Monsanto, UP group hold National Biotech Summit

Summit seeks to form national student alliance on agri-biotech

Student leaders from agricultural-based colleges and universities across the Philippines recently gathered in the country’s first student-led National Biotech Summit held in UP Los Baños to highlight the potential of biotechnology in improving the local agriculture sector.

University of the Philippines League of Agricultural Biotechnology (UP-LABS), in cooperation with Monsanto Philippines and other institutional partners, recently held the country’s first student-led National Biotech Summit in UP Los Baños, which highlighted the potential of agricultural biotechnology.

According to National Biotech Summit Co-Head Matthew Ty, the four-day summit initiated by the University of the Philippines League of Agricultural Biotechnology (UP-LABS) provided student-delegates a platform to facilitate a comprehensive dialogue on the critical role of agricultural biotechnology in feeding the country’s growing population. It also sought to equip them with communication skills necessary to become engaged biotechnology ambassadors in their communities.

“It’s more of teaching the youth on how to communicate biotechnology to their family, friends, farmers, little children in a way they would understand and not misunderstood the concept of biotechnology,” said Ty.

He shared there were also short communication workshops conducted, which provided students trainings on how to effectively address biotechnology issues and concerns at community level.

The Summit included several lectures given by speakers from prominent organizations of different fields, including scientists, university professors and government officials. Speakers tackled current landscape of the local agriculture biotechnology, the misinformation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as well as emerging trends and biotechnologies that improve local food production.

Meanwhile, UP LAB’s President Jacov Abelido wants to pursue the initial formation of a national student alliance on agriculture biotechnology as next step after the Summit. The alliance which targets to involve more colleges and universities from different agriculture areas in the country will be tasked to form a shared vision in biotechnology and build a stronger student voice speaking about the relevance of agriculture biotechnology.

“UP LABS and its partners believe that beyond classrooms and laboratories, we should be ready to contribute in meeting real-life issues. We’re looking forward to replicating the Summit and its profitable results next year, gathering more student participants and industry leaders who will lead the way to agricultural innovation,” Abelido said.

The Summit gathered student leaders from six agricultural-based colleges and universities across the country, including the Emilio Aguinaldo College, the Xavier University, the Rizal Technological University, the Central Luzon State University, the Cavite State University, the Visayas State University, and the Central Mindanao University.

As a partner for the event, Monsanto Philippines Corporate Engagement Lead Charina Garrido Ocampo said today’s youth plays an important role in bringing new ideas on how to address real-world issues such as food security.

“Monsanto Philippines believes in the vision of this student-led summit, which seeks to engage the youth in thought-provoking conversations that address the challenge of attaining food security.” Ocampo further shared, “It’s encouraging to know that this dialogue has inspired campus leaders to become movers and shakers in harnessing technology to feed the world.”

-Published in Manila Bulletin.  See article link here.

Lynas shares his GMO journey in Heuermann Lecture

British environmental writer and science advocate Mark Lynas made headlines worldwide in 2013 when he publicly reversed his stance on biotechnology and genetically modified organisms. On Oct. 10, Lynas opened the 2016-17 Heuermann Lecture series by detailing his journey from being an anti-GMO activist to today campaigning around the world for several pro-science causes, including climate change, biotechnology and nuclear power.

“I used to destroy crops,” he said to the crowd at Nebraska Innovation Campus. “I used to destroy them because I believed that there was something fundamentally unnatural and inescapably evil about technology and genetic modification.”

Lynas recalled times in the mid-1990s when he joined his colleagues in a field of maize in the middle of the night, taking machetes to healthy, green crops. On another occasion, he attempted to steal Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, from The Roslin Institute in Scotland. The attempt was unsuccessful, but he was able to export his fears of all things biotechnology to a worldwide audience.

Around that time, Lynas began to focus on another of his passions: climate change. He wanted to humanize the topic and put an emotional storyline behind what had mostly been considered a scientific issue. He traveled the world interacting with people who had been affected firsthand by climate change—people like the Alaskan Eskimos who depend on sea ice to maintain their lifestyle, who saw their villages eroded because of the lack of sea ice. To verify what he had witnessed, he turned to science through peer-reviewed literature.

“There had to be an evidence base that was more compelling than what I could see with my own eyes,” he said.

Becoming engulfed in the scientific community, Lynas began to realize that if he could defend the science behind climate change, he could not deny the science behind GMOs. His scientific inquiry led him to find that nitrogen-efficient crops could lead to less fertilizer use and drought-tolerant crops might lead to less water use. The realizations helped him change his stance on GMOs.

“I had made a huge mistake. From that point on, I decided that I would try to do something to begin to restitute,” he said.

Lynas stopped working with his environmental movement colleagues and began efforts to put a human face on science. He formed relationships with scientists and helped translate their work for general audiences. He traveled the world dispelling cultural myths associated with genetic engineering. In Bangladesh, farmers told him that anti-GMO activists claimed that if the farmers grew GMO crops, their children would be paralyzed.

“As a parent, I realized I had some culpability for food security problems in an African nation where GMOs can’t feed people,” he said. “The issue of GMOs is not just about science, but about righting a profound wrong we’ve perpetrated; it’s about social justice.”

Today Lynas works closely with the Cornell Alliance for Science at Cornell University, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in promoting agricultural development and reducing poverty and hunger. He is also a visiting research associate at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment, and is an advisory board member of Sense About Science, a science advocacy group in the United Kingdom.

What can be done to get people to stop fearing GMOs? One example Lynas noted is the increasing use of Quick Response codes on products, which allow consumers to scan the code and visit a website that provides detailed information.

“The solution to the consumer trust level is a radical degree of transparency,” he said.

Heuermann Lectures in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UNL are possible through a gift from B. Keith and Norma Heuermann of Phillips. The Heuermanns are longtime university supporters with a strong commitment to Nebraska’s production agriculture, natural resources, rural areas and people.

-Written by Haley Steinkuhler (IANR Media) and edited by Samantha Herbst (Cream Media Deputy Editor) in DTN/The Progressive Farmer.  See article link here.

