ISAAA: Surplus, exports possible with Bt corn

The Philippines has the potential to become the top exporter of corn in Asean, especially if more Filipino farmers would plant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn to expand their output, according to international experts.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri Biotech Applications (ISAAA) told the BusinessMirror that planting more Bt corn would allow the Philippines to have a corn surplus, which it could export to neighboring Asian countries.

“Many Asian countries are short of corn and the Philippines could supply their requirement,” Dr. Paul S. Teng, ISAAA board of trustees chairman, said on the sidelines of a news briefing on the global status of genetically modified (GM) crops in 2016, held recently in Alabang.

“Malaysia imports corn, Indonesia imports corn, so these countries would look for possible sources. Only the Philippines plants Bt corn in this region and it has a good history of growing corn, so I think it could become an exporter,” Teng added.

He also noted that the cost of shipping from the Philippines is much lower.

Based on the report of the ISAAA, titled “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2016”, the total hectarage planted with Bt corn in the Philippines reached 812,000 hectares, making the country the 12th-biggest producer of GM crops in the world. The figure was 16 percent higher than the 702,000 hectares recorded in 2015.

“The increase is due to favorable weather conditions, and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks,” ISAAA said.

ISAAA also reported that the adoption rate of Bt corn by Filipino farmers increased to 65 percent in 2016, from 63 percent in 2014. This means that out of the total 1.248 million hectares planted with corn, 812,000 hectares were of Bt seed varieties.

Out of the planted hectarage, 679 hectares were planted with stack traits corn, while the remaining 133,000 hectares were planted with single trait corn.

“In 2003 the area for Bt corn did not even reach 50,000 hectares, and now we are talking about 800,000 hectares. We have yet to receive reports that Bt maize has done harm or caused ailment,” Bureau of Plant Industry OIC Director Dr. Vivencio R. Mamaril said.

“The mere fact that planting area grew to 800,000 hectares is proof that it is a successful crop and farmers believed in it,” Mamaril added.

The ISAAA report noted that Filipino farmers earned an estimated $642 million from planting GM corn in 2003 to 2015. In 2015 alone, farmers recorded earnings of $82 million.

The number of small resource-poor farmers, growing on average 2 hectares of biotech maize in the Philippines in 2016, was estimated at 406,000, up from 350,000 in 2015. Biotech maize is the only GM crop commercialized in the Philippines.

Since the approval of Bt maize in 2003, a total of 6.03 million hectares have been planted with the GM crop, according to the estimates of ISAAA.

The Philippines is currently in the process of developing other biotech crops, including the Bt eggplant, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice.