• US expert pushes agricultural coexistence at IRRI confab

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    The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) called on nations to further boost food production, saying an expanding global population and the threat of severe weather events compels not only the United States but also other nations to propagate “coexistence” agriculture.

    Dr. Pesach Lubinsky, science advisor at the USDA-New Technologies Division, Foreign Agricultural Service, told participants at a seminar he conducted on September 22 at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that coexistence agriculture will increase yields for rice and other crops by simultaneously nurturing genetically modified (GM) and organic plants in a specific area.

    Under coexistence farming, different types of crops will be grown in an area using different production systems, similar to the concept of “making a hundred flowers bloom and a thousand schools of thought contend” as practiced in Chinese agriculture and politics.

    Coexistence, as defined in a report of the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21), is the concurrent cultivation of conventional, organic, identity preserved (IP), and genetically engineered (GE) crops consistent with underlying consumer preferences and farmer choices.

    Lubinsky noted that the USDA has been promoting coexistence farming in order to rationalize agricultural production since the demand for organic crops has been rising even as the global requirement for food has been growing apace.

    SEARCA Director Gil Saguiguit Jr. said Philippine research institutions are actually engaged more on traditional crop breeding rather than developing GMOs and noted that both PhilRice and IRRI are also conducting work on organic crops.

    In the USDA concept, all the stakeholders—from organic farmers to those who nurture GMO crops—have to confront the issue of global hunger, with 868 million people sleeping nightly on empty stomachs.

    Bigger issue is hunger, not GMOs
    Lubinsky said the USDA wants farmers, consumers as well as government to act in a collective manner “to help US agriculture remain competitive” and revealed that coexistence had been in the works since 2000, when policymakers realized that the bigger issue is hunger and not GMOs and organic produce.

    AC21 also covers issues like the impact of GMOs on traditional organic varieties and how the state can compensate organic farmers should their plants be affected by GMO crops.

    “There will be compensation for those affected but this can be facilitated through the establishment of eligibility standards as well as the specific tools and triggers of impact as well as the testing protocols for verification,” Lubinsky said.

    AC21 is also involved in the conduct of research on coexistence farming as well as gene flow management and assessment of the quality and diversity of US seeds and germplasms.

    Lubinsky noted that the USDA is trying to reach more farmers and promote best farm practices and is working on GMO-related economic losses for organic farmers while improving crop insurance for them.

    USDA is addressing the issue of seed purity and quality seed availability for organic and non-GMO farmers.

    He said the department is conducting stakeholder workshops on current and future actions on coexistence farming.

    Lubinsky said the market demand for US-grown crops is increasing and output from the organic, conventional, and biotechnology sectors must rise in order to meet the demand.

    Thus, the expert noted, the differences and challenges of each sector must be studied and opportunities for growth in each sector should be determined in order to maximize the potentials of the three types of crops.

    Lubinsky noted that as the world population grows, the food requirement also increases and one way of boosting yields is through coexistence farming.

    The seminar was organized by the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP) and the USDA in partnership with the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), IRRI, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture-Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA-BIC), University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), and the UP League of Agricultural Biotechnology Students (UPLABS).

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