Vitamin A rice now a reality

Field trial shows high promise, people may get it by 2018

The first field trial of the Golden Rice in Bangladesh has yielded promising results, triggering prospect of the vitamin A-rich grain’s release as early as 2018.

Two months after harvesting the Bangladeshi version of Golden Rice line, GR2E BRRI dhan29, scientists at Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) found that rice grains retained 10 μg/g (micrograms/gram) beta carotene which is good enough to address vitamin-A deficiency (VAD).

Beta carotene, also known as pro-vitamin A, is a substance that the human body can convert to vitamin A.

With this development, a long wait is nearly over for rice breeders who have been trying since 1999 for a varietal development and release of Golden Rice, long being touted by the scientist fraternity as a key remedy to acute VAD problem.

According to the World Health Organization’s global VAD database, one in every five pre-school children in Bangladesh is vitamin A-deficient. Among the pregnant women, 23.7 percent suffer from VAD.

BRRI scientists analysed the post-harvest data collected from the first field test conducted on GR2E BRRI dhan29 during the last Boro season (November 2015 – May 2016) and drew the conclusion just recently that the results are positive.

“Two months after harvest, we’ve found an average of over 10 μg/g beta carotene in GR2E BRRI dhan29. The amount is good enough to meet 50 percent of vitamin-A needs of people consuming rice in their daily diet,” Dr Partha S Biswas, project leader of Golden Rice Project at BRRI, told The Daily Star.

The BRRI carried out the field trial on the campus of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in Gazipur to keep Golden Rice segregated from other rice varieties grown in BRRI fields.

Provided the BRRI gets the necessary regulatory approval, the organisation would go for multi-location field trials of GR2E BRRI dhan29 in Boro seasons in next two years to set off the process of its commercial release, said Partha.

None of the major diseases like blast, sheath blight, bacterial blight and tungro was observed in the transgenic GR2E BRRI dhan29 and the yield was as good as that of the BRRI dhan29 (check variety) with good expression of beta carotene, according to a paper titled “Recent Advances in Breeding Golden Rice in Bangladesh”.

The paper coauthored by Dr Partha, and the IRRI’s Golden Rice Project Coordinator Dr Violeta Villegas, and Regulatory Affairs head Dr Donald J Mackenzie, was presented at the 4th Annual South Asia Biosafety Conference in Hyderabad, India in late September.

The Philippines is the only other country that is carrying out a multi-location field trial now on their homegrown Golden Rice line while the process of Golden Rice research remained at laboratory and greenhouse stages in Indonesia, India and Vietnam.

Although Bangladeshi rice scientists have been at the forefront of Golden Rice research since the development of this transgenic rice by Swiss and German scientists in 1999, the process gathered momentum only when then IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) plant biotechnologist, Dr Swapan K Datta, infused the genes responsible for beta carotene into BRRI dhan29 in 2002-03.

The genetic engineering technology to derive vitamin A in rice was first applied by Prof Ingo Potrykus of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and Prof Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany back in 1999. All renowned journals and news magazines, including the Nature, the Science and the Time, covered the breakthrough in 2000.

The first generation Golden Rice (known as GR1) was developed through infusing genes from daffodil, but later the second generation variety (known as GR2) was developed by taking a maize from corn as it gave much better output of pro-vitamin A.

Some six lines of GR2 (scientifically called “events”) were developed and the IRRI chose to work on one called GR2R, which it developed and subsequently infused in Filipino and Bangladeshi rice varieties.

After years of lab and greenhouse tests on GR2R, the Philippines and Bangladesh eventually stopped upon an IRRI advice that Event GR2E would work better.

Golden Rice co-inventor Prof Peter Beyer told this newspaper that there were some problems with the Event GR2R. He said the new Event should work well.

Swapan K Datta, ex-IRRI scientist who infused beta carotene-producing genes into Bangladesh’s best performing rice variety, BRRI dhan29, said he was looking forward to see Golden Rice goes to farmers’ fields.

The BRRI dhan29, developed by BRRI in 1994, is the most productive dry season rice variety of Bangladesh that has gone beyond national boundaries to be grown in many other countries including India, China, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.

Rice does not contain beta carotene. Therefore, dependence on rice as the predominant food source necessarily leads to vitamin-A deficiency, most severely affecting small children and pregnant women.

Consumption of only 150 gram of Golden Rice a day is expected to supply half of the recommended daily intake (RDA) of vitamin A for an adult. People in Bangladesh depend on rice for 70 percent of their daily calorie intakes.

The IRRI says VAD is the main cause of preventable blindness in children and globally, some 6.7 million children die every year and another 3,50,000 go blind because they are vitamin-A deficient.

In April 2011, Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sanctioned a grant of over $10 million to IRRI to fund, develop and evaluate Golden Rice varieties for Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Officials concerned at IRRI and Gates Foundation said as the Golden Rice inventors and subsequent technology developer Syngenta allowed a royalty-free access to the patents, the new rice would be of the same price as other rice varieties once released for commercial farming in Bangladesh, and farmers would be able to share and replant the seeds as they wish.

-Written by Reaz Ahmad in The Daily Star.  See article original link here.

There’s no need to fear gene-edited food: CRSPR democratizes food technology

Not since Alice in Wonderland’s hookah-smoking caterpillar doled out his weird wisdom atop a ­psychedelic-looking mushroom has the lowly fungus so upstaged the action. At most dinner tables, mushrooms are ancillary characters. But this past spring, the food and agriculture worlds became obsessed with one mushroom in particular: Agaricus bisporus, known as the white button mushroom—that all-purpose fungus you jam by the fistful into a plastic bag at the market and abandon in the fridge, only to find it slimy and brown several days later. Science has now found a way to delay that browning, using the buzzy genome-editing tool CRISPR, which can trigger changes in the DNA of plants, humans, and other animals with unprecedented precision and speed.

The name—Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats—refers to a system that targets genetic code. The makers of the nonbrowning mushroom, at Pennsylvania State University, used the CRISPR enzyme Cas9, which can delete base pairs, changing a gene and altering its expression.

