Developing countries in 2012 marked a biotechnology milestone in global agricultural history when farmers in said countries, including the Philippines, produced more biotech crops than their counterparts from highly developed and more technologically advanced nations.

Dr. Randy A. Hautea, global coordinator and Southeast Asia Center director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), announced this amazing news during the international conference on the “Adoption of Biotech Crops in the Developing World” held recently at the Hyatt Hotel Manila. The conference was co-organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology, an advisory body of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-NAST).

Dr. Hautea termed the milestone development as a “crossover” from economically developed nations to the developing world, allowing farmers in Asia and other less developed nations to reap the benefits of biotech crop cultivation: less use of pesticides, safer farming practices, reduced costs, better crop yield, and higher income, with more extra time spent for other activities.

Biotechnology is the process of creating or modifying a product or process through the use of living systems, organisms, or their derivatives, to render the product or process more useful for medical, agricultural, and nutritional applications, among others.

“The potential of biotechnology to increase agricultural productivity is one of the reasons why we at the DOST believe it is a cause worth pursuing,” said DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo, corroborating the gains offered by biotechnology. Moreover, the DOST supports a science-based method of evaluating both the benefits and risks of GM crops, he clarified.

The conference mainly presented key findings of the research project by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) titled “Adoption and Uptake Pathways of GM/Biotech Crops by Small-scale Resource Poor Asian Farmers in China, India, and the Philippines.”

China and India have been identified as frontrunners in the biotech crop arena in Asia. In fact, 98 percent of biotech crop adopters, or those who have embraced biotechnology in farming, in the developing regions, are from China, India, and the Philippines. Globally, there are 17.8 million farmers from 28 countries who are into biotech crop cultivation. Of this number, 85 percent are from the three countries, with China and India having 7.2 million biotech crop farmers each and the Philippines accounting for .375 million.

Biotechnology: Philippine scenario
According to the study, biotechnology in agriculture reached farming communities in the Philippines by way of seed suppliers and seed company technicians who introduced local farmers to the mechanics and benefits of biotech crop farming.

Now, the Philippines has a total of 370,000 small farmers growing more than 750,000 hectares of genetically modified corn called the Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt corn. The first Asian country to approve a Bt crop for commercial cultivation as both food and feed, the Philipines is also the first ASEAN nation to initiate a regulatory system for biotechnology via the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines established in 1990.

As the Philippines’ central hub for science and technology (S&T), DOST fully supports biotechnology-driven projects, systems, and infrastructure in the country. Last January 2013, Dr. Amelia P. Guevara, DOST undersecretary for research and development, led the inauguration of a biotech pilot plant at the University of the Philippines Los Baños Complex in Laguna—the only biotech facility to cater to researchers, members of the academe, as well as start-up entrepreneurs. The project is funded by the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development, a DOST sectoral council.

Bt cotton in India, China
Seed companies likewise played a key role in introducing Bt cotton technology in China during the late 1990s. The Institute of Cotton Research under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences boosted their efforts by educating local workers and agricultural traders to introduce Bt cotton to the farmers. In 2012, 7.2 million farmers in the country planted 4 million hectares of Bt cotton.

In India, large-scale farm demonstrations helped propagate the technology and popularity of Bt cotton. Last year, farmers in India planted 10.8 million hectares of Bt cotton.

The said conference aimed to help formulate policy recommendations on biotechnology including biosafety regulatory systems. Among the attendees were scientists, researchers, farmers and other workers from the agricultural sector, policymakers, and members of the media. DOST-NAST co-organized the international conference with the John Templeton Foundation, ISAAA, SEARCA, and the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II.

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