More than 40 participants composed of researchers, students, experts, and scientists from various countries in Southeast Asia attended the Workshop and Training Course on the Application and Preservation of Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) held on 13-15 November 2018 in Malaysia.
With the theme, Pambansang Hamon, Pambansang Solusyon (Our Nation’s Challenge, Our Nation’s Solution), the 14th National Biotechnology Week (NBW) highlighted the contributions of biotechnology in agriculture and food security, equitable health care services, development of industries and business enterprises, sustainable environment, and economic development, among others. The NBW celebration ran from 13-17 November 2018 at the World Trade Center, Manila.
Eighteen senior high school students and their teachers from seven provinces (Laguna, Pampanga, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Agusan del Norte, Iloilo, and Leyte) in the Philippines were selected to represent their respective schools at the Agri-biotech Boot Camp organized by the SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC) on November 6-8, 2018.
“The greatest resource of a nation is its people. We consider our farmers as our jewels in Leyte.”
With this, Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla of Leyte welcomed more than 150 farmers and officials of selected municipalities in Leyte to the Biotech 101 and Joint Department Circular (JDC) Public Briefing held at the Oriental Hotel in Tacloban City on October 26, 2018. Governor Petilla said that the objectives of the activity were aligned with the local government’s thrust of improving the province’s economy through agriculture. “Science is good if we use it wisely for the benefit of the people,” he added.
Experts from the Institute of Plant Breeding – University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPB), Philippine Genome Center (PGC), and Visayas State University (VSU) oriented the participants on the science of biotechnology, food and environmental safety of genetically modified (GM) crops, and biotech products in the pipeline. Representatives from the Departments of Health, Agriculture, Science and Technology, and Interior and Local Government were also on hand to discuss the JDC guidelines and address questions from the audience.
Among the concerns raised during the open forum was the rigid biotech regulatory process in the country, which the experts explained was crucial in ensuring the safety of GM crops released in the market. The participants were also eager to promote the adaption GM crops in their province through a signature campaign and are now discussing the matter with the Department of Agriculture (DA) officials in the region.
The activity was organized by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), DA-Biotechnology Program Office, and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC) in coordination with DA Regional Field Office 8.
– Danellie Joy O. Medina, SEARCA-BIC
Around 160 participants composed of farmers, members and officials of selected municipalities in Camarines Sur, and representatives from the academe and non-government organizations were informed on the science of biotechnology, food and environmental safety of genetically modified (GM) crops, biotech products in the pipeline, and the existing biosafety regulatory guidelines in the Philippines during the Biotechnology 101 and Joint Department Circular (JDC) Public Briefing held at Villa Caceres Hotel in Naga City, Camarines Sur on September 26, 2018.
More than 150 executive and legislative officials from the Philippine House of Representatives, as well as selected members of the judiciary attended the Forum on the Global State of Biotechnology, a biotech outreach program conducted by the SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center in collaboration with the United States Embassy Manila, the House of Representatives, Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA), and the Philippine Association of Law schools (PALS). The Forum was held on two separate events held on September 6 and 7, 2018 as part of an outreach grant from the U.S. Department of State.
Experts and scientists enlightened the participants of the two events on different biotechnology issues. Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, Study Leader of the Bt Eggplant Project of the University of the Philippines Los Baños-Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB-IPB); Dr. Donald MacKenzie, Executive Director for International Crop Improvement of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Missouri, USA; and Dr. Evelyn Mae Mendoza, academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) spoke about biotechnology trends in developing countries, the judicial and legislative process involved in crafting biotechnology regulations, and the science and strategic importance of biotechnology particularly on the country’s agricultural economy and food security.