But that’s not the part that got people talking. In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said that it would not regulate the CRISPR-altered mushroom. To organic purists and eco-watchdogs, a genetically modified organism (GMO) had been given a green light to go to market without oversight: no warnings about what was in our food and no investigations into its environmental impact.

The outcry from food warriors was swift: How had a genetically tweaked food evaded regulation?

It hadn’t, exactly. “The USDA simply decided that, legally, the mushroom didn’t fall within their regulatory system,” says Greg Jaffe, the biotechnology director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The USDA regulates genetically modified (GM) plants only for their potential to be “plant pests”—whether they can infect other crops. If there’s that chance, it can require further testing and a permit before the crop is planted. A handful of modified GM plants have previously managed to escape regulation for various reasons. But the CRISPR process itself is what helped push the mushroom past the red tape. While most GM crops use bacteria or viruses to introduce new genes into a plant, CRISPR needed only a few snips to the genetic code. Since the CRISPR’ed mushroom contained no plant-pest DNA, the USDA decided it was out of their hands. (The Food and Drug Administration still may weigh in before the ’shroom goes to market.)

Still, consumers are wary. Ever since federal regulators approved GM seed crops 20 years ago, we’ve been a nation torn—and often misinformed—over so-called Frankenfoods. The organic-food lobby and environmentalists vigilantly warn us about potentially harmful side effects to our health and to the ­planet. The issue has created a hothouse split between ­science and the public. A 2015 Pew Research survey found that more than 57 percent of Americans believe GMOs are “generally unsafe.” Meanwhile, 88 percent of scientists surveyed say they are “generally safe.”

The biggest mistake we can make, as a curious and concerned public, is to vilify CRISPR and the food it makes. We should instead push for informed, science-based evaluation.

But we’ve come a long way since the early days of GMO projects, when herbicide-resistant crops led to “superweeds” immune to chemical treatment. Such stories make us justifiably wary of playing God with our food. But nearly everything we eat is genetically modified. (See freshman biology: Gregor Mendel). The real superweeds today have grown up around, and are choking, our legal-approval apparatus. Oversight has become part of the problem; our biotech regulatory framework is outdated and ill-equipped to deal with rapidly evolving tech. (The White House has promised to change that.)

The biggest mistake we can make, as a curious and concerned public, is to prematurely vilify CRISPR and the food it makes. We should instead push for ­informed, science-based evaluation. It could help improve the global food supply. The whole reason for a tweaked mushroom is that it resists bruising during harvest and browning in your fridge. That means you’re more likely to eat it instead of tossing it—no small success in a country where 40 percent of food ends up in a landfill. And CRISPR itself opens up a new world of food development, since it’s cheap and easy to use, making it accessible to smaller labs and breaking Big Ag’s GMO monopoly.

So let’s not stall this science at a time when better, hardier, more efficiently grown food is a rising need. Gene editing requires funding and research—but it also requires public support to make it viable. There is great potential for smaller companies to make food that can nourish a growing population without harming the planet. Traditional bioengineering has a very high bar for entry. CRISPR lowers it: It democratizes the technology so engineered plants are not just the domain of a handful of huge companies making feed crops, but can be done by one guy in a university lab with a great idea.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2016 <> issue of Popular Science, under the title “Do Not Fear Gene-Edited Food.”

-Written by Jen Schwartz in Popular Science.  See article link here.

PH can be rice self-sufficient thru hybrid seeds, farm mechanization

The country’s rice industry faces a bright future, and in the next two to three years it could be self-sufficient and ably compete with its Asian counterparts.

This is the sentiment of more than 3,000 farmers, private seed producers and government officials who attended the 3rd national rice technology forum from September 27 to 29, 2016, in Polangui, Albay.

The key is planting quality inbred and hybrid rice varieties, adopting the recommended package of technologies and farm mechanization — which was successfully demonstrated to thousands of Bicol farmers at a contiguous, commercial-scale 20-hectare technology demonstration farm in Barangay Balangibang, Polangi, Albay.

To date, it is the largest techno-demo area planted to various wet season hybrid and inbred rice varieties, said Recher Ondap, president of the Rice Productivity Advocacy, Inc. (Rice Board).

The farmer-cooperators, led by farmer-technician Edgar Pesebre, are expected to harvest at least eight metric tons per hectare (mt/ha), double than the country’s national average yield of only 3.9 mt/ha, said Dr. Santiago Obien, former executive director of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhiRice) and Rice Board member.

The three-day event is a joint undertaking of the Rice Board, the Department of Agriculture (DA) Bicol Region, DA national rice program, municipal government of Polangui and provincial government of Albay.

The rice board member companies are Bayer, Dupont, Pioneer SL Agritech, Bioseed, Seedworks, Syngenta, PhilRice, PhilSCAT, Prasad Seeds, US Agriseeds, and Longpin Seeds, Inc., said Dr. Frisco Malabanan of SL Agritech and Rice Board member.

The 20-hectare techno-demo farm in Polangui is different from the previous ones, at the rice seedlings were planted during the wet season, and Barangay Balangibang is a flood-prone, said Dr. Obien, who also serves as DA national rice program senior technical adviser.

“In fact, the 20-hectare area was flooded during the booting stage, on August 20-23, 2016, and the inbred and hybrid rice varieties recovered quickly,” Obien said.

“Also, the farmers themselves planted and took care of the rice plants, following the prescribed technologies for each variety, with the guidance of respective private seed company and DA experts. In spite of the harsh weather condition, the crop stand is good to excellent, an indication of the resilience of the planted inbred and hybrid varieties,” he noted.

The first rice techno-forum was held in Digos City and Hagonoy, Davao del Sur on March 18 to 20, 2015, while the second was held in Barangay Dapitan, Pototan, Iloilo, on March 16 to 18, 2016, said Obien.

For her part, DA Bicol region OIC-Director Elena de los Santos said “while the Bicol has achieved rice self-sufficiency at 115.75 per cent over the past four years, we cannot afford to be complacent because we are faced with more challenges like climate change and rapidly increasing population.”

“The driving force of this private-public partnership is our shared vision to increase rice production in our region through traditional as well as modern or science and technology-based approaches with the active participation of our farmers,” De los Santos added.

