Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bt Corn in “No-man’s Land”

During my recent visit to Manila, I was on a field tour to a corn farm in Anoa, a village in Mexico City, Pampanga. Pampanga is a province in the central Luzon region of the Philippines. Called the rice granary of the Philippines, the region (Pampanga, Zambales, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan and the nearby provinces some 40 km North of Manila) is known throughout the country for its rice and corn production. Agriculture is the number one source of income for its residents. But the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 rendered the fields in Pampanga useless. The lava from the volcano fell over most of the South China Sea and the ashfall was recorded as far away as Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. Global temperature even dropped by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit because of accumulated ash in the atmosphere. Residents had to irrigate the fields with wastewater for ten years to prepare it for agriculture again. This area became a no-man land as no crops could be planted here for ten years.

It was only ten years later that farmers started planting again and the first crop planted was Bt corn. Farmers experienced good harvests and higher income and now regard the planting of biotech corn (stacked trait corn) as a “hobby” since it requires less work (no insecticide spraying and weeding). An innovative farmer took the risk of using a new technology and he was able to inspire other farmers in the community to try it as well. The community is now benefiting from the technology. The variety used here is MON 818. Though the cost of the Bt seed is double the conventional one, the production cost is reduced. This is because the farmers do not spray pesticides at all. Immediately I thought this must be what the environmentalists will love... Can you imagine how much less time now they are exposed to deadly chemicals? And also how much less chemical residues land on the consumers’ plates? Oh yes, how about all the mycotoxins that are absent because the corns are not injured by borers which leaves no space for fungi infections. And what more, no weeding. All these helped to cut their cost and labour time. The maximum yield with Bt corn is 10 tonnes per hectare vs 3 tonnes per hectare with conventional variety.

The farmers are not going to look back as they are part of the millions of famers globally who are enjoying the benefits of GM technology. The growing number of biotech farmers is a yardstick to gauge the success of GM technology and its benefits to the world. You can cheat a farmer once but never twice!

As part of this tour, I then visited a church nearby where the destruction of the volcanic eruption was felt which left the church half-buried. The community rebuilt the structures to make it usable again. The original second floor of the church is now its ground floor. Some photos are testimony to what I saw.

Thanks to Bt corn which gave a second lease of life to the farming community here!

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Highlights of the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2008

Every year, this time we are furnished with the latest statistics of the global status of GM crops, comprehensively reviewed by ISAAA. This is the most cited publication in agribiotechnology and at any major agribiotech conference, you will not miss the famous world map that depicts countries that grow GM crops.  

I would like to share the summary of the Brief 39 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2008 by Clive James. 

  * As a result of consistent and substantial economic, environmental and welfare benefits, a record 13.3 million large, small and resource-poor farmers continued to plant significantly more hectares of biotech crops in 2008. This is an increase of 1.3 million farmers compared to 2007. Notably, 90%, or 12.3 million were small and resource-poor farmers in developing countries. Biotech crops have improved the income and quality of life of small and resource-poor farmers and their families, and contributed to the alleviation of their poverty – case studies are cited in Brief 39 for India, China, South Africa, and the Philippines.
  * The number of countries planting biotech crops soared to 25.

  * Notably, of the 25 countries planting biotech crops, 15 were developing countries versus only 10 industrial countries.

  * Progress in Africa – number of countries increased from one (South Africa) in 2007, to three in 2008, with Burkina Faso (cotton) and Egypt (maize) planting biotech crops, for the first time. These are very important developments given that biotech crops contribute to some of the major challenges facing global society including: food, feed and fiber security; lower price of food; sustainability; alleviation of poverty and hunger; and mitigation of some of the challenges associated with climate change.

  * Global hectarage of biotech crops continued its strong growth in 2008 for the thirteenth consecutive year – a 9.4%, or 10.7 million hectare increase, reaching 125 million hectares. 

 * Stacked traits are an increasingly important feature of biotech crops. Ten countries planted approximately 27 million hectares of stacked traits in 2008 and at 23% growth, they grew faster than single traits.

  * Five principal developing countries: China, India, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa, with a combined population of 2.6 billion, are exerting leadership with biotech crops, and driving global adoption – benefits from biotech crops are spurring strong political will and substantial new investments in biotech crops in several of these lead countries. 

  * Notably, all seven EU countries planting Bt maize increased their hectarage in 2008, resulting in an overall increase of 21%, to reach over 107,000 hectares.  

  * In 2007, biotech crops saved 14.2 billion kg of CO2 equivalent to 6.3 million less cars.  

  * The global value of the biotech crop market in 2008 was US$7.5 billion with an accumulated historical milestone value of US$50 billion for the period 1996 to 2008.

  * Economic gains due to the adoption of GM crops during the period of 1996-2007 was US$44 billion.

  * An additional 43 million hectares would have been required to gain the same production had GM crops not been deployed – a land-saving technology.

The impressive contribution of biotech crops to sustainability is reviewed: 1) Contributing to food, feed and fiber security including more affordable food (lower prices); 2) Conserving biodiversity; 3) Contributing to the alleviation of poverty and hunger; 4) Reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint; 5) Helping mitigate climate change and reducing greenhouse gases; 6) Contributing to more cost-effective production of biofuels; and 7) Contributing to sustainable economic benefits worth US$44 billion from 1996 to 2007. In summary, collectively these seven thrusts are a significant contribution to sustainability and the potential for the future is enormous.  

In agricultural-based and transforming developing countries, biotech crops are an engine of rural economic growth, which in turn can contribute substantially to national economic growth.  

With the success and potential of GM crops, there is an urgent need for appropriate cost/time-effective regulatory systems for biotech crops that are responsible, but not onerous, and affordable for developing countries.  
For further information, please visit  

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan (adapted from Clive James’ summary)