More farmers adopt biotech corn in Mindanao

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Asia TimesGENERAL SANTOS CITY – Farm areas in Mindanao planted with genetically engineered Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn have reportedly reached 6,700 hectares as of January this year, two years after the national government allowed the crop`s commercialization.

Ronaldo Cayomo, territory head for Mindanao at biotechnology company Monsanto Philippines, said in a briefing that local farmers` adoption of the technology has continued to increase despite the continuing opposition of various religious and environmental groups.

He cited that farmers in South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City, which comprise the Socsksargen growth area, have so far taken the lead in terms of adopting the technology, with Bt corn areas now reaching at least 4,500 hectares.

The rest of the Bt corn areas are scattered in the Bukidnon area and the traditional corn-producing areas in Northern Mindanao, according to Cayomo.

“The rate of adoption of Bt corn by our farmers here is slower compared with farmers in Luzon, but it is so far continuously rising,” he said.

Cayomo noted Luzon farmers now account for more than half of the country`s Bt corn areas, which are concentrated mainly in central and northern Luzon.

Cayomo said the Socsksargen area, which hosted at least four Bt corn field trials, appears to be the most ideal area in terms of Bt corn production.

He cited that the locality has around 56,000 hectares of possible expansion area for the biotechnology crop, of which 28,000 hectares are in South Cotabato.

Cayomo said based on their evaluation, farmers using the Bt corn could gain as much as a 40% increase in yield as compared with the conventional and hybrid varieties.

This could translate to an increase in yield of at least 2.5 tons per hectare depending on the area planted, he said.

Monsanto`s Bt corn, which was mainly developed to resist corn borer attacks, was approved for commercialization by the government in December 2002. Using the brand name YieldGard Corn Borer, the crop was the first biotech food crop approved in Asia.

Monsanto said in a statement that the crop had been planted on 54,000 hectares of land as of 2004, benefiting mostly smallholder Filipino farmers.

Commercialization of the Bt corn was met with protests by local militant farmers, environmental activists and religious groups led by the Social Action Center of the Diocese Marbel who claimed that the continued use of the crop may pose risks to human health and the environment.

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