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

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