She said the 20-hectare techno demo farm in Balangibang, Polagui, is the most effective way to show farmers how to translate modern rice seeds and package of technology into tangible benefits.

For his part, Rice Board president Ondap said “we must work together to help empower our farmers to become more competitive. In June 2017, the biggest challenge for us would be the lifting of the quantitative restrictions on rice, when imports from Thailand, Vietnam and other countries would have zero tariff.”

“Let us prepare and soften the impact of this eventuality by increasing rice production through hybrid rice technology,” he urged farmers.

-Published in Manila Bulletin.  See article link here.

Fish parasite found to ‘prevent heavy metal intake’

Eating tilapia infected with the microscopic parasite known as the thorny-headed worm may actually help prevent heavy metal accumulation in the body.

According to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), research conducted by the Institute of Biological Sciences of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) said fish infected with Acanthocephalans (Acanthogyrus species)—also known as thorny-headed worm—have much lower level of heavy metals than those not infected.

They found that these parasites actually accumulate heavy metal concentration in their host’s tissues, especially in the gills and intestine.

Researchers detected the presence of the thorny-headed worm in tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), Parachromis managuensis, Vieja species and Red Nile tilapia.

The study showed the Acanthocephalan infection has no significant effect on the fishes’ health, except for their size or weight.

“Smaller tilapia may not be so bad. Some may have parasites, but these parasites may just save the consumers from possible heavy metal intake. Besides, the parasites stay in those parts—gills and intestine—which the consumers most likely discard,” said Dr. Vachel Gay V. Paller, National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) biologist.

The NCRP-funded study was conducted in the seven lakes of San Pablo, Laguna— Bunot, Calibato, Mohicap, Palakpakin, Pandin, Sampaloc and Yambo—with the Palakpakin lake having the greatest concentration of Acanthogyrus species.

Heavy metals polluting the said lakes come from vehicles, fish cages, and untreated wastes from hospitals, homes, commercial and industrial establishments, and pesticides.

The study aims to help fish farmers understand and control the Acanthocephalan infection among fishes in the lakes.

-Published in Manila Bulletin.  See article link here.

Monsanto, UP agri-biotech group hold first summit in Los Baños

STUDENT-leaders from agricultural-based colleges and universities across the Philippines recently gathered in the country’s first student-led National Biotech Summit held in UP Los Baños to highlight the potential of biotechnology in improving the local agriculture sector.

According to National Biotech Summit Co-Head Matthew Ty, the four-day summit, initiated by the University of the Philippines League of Agricultural Biotechnology Students (UP-LABS) provided student-delegates a platform to facilitate a comprehensive dialogue on the critical role of agricultural biotechnology in feeding the country’s growing population. It also sought to equip them with communication skills necessary to become engaged biotechnology ambassadors in their communities.

“It’s more of teaching the youth on how to communicate biotechnology to their family, friends, farmers, little children in a way they would understand and not misunderstood the concept of biotechnology,” Ty said. Ty shared there were also short communication workshops conducted, which provided students trainings on how to effectively address biotechnology issues and concerns at community level.

The summit included several lectures given by speakers from prominent organizations of different fields, including scientists, university professors and government officials. Speakers tackled current landscape of the local agriculture biotechnology, the misinformation on genetically modified organisms, as well as emerging trends and biotechnologies that improve local food production.

Meanwhile, UP LABs President Jacov Abelido eyes to pursue the initial formation of a national student alliance on agriculture biotechnology as next step after the summit. The alliance, which targets to involve more colleges and universities from different agriculture areas in the country, will be tasked to form a shared vision in biotechnology and build a stronger student voice speaking about the relevance of agriculture biotechnology.

“UP LABS and its partners believe that beyond classrooms and laboratories, we should be ready to contribute in meeting real-life issues. We’re looking forward to replicating the summit and its profitable results next year, gathering more student-participants and industry leaders who will lead the way to agricultural innovation,” Abelido said.

The summit gathered student-leaders from six agricultural-based colleges and universities across the country, including Emilio Aguinaldo College, Xavier University, Rizal Technological University, Central Luzon State University, Cavite State University, Visayas State University and the Central Mindanao University.

As a partner for the event, Monsanto Philippines Corporate Engagement Lead Charina Garrido Ocampo said today’s youth plays an important role in bringing new ideas on how to address real-world issues, such as food security.

“Monsanto Philippines believes in the vision of this student-led summit, which seeks to engage the youth in thought-provoking conversations that address the challenge of attaining food security.” Ocampo further shared, “It’s encouraging to know that this dialogue has inspired campus leaders to become movers and shakers in harnessing technology to feed the world.”

-Published in Business Mirror.  See article link here.

Corn producers see yield beating growth forecast

The Philippines may exceed the forecast corn production for the remaining months of the year despite huge losses incurred by farmers due to El Niño, a group of corn farmers said.

The Philippine Maize Federation Inc. (PhilMaize) said the current climate and soil conditions in the country and usage of high-yielding corn varieties recently approved by the government would offset the low production from the regions still recovering from the effects of the prolonged dry spell.

“I’m optimistic that we can hit the growth forecast. Maybe we can even exceed [the forecast production] with the conditions right now, especially that there’s no forecast drought,” PhilMaize President Roger V. Navarro told the BusinessMirror.

Navarro noted that all the corn-producing regions will produce higher volume due to favorable climate conditions during the next cropping season, except for the Isabela region.

“We have a forecast shortfall in Region 2, especially in Isabela province, because of the effect of the prolonged drought,” Navarro said, adding that the forecast is yet to be validated by concerned officials.

In its August round of forecast for crop production, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has lowered its projection for the country’s corn production in the third quarter of the year to 2.673 million metric tons (MMT) from the 2.696 MMT it forecast earlier in July. However, the agency’s new forecast is still higher than last year’s production in the same period of 2.407 MMT by 11 percent.

“The probable drop in corn output could be attributed to contraction in harvest area brought about by dry spell in Cagayan and Isabela,” the PSA report said.

Based on farmers’ planting intentions, the PSA said the corn production in the fourth quarter of the year will increase by 4.78 percent, from 1.73 MMT in 2015 to 1.81 MMT. For the second half of the year, the PSA said corn production will expand by 8.98 percent.

