The Philippines continues to be the top producer of biotech crops in Southeast Asia as corn areas dedicated to genetically modified (GM) corn surged by almost a fifth last year, an industry report said.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) reported that the country has outpaced Southeast Asia in terms of biotech or GM crop application, and ranking 12th biggest producer of such crops worldwide. The ISAAA was launched on May 4, 2017 in Beijing, China.
ISAAA noted that around 185.1 million hectares of biotech crops were planted in 26 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North and Latin America in 2016. Of this area, 812,000 hectares of biotech corn was planted in the Philippines, a 16 percent or 110,000 hectare increase from 702,000 in 2015.
The increase was due to favorable weather conditions and high demand for livestock and feed stocks.
Approved for commercial planting in 2002, GM corn is the only biotech crop planted in the Philippines.
The adoption rates of GM corn also increased to 65 percent in 2016 from 63 percent in 2015. Two years ago, the number of small, resource-poor farmers tilling 2 hectares of corn land on average was estimated at over 406,000.
According to the report, the farm level economic benefit of planting GM corn in the country is estimated to have reached $642 million from 2003 to 2015. In 2015 alone, the net national impact of GM crop on farm income was estimated at $82 million.
There are only 13 biotech events approved for cultivation in the Philippines, with the latest given in 2014. There have been 88 biotech crop event approvals for food, feed, and processing cultivation in the Philippines, including: alfalfa (two events), rapeseed (two), cotton (eight), corn (52), potato (eight), rice (one), soybean (14) and sugar beet (one).
Current research and development efforts on GM crops in the Philippines include products from the public sector: fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant led by the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (IPB-UPLB); biotech papaya with delayed ripening and papaya ring spot virus (PRSV) resistant variety; Bt cotton being developed by the Philippine Fiber Development Administration (PFIDA), formerly the Cotton Development Authority; and Golden Rice (GR), a biotech rice biofortified with provitamin A beta-carotene that is being developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
The Philippines continues to be at the forefront of biotech research and commercialization in Southeast Asia, and the acceptance of GM crops in the country has been demonstrated by key stakeholders including the general public.
A joint department circular (JDC) was put together in three months last year, after the Supreme Court nullified and invalidated the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 8 (DA AO8), which served as the national policy on biotech and GM crops for more than 20 years. Future commercialization of Bt eggplant, PRSV-R papaya, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice will be regulated under the new JDC.
Despite a temporary decline in biotech and GM corn area in 2015, Philippine production rebounded in 2016 as the adoption rates for the crop increased with benefits reaped by Filipino consumers and farmers.
More than 18 million small farmers have benefited from biotech crops in the last 21 years.
In recent years, the adoption of biotech crops has reduced CO2 emissions equivalent to removing approximately 12 million cars from the road annually. Biotech crops have helped conserve biodiversity by saving 174 million hectares of land from being ploughed and cultivated, and decreased the environmental impact of agriculture by reducing herbicide and insecticide applications, and environmental impact by 19 percent in 1996 to 2015.
In developing countries, planting biotech crops has helped alleviate hunger and poverty by increasing the incomes of 18 million small farmers and their families, bringing improved financial stability to more than 65 million people.