Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

PRESS RELEASE, 19 May 2017: Biotech/GM corn production in the Philippines rebounds in 2016 as the country remains to be the top grower of biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops in Southeast Asia, and ranks as the twelfth biggest producer of such crops in the world, according to the latest report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

searcabic_btcornharvestISAAA states that in 2016, 185.1 million hectares of biotech/GM crops were planted in 26 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North and Latin America. Of this area, 812,000 hectares of biotech/GM corn was planted in the Philippines in 2016, a remarkable 16% increase from the 702,000 hectares planted in 2015 which is equivalent to 110,000 hectares. The increase is due to favorable weather conditions, and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks. Biotech/GM corn, which was approved for commercial planting in 2002 is the only biotech crop planted in the country today.

Adoption rates of biotech/GM corn also increased from 63% in 2015 to 65% in 2016, when the number of small, resource-poor farmers, growing on average, 2 hectares of biotech/GM corn in the Philippines was estimated to be over 406,000. According to the report, the farm level economic benefit of planting biotech/GM corn in the country from 2003 to 2015 is estimated to have reached US$642 million, and for 2015 alone, the net national impact of biotech/GM crop on farm income was estimated at US$82 million.

ISAAA’s 2016 report which was launched on May 4, 2017 in Beijing, China also states that there are only 13 biotech/GM corn events approved for cultivation in the Philippines, with the last approval given in 2014. There have been 88 biotech crop event approvals for food, feed, and processing cultivation in the Philippines, including: alfalfa (2 events), rapeseed (2), cotton (8), corn (52), potato (8), rice (1), soybean (14), and sugar beet (1).

Current research and development efforts on biotech/GM crops in the Philippines include products from the public sector: fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant led by the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (IPB-UPLB); biotech papaya with delayed ripening and papaya ring spot virus (PRSV) resistance, also being developed by IPB-UPLB; Bt cotton being developed by the Philippine Fiber Development Administration (PFIDA, formerly the Cotton Development Authority); and Golden Rice (GR), a biotech rice biofortified with provitamin A beta-carotene that is being developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The Philippines continues to be at the forefront of biotech research and commercialization in Southeast Asia, and the acceptance of biotech/GM crops in the country has been demonstrated by key stakeholders including the general public, such that a Joint Department Circular (JDC) was quickly put together in record time of three months in 2016 after the Supreme Court nullified and invalidated the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 8 (DA AO8) which served as the government policy for biotech/GM crops for more than 20 years. Future commercialization of Bt eggplant, PRSV-R papaya, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice will be regulated under the new JDC.

Despite a temporary decline in biotech/GM corn area in 2015, the Philippines has quickly rebounded production in 2016, when adoption rates for the crop increased due to the enormous benefits enjoyed by Filipino consumers, farmers and their families.

biotechcornfarmerMore than 18 million small farmers and their families have benefited from biotech crops in the last 21 years. ISAAA reports that the adoption of biotech crops has reduced CO2 emissions equivalent to removing approximately 12 million cars from the road annually in recent years. Biotech crops have helped conserve biodiversity by saving 174 million hectares of land from being ploughed and cultivated, and decreased the environmental impact of agriculture by reducing herbicide and insecticide applications and environmental impact by 19% in 1996-2015, and 18.4% in 2015 alone. Additionally, in developing countries, planting biotech crops has helped alleviate hunger and poverty by increasing the incomes for 18 million small farmers and their families, bringing improved financial stability to more than 65 million people.

New biosafety guidelines introduced to stakeholders in Cebu, Philippines

New biosafety guidelines introduced to stakeholders in Cebu, Philippines

More than a hundred members of consumer groups, regulators, farmer leaders, faculty and students, information officers, and members and officials of local government units in Cebu province in the Philippines learned about the science, safety, and potential benefits of modern biotech, particularly biotech crops. The latest biosafety regulatory guideline in the country was also introduced during the Biotechnology 101 & Joint Department Circular (JDC) Public Briefing on April 4, 2017 at Big Hotel, Mandaue City, Cebu.

Julieta Fe Estacio, Head Secretariat of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines and Department of Science and Technology (DOST) – Biosafety Committee, and Ma. Lorelie Agbagala, Agricultural Center Chief II of the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Bureau of Plant Industry, explained the standards, procedures, and principles of the JDC and the major roles of the DOST and DA. Both emphasized the importance of regulation to ensure the safety of biotech products in research and in the market. Other topics presented were biotech research trends, biotech crops in the pipeline, and food and environmental safety issues.

Following the presentations was an open forum with representatives from the five concerned government Departments (DOST, DA, Department of Health, Department. of the Environment & Natural Resources, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government).

Ms. Alejandra Solijon, Chair of the Cebu Provincial Farmers Action Council, said in her message “We look forward to maximizing and optimizing farmer output through biotech. By merging research and technology with actual experiences in the field, we hope for a positive outcome for the Philippine agriculture.”

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 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Millennial-Universe/435594193285671. Follow BMMU on Twitter via @millennial_U or Instagram (type Millennial Universe). E-mail comments or story to millennialuniverse@yahoo.com and the editor at dennis.estopace@gmail.com.