“Probable increases in harvest areas and yields may be attributed to more plantings with anticipation of rainfall and availability of seeds,” the PSA report said.

The country’s corn production in the first half declined by 16.35 percent to 2.83 MMT, from 3.38 MMT recorded a year ago.

“We are hoping that the planting intentions will not drop given the case in Isabela. We’re hoping that the farmers in Isabela will not be discouraged from farming again,” Navarro said.

The provincial government of Isabela has been under the state of calamity after its Sangguniang Panlalawigan assessed that the dry spell has caused the province some P1 billion worth of damage on corn and palay.

Isabela’s agriculture office has called on the Department of Agriculture (DA) to help the farmers by providing at least P200 million worth of fuel and corn seeds.

The latest cropping season for corn started in September and may last until early January, according to the DFAs Agriculture and Fisheries Market Information System.

Bt corn permits

Navarro also said the release of permits allowing corn farmers to use and plant the high-yielding Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) MON89034 and NK603 corn varieties would boost the farmer’s yield throughout the
cropping season.

“Yes, we are going to use those varities already and it will boost our production in hitting the target,”
Navarro said.

“There are regions wherein a certain variety of seed is not applicable or comfortable to the planting area. Given the approval of these varieties, our farmers now have a wider choice on seeds,” he added.

The MON89304 and NK603 corn-seed varieties are resistant to corn borers, cutworm and earworm that infest corn plants during the rainy season. These are preferred by farmers, Navarro said.

The Bureau Plant of Industry (BPI), an attached agency of the DA, has approved the permit for propagation of the MON89304 and NK603 corn-seed varieties on September 30.

The said Bt corn varieties passed the assessment of six different concerned agencies—as stated under the guidelines of Joint Department Circular (JDC) S2016—regarding the varieties’ health, environmental and socioeconomic implications.

The assessors for MON98034 x NK603 corn varieties are BPI’s Scientific and Technical Review Panel, to evaluate the applicant’s submitted risk-assessment report; the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR), to determine the varieties’ effect on the environment; the Department on Health (DOH), to determine the varieties’ impact on environmental health; Insect Resistance Management Team (Irmat), to review and evaluate the application for any IRM related concerns and issues; Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), to determine if the applicant is duly licensed pesticide handler and follows good agricultural practices; and another expert to assess the varieties’ socioeconomic, ethical and cultural (SEC) effects.

“After reviewing the documents submitted by the applicant, the two members of the STRP find scientific evidence that the regulated article applied for commercial propagation has no evidence of interaction on the resulting gene products, while the DOH, DENR, Irmat and SEC expert recommended for the issuance of Biosafety Permit for corn MON89034 x NK603,” according to the consolidated report released by the BPI biotechnology office.

“On the other hand, FPA found that Monsanto Philippines Inc. is a duly licensed pesticide importer, exporter, indentor and national distributor of agricultural pesticides,” the report added.

Five government agencies, including the DA, the DOH and the DENR, issued Joint Department Circular 1 in March to replace Administrative Order (AO) 8, which governed the propagation and importation of genetically modified crops.

The Supreme Court nullified AO 8 in December 2015, when it ruled against the field testing of Bt eggplant.

-Written by Jasper Y. Arcalas in BusinessMirror.  See article link here.

Jasper Y. Arcallas is a graduating Journalism student of the University of Santo Tomas and has been contributing to the BusinessMirror. Like his story online via the BusinessMirror Millennials Universe (BMMU) Facebook page at Follow BMMU on Twitter via @millennial_U or Instagram (type Millennial Universe). E-mail comments or story to and the editor at

World Food Day highlights that climate is changing and that food and agriculture must too

Italian Prime Minister Renzi, Pope Francis and Princess Lalla Hasnaa of Morocco urge collective action

14 October 2016, Rome – The resounding message from this year’s World Food Day celebrations in Rome and in many countries is that climate change, hunger and poverty must be addressed together in order to achieve the sustainable development goals set by the international community.

“Higher temperatures and erratic weather patterns are already undermining the health of soils, forests and oceans on which agricultural sectors and food security depend,” FAO Director-General José Graziano said at the global World Food Day ceremony here today.

Droughts and floods are more frequent and intense as are climate-related outbreaks of diseases and pests, he added, citing the terrible impact of El Nino in parts of Africa, Asia and Central American and more recently, Hurricane Matthew in Haiti.

“As usual the poorest and the hungry suffer the most and the vast majority of them are small family farmers that live in rural areas of developing countries,” the FAO Director-General said, noting how adaptation and mitigation to climate change is fundamental, and that this requires “much better access to appropriate technologies, knowledge, markets, information and investments.”

Recent international commitments for action, including the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, recognize the fundamental role of sustainable agriculture in addressing climate change, hunger and poverty.

The World Food Day 2016 slogan: Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too underscores the fact that to feed a global population expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050, humanity needs to produce more food, but in ways that use up less natural resources and that drastically reduce loss and waste.

Political will

In his address, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stressed that the fight against hunger is essentially a political issue. “Italy maintains that the fight for food security is, at this point in history, a question of politics with a capital ‘P’,” he added.

Prime Minister Renzi said that the international community needs to urgently address the problems of inequality and injustice. Italy would strive to ensure that these themes are at the top of the international agenda, including at two important events in March next year: the G7 summit, which Italy will host and preside and a meeting of European Union leaders.

Renzi noted that Europe should reject a “culture of waste”. Italy recently passed a new law aimed at curbing food waste, one that was based, “more on collaboration and less on punishment”.

Another keynote speaker at today’s ceremony, Princess Lalla Hasnaa of Morocco, whose country is hosting next month’s COP22 climate talks, said these would be “action-oriented” and geared towards implementing the Paris Agreement.

“The Moroccan Presidency will seek to nurture and promote the spirit of mobilization which prevailed in Paris in terms of increasing climate funding, developing expertise and ensuring the transfer of technology. It will lay special emphasis on adaptation, primarily for the countries of the South and for Small Island States.” Princess Hasnaa said.

