The Philippine Star

Scientists back calls to revive crop biotechnol­ogy


The Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineerin­g (PAASE) has joined the growing calls for the resumption of developmen­t and field testing of geneticall­y modified eggplant in the country to boost crop productivi­ty.

Biotechnol­ogy is a revolution­ary tool that is transformi­ng the agricultur­al sector. Crops developed by genetic engineerin­g can not only be used to enhance yields and nutritiona­l quality but also to safeguard crops against disease.

Eggplant, the leading vegetable crop in the country in terms of both volume and area of production, is a valuable source of income for Filipino farmers.

Eggplant production in the Philippine­s covers approximat­ely 22,000 hectares, yielding a volume of about 220,000 metric tons annually, valued at about PhP 2.6 billion.

The emergence of the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) as a major pest of eggplant in the country has been catastroph­ic to both farm productivi­ty and farmers’ income, and has imperiled food security in vast areas heavily invested in the crop.

An estimated 51 to 73 percent of the crop is lost when no form of pest control is provided.

Such potential massive production losses prompt the liberal applicatio­n of 60 to 80 pesticide sprays during a planting season, costing farmers about P28,000 per hectare on pesticides, representi­ng 29 percent of total production costs.

Consequent­ly, eggplant products become not only laced with pesticides, but their price also jumps from ordinarily about P45 to P70 per kilo – an unaffordab­le price to most urban low-income consumers.

Given the lack of effective pest-control approaches against FSB available to Filipino eggplant farmers, the developmen­t of an alternativ­e technology in the form of Bt talong – devoid of the establishe­d risks to humans, farm animals and other non- target organisms that chemical pesticides typically pose – becomes both a desirable and an urgent imperative.

PAASE, an internatio­nal organizati­on of scientists and engineers who have distinguis­hed themselves research-related activities and who are of Philippine descent – based in the Philippine­s, US or elsewhere, said the use of biotechnol­ogy would significan­tly increase agricultur­al productivi­ty in areas severely affected by FSB, and i raise farmers’ income by about P50,000 per hectare. The developmen­t of Bt talong cultivars directly supports the country’s aspiration for inclusive growth and poverty reduction, said PAASE, which promotes the advance cement of science, engineerin­g and technology. “Results from numerous biosafety and toxicologi­cal studies have allowed the US Environmen­tal Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organizati­on (WHO) to conclude that the consumptio­n of geneticall­y modified (GM) farm products which produce Bt toxins is safe and unlikely to pose health hazards to humans and non-target animals owing to the specificit­y of the insecticid­al activity of Bt toxin to specific arthropods,” PAASE noted.

In Asia, Bangladesh has already approved the commercial planting of Bt talong, and its government has been providing seeds to farmers on a royalty-free basis since 2013. In India,

The Philippine­s, on the other hand, was the first country in Asia to approve the commercial cultivatio­n of GMO corn for food and animal feed in 2002.

Today, around 70 percent of the corn planted in the Philippine­s is GMO. The Philippine­s has also been importing GMO crops, particular­ly soybeans and cotton, for more than a decade.

“Given, however, that extensive research studies have provided scientific evidence for the relative safety of Bt-derived insecticid­al proteins in humans and animals – and considerin­g the projected significan­t positive impact of Bt talong on the Philippine­s’ food security and farmers’ incomes – the resumption and continuati­on of the research and developmen­t and field-testing of Bt talong in the Philippine­s with a view to generating the necessary empirical data to evaluate its environmen­tal biosafety specifical­ly in the Philippine­s is fully justified and should be urgently prioritize­d,” PAASE said.

“Analysis of the relevant technology-transfer arrangemen­ts, the patent and plant-variety protection on Bt talong reveals that Filipino farmers would be able to grow Bt talong cultivars without royalty costs and, thus, would not become economical­ly subservien­t to any particular entity that would otherwise be able to control the Bt talong market. From an intellectu­al-property standpoint, Filipino farmers are well-positioned to reap the economic benefits of cultivatin­g the insect-resistant Bt talong cultivar,” it added.

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