LOCAL corn growers are appealing to the government for the immediate signing of the rules governing the country’s use and propagation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically modified (GM) seeds in local farms in time for the cropping season starting April.
The livelihood of some one million corn farmers is on the brink if the new rules — through a joint circular being drafted by the Departments of Agriculture, Science and Technology, Environment and Natural Resources, Health, and Interior and Local Government — are not immediately passed.
“We are worried that we might not be able to plant in May. This is our livelihood,” said Romualdo Elvira Jr. in Tagalog, a farmer from the Bicol Region.
Around 70 percent of the Philippines’ corn output, which stood at 7.5 million tons last year, is GM. For more than 12 years, the country’s robust corn production, which nears the 8-million ton self-sufficiency levels, had been dependent on GM corn seeds, a report by the Philippine Statistics Authority said.
“Using non-GM seeds, a hectare yields around 3 tons of corn,” noted farmer Oliver Aldovino, who is from Southern Mindanao. Aldovino, who switched to GM seven years ago, said output doubled with GM corn.
From strife-torn Mindanao, Maitum S. Salendab, 27, was a former defender of the land in a remote town of Datu Paglas in Maguindanao. He said in an interview that he was so used to holding a gun and rifle he did not know what else to do. He was uneducated until he tried and discovered to do corn farming on the very land he was assigned to protect.
“Dati hawak ko lang baril, pero nang matuto ako magtanim ng mais, unti-unti kong natutunan na mas mabuti pala ito [In the past I carried a gun, but when I learned how to plant corn, I slowly realized that this was better],” Maitum said. He added that with the initial P10,000 he earned from farming biotech corn, he was able to finish high school.
Today Maitum has been able to build a home and a small sari-sari store for his family. He still wants to continue planting biotech corn.
“Ang mais ay importante sa atin, maaring sumunod lamang sa palay. Pero ito ay ang aming kabuhayan. Nakamit na sana natin ang sufficiency sa mais sa pamamagitan ng biotech or GM (genetically modified) seeds. Nakapag-export na sana pero heto naman ang El Niño at ang pagpigil sa bisa ng A.O. No. 8,” said farmer-leader Butch Umengan at the consultation.
(“Next to rice, corn is the second most important crop to us. But this is our livelihood. We would have already reached self-sufficiency in corn through biotech or GM seeds. We could have exported already, but now here is El Niño and Administrative Order 8 has been suspended.”)
He and other members of the Philippine Maize Federation Inc (Philmaize) participated in a public consultation with other stakeholders on Wednesday at the Department of Agriculture (DA) as the line agencies hammer out the crucial details of the joint department circular.
SC ruling ‘anti-nationalistic’
The Supreme Court’s December ruling is “anti-nationalistic when you look at it from the perspective of the country’s food security,”said Roger Navarro, president of Philmaize.
Philmaize claims to be the country’s largest organization of corn farmers, comprising 350,000 members nationwide.
Navarro added that contrary to claims by the environment groups, corn farmers had been involved from the start when GM crops were first introduced to the country in the year 2000.
“We have tried and tested GM corn. Our families even eat the corn. We are of good health,” he attested.
Public consultations were made following the order issued by the Supreme Court in December which nullified all importations, applications, testing and commercialization of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology.
Environment groups are calling on the government to tighten the new rules before biosafety permits are issued to companies and groups selling GM seeds. Based on the draft rules, there will be more documentation required from suppliers of GM products.
The public consultations on the crafting of the joint administrative order on the use of GMOs were extended to address all the concerns of the stakeholders, especially the small farmers and environment groups.
The government agencies expect signing of the joint circular on February 23.
The joint administrative order will be based on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international agreement that aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It was adopted in January 2000 and entered into force in September 2003.
After the series of public consultations, the joint circular will also be submitted to the Office of the Solicitor General for their final recommendations.
The issuance of the joint circular is targeted before the end of the month while publication is set within the next 15 days after issuance.
Approval of the joint circular is aimed at preventing a disruption in the food supply chain, especially for the feed milling industry which includes the poultry, livestock and aqua breeders as well.