Pope urges solidarity with “climate refugees”

In a special message read out at the ceremony, Pope Francis linked the impact of climate change on the planet’s fields, fisheries and forests to migration of people from rural areas of developing countries. “The most recent data tell us that the numbers of ‘climate refugees’ are growing, swelling the ranks of the excluded and forgotten, who are being marginalized from the great human family,” the pontiff said.

“From the wisdom of rural communities we can learn a style of life that can help defend us from the logic of consumerism and production at any cost, a logic that, cloaked in good justification, such as increasing population, is in reality aimed solely at the increase in profit,” he said.

Pope Francis expressed concern that a growing number of actors in agriculture “believe they are omnipotent, or are able to ignore the cycles of the seasons and to improperly modify the various animal and plant species, leading to the loss of variety that, if it exists in nature, has and must have its role”.

What may “give excellent results in the laboratory may be advantageous to some, but it can have ruinous effects for others.” He stressed that in dealing with such issues, the world should rely more on the wisdom that farmers, fishers and pastoralists “conserve in memory handed down through generations”.

UN Special Envoy on El Niño and Climate, Macharia Kamau, for his part urged for the need “to build stronger solidarity, stronger actions, better partnerships and innovation, including insurance schemes that protect families and take risk out of humanitarian response” programmes.

“The 2030 agenda, at its core, is an agenda for fighting poverty, making sure there is no hunger, and food is there for everybody. And nothing threatens that more than climate change,” he said.

“We must change the way we approach food and agriculture. Part of that change is ensuring rural smallholder producers are more resilient than ever before to the impacts of a changing climate,” said Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). “If we are ever to break the cycle of poverty and hunger, our attention must be focused on these smallholder producers who are the source of food for their families and communities, but are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director, World Food Programme (WFP) for her part said: Climate change is already stretching the international humanitarian system financially and operationally, so moving beyond disaster relief to managing risk is an urgent task for all of us. More than 80 percent of world’s hungry live in areas prone to natural disasters and environmental degradation. Climate change is not waiting, neither can we.”

Mayors Summit

On World Food Day, FAO is also hosting the second Mayors’ Annual Summit where mayors and senior officials from more than 45 cities will discuss progress made in meeting the goals of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. The pact calls on cities to develop more sustainable and equitable food systems, end urban hunger, promote healthy diets, reduce waste and conserve biodiversity while adapting to climate change and mitigating its effects.

Zimbabwe Should Embrace GMO – Expert

ZIMBABWE has been urged to embrace genetically modified (GM) crops to improve harvests and reduce production costs as production in cotton declines, with projections that 32 000 tonnes would be produced during the 2015/2016 agricultural year.

The country had produced 90 000 tonnes the previous season.

Although genetic engineering has made a rapid entry into agriculture in countries like South Africa in the past decade, Zimbabwe has banned GM crop production and importation.

With the nation facing a severe drought and food shortages, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made, emphasised: “The position of the government is very clear, we do not accept GMOs as we are protecting the environment from the grain point of view.”

But a high-level stakeholder validation workshop on agricultural policy in Harare last week organised by the National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF) in conjunction with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) showed that GM crops, especially in cotton production, would increase national income by US$50 million.

“National saving for bollworm control will be US$12 million and if the yield increase per hectare is 400 kilogrammes, like in India, the national income benefit would be over US$90 million,”said Idah Sithole-Niang, an expert who presented a paper on GM varieties in Zimbabwe.

Niang added that if Zimbabwe was to adopt Bt Cotton (GM cotton), the country may not lose its export market because the world leading cotton producing countries adopted 90 percent of Bt cotton.

“Over 70 percent of cotton traded in the world is GM cotton. Europe uses GM stock for their livestock and Denmark uses GM soya in pigs that produce Danish ham traded globally,” Niang said.

The 2016 Mid Year Fiscal Policy showed that cotton production for 2016 had declined from 90 000 tonnes to 32 000 tonnes despite government and private sector efforts in funding production.

Seed cotton production declined by 34 percent from 136 000 tonnes in the 2013/2014 season to 90 000 tonnes in the 2014/2015 season.

The 32 000 tonnes is far below the 60 000 tonnes harvested during the 1991/92 season, which experienced severe drought conditions.

At peak production in 2012, small-scale farmers produced 350 703 tonnes of cotton, which translated to 143 788 tonnes of lint and earned the country over US$200 million.

Despite farm productivity being key to reviving the country’s cotton sector, farmers have been making huge losses from cotton production.

Although the safety of GM foods have always been questionable, Niang said over 1,4 million tonnes of edible oil from Bt cotton is consumed annually and for the past 14 years, no adverse effects have been recorded.

In livestock, 10 million tonnes of cotton seed cake for dairy cows are consumed and no adverse effects have been reported.

“In fact, cotton seed cake is preferred as it increases milk fat content.”

In poultry production, without the use of GM stock feeds, South African poultry producers have a competitive advantage over Zimbabwean producers.

In 2014, Zimbabwe imported 3 988 tonnes of chicken from South Africa and South Africa exported 66 355 tonne to regional markets.

South Africa produces 82 percent of GM maize, 95 percent soyabeans and 95 percent Bt cotton.

The experts recommended that government should lift the ban on GM stock feeds.

“Government should allow confined field trials of GM cotton and other GM crops and align the National Biosafety Framework to international best practices. Zimbabwe should also take a cautionary approach to regulate GM crops as opposed to the precautionary principle that will completely halt progress,” Niang said.

Biotech crops in Africa include potatoes, sugarcane, maize, cotton cassava, rice, bananas, cucumber, wheat, sorghum and melons.

Proponents of GM crops claim that the new transgenic crops improve yields, reduce pesticide use and increase food security especially in developing countries, a promise that most countries facing food shortages want to believe.

-Written by Tabitha Mutenga in AllAfrica.  See article link here.

Sweet potato Vitamin A research wins World Food Prize

Four scientists have been awarded the 2016 World Food Prize for enriching sweet potatoes, which resulted in health benefits for millions of people.

They won the prize for the single most successful example of biofortification, resulting in Vitamin A-boosted crops.

Since 1986, the World Food Prize aims to recognise efforts to increase the quality and quantity of available food.

The researchers received their US $250,000 (£203,000) prize at a ceremony in Iowa, US, on Thursday.

Three of the 2016 laureates – Drs Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga and Jan Low from the CGIAR International Potato Center – have been recognised for their work developing the vitamin-enriched orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP).

The fourth winner, Dr Howard Bouis who founded HarvestPlus at the International Food Policy Research Institute, has been honoured for his work over 25 years to ensure biofortification was developed into an international plant breeding strategy across more than 40 countries.

‘Science matters’
Announcing this year’s winners, USAID administrator Gayle Smith said: “These four extraordinary World Food Prize Laureates have proven that science matters, and that when matched with dedication, it can change people’s lives.”

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is considered to be one of the most harmful forms of malnutrition in the developing world. It can cause blindness, limits growth, weakens immunity and increases mortality.

The condition affects more than 140 million pre-school children in 118 nations, and more than seven million pregnant women. It is said to be the leading cause of child blindness in developing countries.

The World Health Organization describes biofortification as the process “by which the nutritional quality of food crops is improved through agronomic practices, conventional plant breeding, or modern biotechnology”.

It observes: “Biofortification may therefore present a way to reach populations where supplementation and conventional fortification activities may be difficult to implement.”

The World Food Prize ceremony will take place during the the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, a three-day gathering in Des Moines, Iowa, named after Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug.

Dr Borlaug, often called the father of the Green Revolution, established the World Food Prize 30 years ago to recognise “exceptionally significant” achievements by individuals. In 1970, Dr Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his contribution to world peace through his work to increase global food supplies.

A report published at the Borlaug Dialogue warned that growth in global agricultural productivity (GAP), for the third year in a row, was not advancing at the rate required to meet future demand for food.

The Global Harvest Initiative’s (GHI) seventh annual GAP report warned that unless this emerging trend was reversed, the “world may not be able to sustainably provide the food, feed, fibre and biofuels needed for a booming global population”.

According to the GHI, GAP needed to increase by at least 1.75% each year. However, its latest figures showed that the current rate was only 1.73%.

The authors observed that productive techniques and technology were “essential for producers of all scales as climate change and extreme weather events threaten the sustainability of agricultural value chains”.

GHI executive director Dr Margaret Zeigler said the agriculture sector had the potential to be a “climate change mitigation powerhouse”.

She added: “Private sector investment, investment and scale will help more farmers, ranchers and forest managers access tools and practices that contribute to a low-carbon agricultural system.”

Conflict and hunger
Another factor that was affecting regions’ ability to produce food was conflict and civil unrest. One of the topics at the 2016 Borlaug Dialogue is the issue of national security and food security in affected regions.

Kenneth Quinn, former US ambassador to Cambodia and president of the World Food Prize Foundation, told BBC News:

“Just as factors like climate volatility, water scarcity, inferior infrastructure and post harvest loss can affect farmers’ yields and food reaching urban centres, so too can military conflict and political instability disrupt markets, impede distribution of new technologies and innovations to farmers and halt new rural investment.”

He added: “Throughout my diplomatic career, I have seen the incredible transformative power of agricultural development to undercut the allure and recruiting ability of radical terrorist organisations in remote areas.”

One scientist who had first-hand experience of the impact of war on agricultural research was Mohmoud Solh, director-general of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (Icarda).

He explained how the Syrian civil war ripping the country apart had forced his team of researchers to leave the country.

Also left behind was Icarda’s seed bank in Aleppo, which contained a vast array of samples from many species of staple food crops’ wild relatives, which may hold the genes required to produce future generations of climate-proof crops. Most of which were collected from the “fertile crescent”, which is widely considered to be the birthplace of modern agriculture.

However, Dr Solh told BBC News that the team was now continuing its work in Morocco and Lebanon.

But he added that he would have a clear message in his speech to delegates at the Borlaug Dialogue.

“You can see the importance of supporting before they reach that stage, the point I want to say is that the upheaval is not just political – it is because of poverty, lack of jobs and food insecurity.

“Many of the migrants are not just because they are leaving security hotspots, it is because there are few or no opportunities for them or their families.

Dr Solh added: “Sustainable development is needed. Proper investment is needed to ensure people have jobs and a future, otherwise the problems will mushroom.”

On Tuesday, the publishers of the Global Hunger Index warned that the international community was not making enough progress to end world hunger by 2030, which is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“The world has made progress in the fight against hunger but it has so far been too slow,” observed Rose Caldwell, executive director of humanitarian organisation Concern Worldwide UK.

“Hunger continues to waste lives and limit potential – we need urgent action from the global community to wipe it out for good.”

The latest Index in the ongoing series – produced by Concern Worldwide, the International Food Policy Research Institute and German NGO Welthungerhilfe – suggested that if the decline in global hunger rates continued to decline at the rates recorded since the early 1990 then at least 45 nations, including Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan, would still have “moderate” to “alarming” hunger scores in 2030.

-Written by Mark Kinver in BBC News.  See article link here.

Facing Climate Change, Tanzania Can’t Afford to Fear GM Crops

LAST WEEK, TANZANIA planted its first ever genetically modified crop—a drought-resistant white corn hybrid. Government researchers will spend the next two to three years monitoring the plants for safety and effectiveness at growing in perilously dry conditions. It’s a notable milestone, given the nation’s longstanding lack of enthusiasm towards biotechnology. But as much as Tanzania’s turnaround is unique to its particular politics, history and culture, it’s also part of a quiet regulatory reversal in Africa. Other countries facing climate change-fueled food insecurity are beginning to bet on biotech.

Until last year, Tanzania was a very difficult place to even think about owning a genetically modified crop product, let alone growing one. Under a “strict liability” law adopted in 2009, anyone involved with importing, moving, storing or using GM products could be sued if someone else claimed the product caused them harm or loss. And that broad definition went beyond personal, it included environmental damage. Effectively, it was a regulatory blockade.

“Tanzania has been a nightmare, with that strict liability clause,” says microbiologist Jennifer Thompson, who is on the board of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation. “Until last year we had never bothered to apply for field trials there because we knew it was such a lost cause.” AATF manages the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, which developed the GM maize (another word for corn) hybrid for Tanzania.

