only country in Asia that
allows the planting of biotech corn. The government permitted
the commercial propagation of Bt corn in late December 2002
with actual planting commencing thereafter.
Since then, farms planted to conventional hybrid corn varieties
have been steadily replaced with Bt corn as Filipino farmers
have apparently been convinced of the economic benefits
of growing the genetically modified crop.
Bt corn was mainly developed to combat the devastating
Asian corn borer (ACB) (Ostrinia furnacalis), a major headache
for Filipino corn farmers as the pest was found to reduce
yield from 30 to 40 percent.
With Bt corn, pesticide inputs of farmers are reduced by
60% as they no longer need to apply chemicals to contain
the ACB, according to a 2006 study by Jose M. Yorobe Jr.
and Cesar B. Quicoy, scientists at the University of the
Philippines Los Banos.
Bt corn carries a transplanted gene that produces delta-endotoxin
protein, which when eaten by the corn borer makes the insect
sick and eventually die.
Going Bt corn
In the Philippines, Bt corn adoption has grown by leaps
Except for the National Capital Region and Eastern and
Central Visayas, Bt corn farms span from hundreds to tens
of thousands of hectares in the rest of the country’s 14
The largest Bt corn farms are located in Region 2 or the
Cagayan Valley Region in Luzon island with 325,613 hectares
as of 2011, the BPI data showed.
Next in line is Region 12 or SOCCSKSARGEN Region in Mindanao
island with 91,505 hectares, with Region 1 also in Luzon,
coming in third with 68,052 hectares, it added.
It may be recalled that in August 2001, hundreds of farmers
and militant group members stormed the field-testing site
of Monsanto in Tampakan, South Cotabato, which is located
in Region 12.
They uprooted the Bt corn plants that were then about to
be harvested in what was the first bold protest of its kind
against the multi-location field trials of the transgenic
crop in the country.
Back then, the provincial government of South Cotabato
also joined the opposition forces against Bt corn, having
passed a resolution banning the planting of the transgenic
crop in the area.
Actual field trials for Bt corn in the country started
in 1999, with the National Committee on Biosafety of the
Philippines clearing it for commercial cultivation in December
The opposition versus Bt corn was anchored on concerns
over human health and the environment as well as the threat
to food security as the transgenic plant would supposedly
contaminate conventional farms.
But 10 years after Bt corn was approved for commercial
propagation, farmers who adopted the biotech crop seemed
altogether satisfied with it, particularly with the yield.
Johnny Viado, a farmer for 10 years in Pangasinan with
a 0.2-hectare corn farm, has shifted to Bt corn and found
it more productive.
“Before with the conventional corn varieties, my farm yields
an average of less than half a ton. With Bt corn, the harvest
improved to a little over a ton,” he said.
Initially, the Bt corn variety in the country has only
one trait, which is the resistance to the Asiatic corn borer.
As years went by, the seed companies develop stacked traits
that allow the plant to also become herbicide-tolerant,
which reduces labor cost as it eliminates manual weeding
of the farm.
For Norberto Valdez, also a farmer from Pangasinan, he
said that his Bt corn farm yields seven tons per hectare.
Previously, he recalled that his farm only yields five
tons per hectare using the conventional hybrid corn varieties.
Bt corn for Valdez is a value-added income as he intercropped
it in his mango farm.
In Mindanao, a farmer landed last year in the national
spotlight after winning the “Most Outstanding Corn Farmer”
of the Gawad Saka, an award given by the Department of Agriculture.
Jose Lorenzo, from Tupi in South Cotabato, cited Bt corn
as one of the important factors to his winning the award.
He won the same award in 2001 using a non-Bt variety since
the transgenic crop then was still in the field-testing
“Aside from the fact that I used Bt corn, I also employ
crop rotation.” Lorenzo, who started using Bt corn in 2002,
said when asked about his farming practices.
Besides rice, corn is another major economic crop in the
Philippines. The major user of corn is the feed industry,
which absorbs an estimated 70 percent of the total corn
BCP’s Manalo attributed the Filipino farmers’ adoption
of Bt corn to the transgenic crop’s higher yield, lower
production cost, and safe environment impact.
“[There has been] no negative effect on insect population
in Bt corn fields. [On the other hand], an increase in the
population of beneficial insects like beetles, spiders and
ladybugs [has been noted],” he said.
To date, eight Bt corn varieties have been approved for
commercial propagation in the country, with an estimated
270,000 Filipino farmers cultivating them as of 2010, Manalo
Multinational companies Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer
developed these Bt corn varieties, with the two latter companies
setting up multi-million dollar seed production plants in
Panganisan and Tarlac, respectively.
With the Philippines as the only country in Asia that allows
the commercial cultivation of Bt corn, it has become a study
destination for farmers, students, scientists and government
regulators from other countries.
Just recently, along with a select group of journalists,
they toured Bt corn farms in Pampanga and Pangasinan.
At least 70 participants from nine countries joined the
event organized by the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines
Asia, with the support of the multinational seed companies.
One of the participants, H.D. Rajendra, an Indian farmer
in Bangalore, said there are fears in his country that many
local seed companies would be boxed out of business if Bt
corn will be propagated in India, because the multinational
seed producers are allegedly “looking to monopolize the
But if the government would allow its propagation, which
looks like a long process to go, Rajendra would like to
give it a shot.
“Bt corn farming looks promising, the yield is high compared
to conventional hybrid varieties,” he said after the farm
In India, the government has yet to approve the cultivation
of Bt corn, which has drawn strong opposition from non-government
organizations, the Indian farmer said.
Sonny Tababa, CropLife Asia biotech affairs director, said
they “welcome criticisms” to biotech crops, noting this
helps strengthen the formulation of safety regulations.
“People have concerns in new technology, but what is important
is we engage in dialogue and understand where the fear comes
from. Out of that fear, strong regulations can be formulated,”
Tababa, a Filipina who is a long-time biotech advocate,
For Bt corn, Tababa said this gives farmers an option,
noting that farms without problems on Asian corn borer need
not use it.
Whether it’s a Bt or non-Bt corn variety, she reminded
farmers that productivity still hinges on good farming practices.
“Farmers should not forget that good farming practices
should not be forgotten, like the right time to fertilize,
or the regular inspection of their farms,” Tababa said.
In two years time, or by 2014, Philippine biotech advocates
expect the country’s Bt corn production area to breach the
one million-hectare mark.
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Telephone +6349 536 2290 ext. 406 / 169 / 135
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