Davao City—A group of farmers here expressed their optimism on the potentials of modern biotechnology to improve their production.
This came after joining researchers, academicians and journalists in a forum dubbed: “Enhancing agricultural production through biotechnology,” held on Friday in this city.
Danilo Bulahan, president of Davao Region School-on-the-Air Coordinators Federation, said the forum has simplified complex issues, such as biotechnology, for farmers like him to understand and appreciate. “It has increased our knowledge on modern farming and ways to increase our income,” Bulahan said.
Bulahan, who is an organic-rice farmer in Asuncion, Davao del Norte, was happy to note that organic farming and biotechnology do not contradict but complement in both principle and practice.
“I am happy to learn that biotechnology has developed varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases,” he added. Bulahan said using modern technologies, such as hybrid rice, has increased his yield from an average of 4 metric tons (MT) to 10.4 MT per hectare.
Director Vivencio Mamaril of the Department of Agriculture- Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO) has allayed farmers’ fears on safety of genetically modified (GM) crops, as a more extensive regulating law has replaced Administrative Order (AO) 8 junked by the Supreme Court (SC) in December 2015.
“Through the new Joint Department Circular [JDC], more agencies are now looking into the trial, field testing and movement of GM crops,” Mamaril said.
He added that the JDC allows the continued propagation of GM crops in the country in accordance with the SC directive and ruling.
“The JDC provides the step-by-step process in making biosafety decisions for the national agencies and local government units [LGU],” Mamaril said. The new guidelines properly delineate the roles of biosafety committees of involved agencies. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) will evaluate applications for contained use and confined test of regulated articles.
Meanwhile, the DA will evaluate applications for field trials, commercial propagation and transboundary movement of regulated articles.
Since the new rules tightened environmental scrutiny to address loopholes cited by the SC, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is evaluating environmental risks and impacts. The DENR will also ensure that environmental assessments are done and impacts identified in biosafety decisions.
The Department of Health (DOH) will assess the health impacts of regulated articles for field trial, commercial propagation and direct use of living modified organisms. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) will coordinate with the DA, the DOST, the DENR and the DOH in overseeing the implementation circular with the LGUs, particularly in the conduct of public hearings and consultations.
Longing for change
Remelyn Recoter, DA director in Region 11, said the forum comes at the most opportune time when the whole nation is looking forward to change as a result of the May elections.
“For the agriculture sector, one area that has been longing for change, particularly on favorable policies from the government to provide our farmers access to modern and advanced technologies, is the biotechnology program,” Recoter said.
While various studies have proven the potentials of biotechnology to improve farm production, lack of awareness continues to haunt farmers and consumers due to misinformation. Recoter is optimistic that incoming Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol will give importance to the use of biotech, considering that one of his priority agenda is the fast and effective transfer of technologies to our farmers.
Meanwhile, Stephen Joel Paredes of the J. Burgos Media Inc. said the lack of scientific understanding has compromised and aggravated the quality of debates. “Argumentation leads to political and ideological domains, which are even more complicated than science itself.”
Paredes, who is also one of the allies of the Cornell Alliance for Science, said there should be more activities, such as the Davao’s biotech forum, to bring truthful and science-based information to the public. “So that the role of agriculture in feeding a hungry world is better understood and appreciated.”
Last week’s biotech forum was attended by 60 participants from farming communities, academe, research centers and the media. The J. Burgos Media Inc. organized the event in partnership with DA-11 Information Section, Cornell Alliance for Science Philippines and DA-Biotechnology Program Office.
Great news. GE crops are definitely part of a more productive, more sustainable future.
I agree. But we really need to have stringent measures to make sure that the GE crops we are growing for animal feed and our food are safe, and environment-friendly, too.