FARMERS EXPERIENCES ON BT CORN TACKLED DURING THE 23rd YEAR OF KAMAYAN ENVIRONMENTAL FORUM
In solidarity to the global celebration of the Earth Day, the Kamayan sa Kalikasan Forum was recently held where issues on the “Green Electoral Initiatives”, “Genetically Modified Organisms & the Farmers’ Experience” and the “Forest Resource Bill” were tackled . This was the 289th session of the monthly environmental forum organized and hosted by the Green Convergence & Kamayan Restaurant for the past 23 years.
The Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives on Community Empowerment (SEARICE) represented by Mark Cervantes, shared the experiences of the Filipino farmers in planting Bt Corn. SEARICE shared the recent research conducted by SEARICE in Isabela, Bukidnon and North Cotabato, which are the first, second and fourth largest corn-producing provinces in the country respectively. Cernates further added that the said areas are important markets for corn seed companies including those producing Bt corn varieties. Companies such as Monsanto and Pioneer, aggressively market both Bt corn and non-Bt corn varieties to local farmers, most of whom rely on corn as their main income.
Monsanto became the first company to apply for GMO commercialization under Department of Agriculture-Administrative Order No. 8 (DA AO#8) with its Mon810, known as YieldGard™. This contained genetically engineered bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a soil-based bacteria lethal to Asiatic corn borer (ACB), a common pest in corn. YieldGard™ is in a class of genetically-engineered crops better known as Bt corn.
In the research, SEARICE debunked the claims of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications or ISAAA, that in 2006 more than 200,000 hectares were planted to Bt corn all over the country with positive results. According to SEARICE, the research shows a totally different picture wherein there was widespread rejection of the technology in the three provinces, rather than extensive adoption of Bt corn three years after it was first commercialized (2003). After all the hype and resources poured into allowing the commercialization of a highly controversial technology, the study shows that Bt corn failed to make any significant contribution to total corn production not only in the three provinces, but possibly across the country as well according to the research.
Cervantes shared that of 790 farmers in three provinces surveyed in the study, only three percent planted Bt corn during the first cropping season (May – September) of 2006. The overwhelming majority chose to plant non-Bt corn varieties, a trend that indicates market rejection of Bt corn technology. Farmer-respondents who tried planting Bt corn usually did not repeat planting the variety after one season. In the case of Barangay Cabadiangan, Bukidnon, only five (5) farmers planted Bt corn during the period of 2003 to 2006. This is the same trend in other sites where a handful of farmers planted Bt corn for one season only without repeating. In practice, farmers repeatedly plant a variety for two or more seasons if it performs well. This is not the case with Bt corn varieties, thus indicationg poor field performance.
He added that farmers cited several reasons for non-repetition in planting Bt corn. The most common reason given is that Bt corn varieties are more expensive than non-Bt ones. Bt corn varieties are at least double the price of non-Bt hybrid corn varieties.
Moreover, farmers discovered that Bt corn varieties were susceptible to pests and diseases, including the corn borer. From farmers’ own field observations, Bt corn’s susceptibility to corn borer attacks may indicate that the efficacy of the genetically-engineered resistance is much less than advertised. Incidences of corn borer infestation in Bt corn fields have discouraged farmers from repeating the variety. Besides the corn borer problem, farmers observed that Bt corn varieties were also susceptible to aphids, stalk rot and leaf diseases.
There are other reasons given by respondents for not planting Bt corn, including concerns about its possible environmental and health effects. This is one majotr objection raised by some sectors against the commercialization of Bt corn. Such a view has obviously filtered down to farmers, although this is less commonly-held compared to other major reasons.
Pointing out to the conclusion of the SEARICE research, Cervantes assert that the findings showed that the commercial propagation of Bt corn since 2003 has not resulted to supposed benefits for farmers and to the country’s agriculture as claimed by Monsanto in its application. In retrospect, it has become clear that there was no sufficient basis to allow commercialization of Bt corn in the Philippines solely on the merits of Monsanto’s claims, which have been disproved. This certainly calls for a re-assessment of current government policy allowing GMO commercialization.
The Kamayan Environmental Forum also tackled other issues like the Green Electoral Initiatives and the Forest Resources Bill.
Ben Muni of Greenpeace discussed the “Green Electoral Initiatives” (GEI) wherein Senatoriables for the May 2013 mid-term elections will be asked about their position on various environmental issues like mining, climate change, toxics, forests, coastal, GMOs and others. The highlight of the said initiative will be a “Candidates Forum” on April 29 where selected candidates for the Senate will be invited and asked about their agenda on the environment. Beechy de la Paz of HARIBON Foundation discussed some updates and experiences on the Forest Resource Bill. She shared some of the issues related to the forests in the Philippines such as classification, zoning & utilization. She also shared who among the Senatoriables are supportive to the issues on forests with clear legislative agenda.