Biotech Crops Sustain Growth in 2014: The Philippines ranked 12th with 0.8 million hectares planted to GM crops

For the 19th consecutive year since its adoption in 1996, total global hectarage of biotech crops continued to increase in 2014, making it the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times. The disclosure was made during the “Media Conference on the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2014” organized by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) in collaboration with the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study on Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

The half-day event was held on 27 February 2015 at the Intercontinental Hotel, Makati City and was graced by representatives from the media, multi-national biotech companies, the academe, NGOs and various regulatory agencies in the government. Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr., SEARCA Director, Atty. Paz J. Benavidez II, Assistant Secretary for Regulations of the Department of Agriculture and Dr. Eufemio T. Rasco, Jr., Academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology, in their Welcome Message, highlighted the potential of biotechnology in helping the country achieve agricultural self-sufficiency and curb poverty and hunger. They also underscored the value of new knowledge in this field and the pivotal role that the media can assume to effectively communicate its benefits.  

Dr. Paul S. Teng, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of ISAAA, presented the status of food security in Asia to set the context for the next presentation. Dr. Teng started with the definition of food security, which according to the United Nations, “exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. He proceeded by enumerating the challenges that continue to threaten food security and the opportunities to ensure food security in an inter-connected system such as the Asian region. Dr. Teng stressed the utility of science-based innovation pathways, one of which is modern biotechnology, in attaining food security.  He concluded his report by stating that availability, physical and economic access and efficient food utilization are the factors that must be considered and addressed for Asia to become a food-secure region.   

Dr. Rhodora R. Aldemita, Senior Program Officer of ISAAA, reported on the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops in 2014 on behalf of Dr. Clive James, ISAAA Founder and Emeritus Chair. For the given year, 181.5 million hectares was dedicated to planting biotech crops in 28 countries, up from 175 million in 27 countries in 2013 and equivalent to a 100-fold increase in hectarage since the technology was commercialized in 1996. The US takes the lead with 73.1 million hectares followed by Brazil with 42.2 million hectares while the Philippines ranked 12 with 0.8 million hectare. A recent addition to the list of biotech-producing countries was Bangladesh after it successfully commercialized Bt eggplant on                     22 January 2014. Likewise notable were the two new trait approvals in the US - InnateTM potato which has a lower acrylamide level and HarvXtraTM alfalfa which has a reduced lignin content for improved digestibility and increased nutrition.

Dr. Aldemita cited the study of Klumper and Qaim in 2014 which carried out a meta-analysis on the impact of biotech crops for a period of 20 years. Based on 147 data sets, biotech crops, on the average, increase yield and farmers’ net profit by 22% and 68% respectively while reducing pesticide utilization by 37%. Moreover, the study showed that yield gains and pesticide reductions were larger for insect-resistant biotech crops than herbicide-tolerant crops and that developing countries experienced higher yield and profit gains in the commercialization of biotech crops than industrial countries. The study confirmed that biotech crops indeed contribute to global food security and sustainability while at the same time conserving the environment through reduction in pesticide use.

Dr. Aldemita explained that further growth potential of biotech crops will be realized through the expansion of approved events and the development of crops with novel traits which are projected to be commercialized by 2015 and 2016. Moreover, it is expected that other developing countries will follow suit in adopting the technology. The importance of public-private partnership in the adoption of the technology was also underscored as supported by case studies in Bangladesh, Brazil, Indonesia and Africa.

In the Philippine setting, Dr. Aldemita reported that only biotech corn is approved for cultivation and its adoption has helped the country achieve self-sufficiency in corn production starting 2012. The Philippines has also ventured into the exportation of corn silage as livestock feed and has exported 1,080 metric tons to South Korea in 2014.

A local eggplant farmer from Bukidnon, Mr. Edgar C. Talasan, was also invited to share his experiences. Mr. Talasan narrated that bacterial wilt and eggplant fruit and shoot borer infestations are quite common, thus forcing eggplant farmers to resort to excessive pesticide spraying which are harmful to health and the environment and result to a reduction in profit. As a beneficiary of the Asian Farmers Regional Network (ASFARNET), Mr. Talasan was able to attend a number of agri-biotechnology fora which strengthened his conviction that biotech crops can significantly improve farmers’ lives by improving yield and reducing pesticide utilization.