The repeal’s timing was no coincidence. In the last 18 months, unusually high temperatures and a brutal El Niño have punished many parts of Africa with drought. Ethiopia, 400 miles to the North of Tanzania is currently experiencing its worst water shortage in 30 years. South Africa just emerged from its worst drought since 1904. According to the World Health Organization, at least 30 million people in Southern and Eastern Africa will be affected by the water shortages this year.

It is in this context that nations like Tanzania are rethinking their GM food crops positions. Maize is the main food source for one out of every four Africans, and droughts hit it hard. While WEMA has also been developing and distributing non-GM drought-resistant hybrids, so far they have proved to be less efficient than the engineered version. At present only South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan grow GM crops commercially, but that is likely to change in the next few years.

In January and March of this year (respectively), Malawi approved confined field trials for insect-resistant cowpea and a genetically modified banana being evaluated for resistance against the Bunchy Top Virus that decimated banana crops in the region last year. Uganda also approved field trials of a cooking banana variety engineered with Banana Bacterial Wilt resistance in March. Kenya granted a conditional approval for Bt maize performance trials in February.

“It’s really exciting, because until the crop is in the ground this is all just talk,” says Pam Ronald, a plant geneticist at UC Davis whose own work with flood-resistant rice resulted in a variety now being grown by 5 million farmers in India and Bangladesh. “Farming everywhere in the world is empirical. But you can’t see how useful something is until it’s actually in a field somewhere. And that takes leadership that is going to make decisions based on science and the needs of farmers rather than an abstract ideology imported in from developed countries.”

She’s talking about the EU, and its hard line stance against GM crops. That imported ideology gets promoted by opposition groups backed by European dollars; The Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity, the country’s loudest opponent of GMOs is comprised of 19 partner organizations, 11 with roots in Europe. Economics play a role, too. Trade laws allow EU countries to ban cultivation of GMO crops within their borders (would you want to grow something other people won’t eat?).

Also in less overt ways. When talented Tanzanians leave their homes to access higher education abroad, they leave a void in homegrown biotechnology. As of 2015, Tanzania’s top academic institution had fewer than 20 staff with backgrounds in the agricultural sciences and only one staff member in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (according to its website). In that research vacuum, multinational corporations come in as Plan B.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (a partner organization of the Tanzanian Alliance for Biodiversity) is opposed to the GM trials. “There are many other ways that Tanzania can produce its own food,” wrote Million Belay, an organizer for the Alliance. Data seems to prove otherwise: According to the FAO, 32 percent of Tanzanians are currently undernourished. And in a country where 80 percent of the population are subsistence farmers, that implies that millions of people are not able to grow enough food to feed themselves.

Philbert Nyinondi understands why so many Tanzanians might be distrustful of GM crops. As his country’s coordinator for the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, he has been traveling Tanzania for the last few years (no easy feat—it’s twice as big as California!) talking to farmers and organizing workshops with local leaders and policy-makers about bringing the benefits of biotechnology to their farm fields. “With a controversial topic like GM, one will not simply trust a text message or a statement heard on the radio, especially when it goes against people he or she has been working with over the years who are against the technology,” he says. “We have the strongest base of GM opponents in the East Africa region. Unless you physically reach out to communities to present a case, you cannot push past challenges like the low levels of scientific understanding among the general public.”

Which is why he believes this new maize is so important. Yes, Monsanto donated the drought-tolerant genetic traits to the project. But with a royalty-free licensing agreement in place, the drought-resistant corn, like all WEMA maize hybrids, was developed specifically to suit local conditions and will be made available to smallholder farmers through local seed companies at an affordable price—pending successful trials. That’s as close to a homegrown GM crop as anything else that’s ready in Africa right now. And it’s this convergence of local GM solutions coming online at a time when climate change impacts are really starting to be felt on a daily basis that has tilted the balance of power away from the luxury of caution and toward the urgency of feeding not 9 billion people by 2050, but millions of people now.

And it’s also important to not trivialize the weight of history here; if you’d spent hundreds of years having white people showing up in your country telling you what gods to believe in, what clothes to wear, and yeah, what crops to plant (not to mention slavery, genocide, and warmongering), you’d be wary too.

-Written by Mega Molteni in Wired.  See article link here.

Global biotech firms positive on GM regulatory regime

NEW DELHI: Global biotechnology firms are positive about India’s robust regulatory regime for approving genetically modified crops, which has started functioning transparently and effectively in recent months after years of lethargy , though concerns over Monsanto’s woes linger, top executives representing international companies said.

The key change in the regulatory approach is in the regular meetings of the apex approval body, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which is now meeting every month, ending its inactive phase when the panel didn’t meet for long periods, at times for a year, executives said.

“Process at the central level has improved a lot since last few months,” said Shivendra Bajaj, executive director of Association of Biotech-led Enterprises, Agriculture-focus Group (ABLE-AG).

“Now, GEAC is happening on a regular basis (and) has been very transparent. They have been doing the right thing now. I think the present position of the (Central) government with regard to science is encouraging.” ABLE-AG counts Bayer, Monsanto, Syngentaand Dow Agrsciences among its members. As the dispute between the biotechnology companies and indigenous seed manufacturers over patent rights lingers, the favourable assessment of a key committee formed under the GEAC with regard to genetically-modified (GM) mustard or ‘DMH-11’ has invigora ted biotechnology providers about the prospects of investing in India.

The process of approval for transgenic crops includes biosafety committees, review committees, monitoring and evaluation committees for field trials, and the GEAC, following which the environment ministry needs to sign off for commercialisation of GM crops.

Case in point is the moratorium on Bt brinjal despite GEAC clearance.Further, states have the option of refusing to allow field trials or deployment of GM crops despite regulatory approvals. And this is where, according to the biotech firms, maximum reform needs to take place. “There is a process of NOC before you. Certain states have come on record who refuse (to give an NOC). So, even if GEAC approves, the state government is a major challenge for us,” said Bajaj.

-Published in The Economic Times.  See article link here.