Meanwhile, distinguished members of Congress, namely, House Deputy Speaker Cong. Sharon Garin; Cong. John Marvin Nieto, member of the House Committee on Science and Technology; and AGRI Party List representative, Cong. Orestes Salon encouraged the biotech community to continue pushing for the development of agricultural biotechnology in the country and assured the government’s support behind this advocacy. Cong. Salon stated that he is keen to work with institutions in coming up with a more comprehensive legislative agenda. “This is the future, together with organic farming. We need to move fast to create a policy environment conducive to the growth of the [agri-biotech] industry,” he added.
House Deputy Speaker Garin expressed her belief that biotechnology is a key to a hunger-free Philippines. Cong. Garin said, “As long as we make necessary precautions, we can really make a difference. Not just for the state of agriculture, but also for food security. Agriculture and technology can go hand in hand in making that no Filipino is hungry.” – Danellie Joy Medina
Science and economics merged during The Economics of Biotech Crops: A Symposium to Promote Economic and Financial Literacy held on July 17, 2018 at the SEARCA Umali Auditorium, Los Baños, Laguna.
The half-day event was a joint collaboration of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture through its Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC) in partnership with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and the Philippine Economic Society (PES) toward the implementation of Republic Act No. 10922 (Economic and Financial Literacy Act of 2016) and in observance of Nutrition Month this July.
More than 60 participants composed of scientists and experts as well as representatives from the academe, national and international agencies/institutions, partners from the biotech and business sectors, and media practitioners were informed on topics centered on the socio-economic aspect of GM crops including the global status of biotech crops, IRRI’s research on biotec rice, the socio-economics of Bt Eggplant, and the social and economic impact of biofortificated through genetic modification.
Dr. Maja-Leah Ravago, PES President, underlined the significance of looking at the economic and financial prospects of biotech crops because ultimately, maximizing the profits of the farmers is most important. She also expressed PES’ support in ensuring that accurate information from the experts is communicated to the public. Meanwhile, Dr. Desiree Hautea, Project Leader of the Bt Eggplant Project, agreed and commented during the open forum that one of the things that will always make bottomline to anyone is economics. She added that this poses a challenge to the economics partners on how they can impact the communications discourse with science-based information.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) launched the annual report on the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2017 (ISAAA Brief 53) through a media conference held on June 26, 2018 at Acacia Hotel, Manila, Philippines. The report is the 22nd of the ISAAA series of global status reports documenting the latest information on the adoption and benefits of biotech crops. The event, which was co-organized by the SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC), presented an opportunity for media partners to connect with scientists and experts, representatives from the national government, and partners in the biotech community.
ISAAA Board Chair, Dr. Paul Teng, presented the report, including the global impact, economic benefits, and future prospects of biotech crops. He reported that biotech crop land area reached a new record-high adoption at 189.8 million hectares worldwide in 2017. Also notable was the increase in biotech crop area in developing countries, continuously surpassing those in industrial countries in terms of total land area, with 100.6 M ha and 89.2 M ha, respectively.
Dr. Teng added that the global GM crop area is expected to expand in the coming years and that new biotech crops and traits in different parts of the globe are now in the pipeline. Highlighting the importance of regulations, Dr. Teng stated, “Science-based regulations are very important. If we cannot use science, we have no ground to stand on. It cannot be based on perceptions alone as these are often proven wrong. Science is what we have in the moment as a tool to show that something is credible.” He also shared that the global farm income gains contributed by biotech crops in the last 21 years (1996-2016) have amounted to US$186.1 billion, benefitting more than 17 million farmers, 95% of whom come from developing countries.
More than 60 people composed largely of legislators, legislative staff, and students “feasted on facts” as the film’s tagline puts it, during the special screening of the documentary, Food Evolution, held on May 23 at the Philippine House of Representatives. The film was shown as part of the Biotechnology Exhibit themed Bioteknolohiya: Pambansang Hamon, Pambansang Solusyon (Biotechnology: Our Nation’s Challenge, Our Nation’s Solution) organized by the Department of Agriculture’s Biotechnology Program Office from May 21-24, 2018.
Filipino lawmakers on Monday called for the continued advancement of biotechnology in the country during the opening of the Biotechnology Exhibit in the House of Representatives themed Bioteknolohiya: Pambansang Hamon, Pambansang Solusyon (Biotechnology: Our Nation’s Challenge, Our Nation’s Solution). The exhibit was organized by the Department of Agriculture’s Biotechnology Program Office from May 21-24, 2018 at the North Wing Lobby of the House of Representatives. It is one of the many lined up activities in celebration of the National Biotechnology Week in November 2018. Read more
In an effort to showcase one of the current agricultural trends in the Philippines, the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC), in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 11 Press Corps, conducted a field immersion in Terra Verde Eco Farm and Resort in Maragondon, Cavite. The activity was part of the Training-Writeshop on Communicating Trends and Innovations in ASEAN Agriculture, held on 18 to 20 April, 2018 at SEARCA, College, Los Baños, Laguna. Read more
Department of Agriculture (DA) Region X information officers and farmer-leaders were trained on promoting agricultural technologies, particularly biotechnology, on social media during the Storytelling Agri Innovations through Social Media held on October 4, 2017 at The Mallberry Suites Business Hotel, Cagayan De Oro City.
ISAAA’s social media managers Clement Dionglay and Kristine Tome served as resource persons on maximizing engagement through Facebook and Twitter, crafting social media posts, developing infographics and a social media plan, and using Facebook for advocacy. The activity included exercises that encouraged participants on how to plan and implement a social media campaign.
The training was organized by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC), DA-Regional Field Office X, and ISAAA.
Social media training with DA Region 10 information officers.
Farmers, Department of Agriculture (DA) information officers, regulators, members of the academe, and members and officials of local government units of selected municipalities in Region X were enlightened about the science, food and environmental safety, biotech products in the pipeline, socioeconomic benefits of Bt eggplant, and the biosafety regulatory guidelines in the country during the Biotechnology 101 & Joint Department Circular (JDC) Public Briefing held on October 3, 2017 at The Mallberry Suites Business Hotel, Cagayan De Oro City.
During the open forum, participants clarified and asked about the safety of Bt technology particularly its effects in the environment, labelling, regulatory costs, availability of Bt eggplant seeds, and the status of the Golden Rice project among others. Present during the open forum were the representatives from the five concerned departments of the JDC — the Departments of Agriculture, Science and Technology, Health, Environment and Natural Resources, and the Interior and Local Government.
The activity was organized by ISAAA, the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture-Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC), DA-Biotechnology Program Office, and DA-Regional Field Office X.
Resource persons from UP Los Baños and representatives from the five Departments answer questions from pariticpants during the open forum.
Farmer-leaders and members of the Asian Farmers Regional Network Philippines (ASFARNET) from all over the country learned about the products, science, safety, and potential benefits of biotechnology as well as strategies and skills for biotech communication during the Trainer’s Training-Workshop Series 2017: Agri-biotechnology Capacity Building for ASFARNET-Philippines on September 21-22, 2017 at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.
The Vegetable Industry Council of Southern Mindanao (Vicsmin) in the Philippines has expressed its full support for the commercial planting of Bt eggplant in the country. This came after Vicsmin officers and members signed a one-page manifesto of support during the roundtable discussion on Bt Eggplant held on September 4, 2017 in Davao City. Vicsmin, a non-profit organization that advocates policies beneficial to the vegetable industry in the region, has 40 active member institutions and 20 individual farmers.
After a thorough discussion with Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, Bt eggplant study leader from the University of the Philippines Los Baños on the science, safety, and the potential actual benefits of modern biotechnology, Vicsmin in their one-page manifesto says: “We realize that Bt eggplant, which contains the gene similar to the insect-resistant Bt corn, can bring benefits to our communities such as higher yield and income, reduce chemical use, and improve environmental health. We believe that the Bt eggplant is a healthier and safer alternative solution against the relentless insect pest, the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB).”
Vicsmin President Gienovivo A. Cajes said, “If Bangladesh farmers are now planting Bt eggplant why can’t we plant it here?”
Thirty-one information officers and science communicators from the Departments of Agriculture (DA) and Science and Technology (DOST) in Region XI, Philippines, were equipped with skills on how to promote agricultural technologies, particularly biotechnology, on social media during the training Storytelling Agri Innovations through Social Media held on 17 August 2017 at The Pinnacle Hotel and Suites, Davao City.
Various key stakeholder groups: regulators, farmer leaders, students, scientists, academe, DA information officers, and members and officials of local government units of selected municipalities in Davao region in the Philippines learned about the science, food and environmental safety, and socioeconomic benefits of biotech crops, as well as the biosafetyregulatory guidelines in the country, during the Biotechnology 101 & Joint Department Circular (JDC) Public Briefing held on August 16, 2017 at The Pinnacle Hotel and Suites, Davao City.
Socio-economic considerations, multiple agency review, labeling, and legal court challenges are the major obstacles in getting biotech crops to farmers, according to Senior Legal Consultant of the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) Atty. Gregory Jaffe, who presented in the Agriculture and Development Seminar Series (ADSS) of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) on July 24, 2017 in his talk titled “GM Crops to Farmers: Curves in the Roads.” An example cited was the court case filed against Bt eggplant in the Philippines which is more of a procedural issue than a technical one. According to Atty. Jaffe, the key is transparent and predictable biosafety regulatory procedures that anticipate and address the said issues before a product is approved for release.
Farmers, local government constituents, and other key stakeholders in the province of Pangasinan, Philippines expressed their backing for, and willingness to adopt Bt talong(eggplant) by signing a declaration of support for its commercialization during a seminar with key people involved in the development and commercialization of Bangladesh’s Bt brinjal last July 27, 2017 at Pangasinan State University (PSU)-Sta. Maria Campus.
SEARCA Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr. reiterated the increasing importance of safe, and evidence- and science-based agricultural technologies in promoting agricultural productivity and food and nutrition security amidst challenges like climate change, dwindling production resources, rapid population increase, and extreme poverty.
Among these technologies is biotechnology, including both traditional (e.g., selective breeding, fermentation techniques) and modern (i.e., genetic engineering) techniques, which the Center looks at as an important tool in addressing the abovementioned challenges. SEARCA particularly pushes for “coexistence,” which, according to a report of the US Department of Agriculture Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, “is the concurrent cultivation of conventional, organic, identity preserved (IP) and genetically engineered crops consistent with underlying consumer preferences and farmer choices.”
Dr. Saguiguit made this statement following the Philippine launch of the annual report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) on the global status of commercialized biotech crops. According to the ISAAA report, global planting of biotech crops reached 185.1 million hectares in 2016, which increased from 179.7 million hectares in 2015. A total of 26 countries grew biotech crops, including the Philippines, which planted around 812,000 hectares of biotech yellow corn last year. Biotech corn varieties, which are grown in the country since 2003, are pest resistant and herbicide tolerant, thus providing various documented benefits to Filipino farmers including significant increase in yield and reduction in production costs.
Dr. Saguiguit said that through SEARCA’s Tenth Five-Year Plan focused on Inclusive and Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development (ISARD), the Center believes that due attention must be given to resource poor farmers by providing them access to information, best practices, and new technologies that will increase their farm productivity.
“Our goal is to give our farmers a fighting chance to cope with the many challenges and obstacles they face in farming. Through biotechnology and many other innovations, we hope to offer them better opportunities so that they can provide not only for their families but also contribute to the nation’s food security and overall development. Along these lines, SEARCA qualifies that it only promotes agricultural technologies and practices that are known to be safe and do not compromise human and environmental health,” said Dr. Saguiguit.
With the continuing opposition to biotechnology, Dr. Saguiguit said that it is all the more important for the public, particularly decision and policymakers, to understand the said technology in the context of scientific and empirical evidence.