The Philippine Fiber Development Authority (PhilFida) is targeting to plant cotton in at least 660 hectares across the country this year as part of government efforts to revitalize the local garments industry.
PhilFida Executive Director Kennedy T. Costales told the BusinessMirror that the attached agency of the Department of Agriculture (DA) received a P96-million budget from Sen. Loren B. Legarda for its cotton-development project.
“We are reviving the cotton industry for our traditional weaving industry and to give farmers an additional source of income,” Costales said in a recent interview.
He added the PhilFida is planning to plant cotton in about 150 hectares in Tarlac, 160 hectares in Ilocos and another 350 hectares in Mindanao in the second half of the year.
PhilFida Regional Director Edison Riñen said the country’s cotton cropping season could start as early as September, while harvest may start in March.
Riñen said the agency plans to plant cotton mostly in Sarangani province due to the availability of land and the suitability of its climate for cotton production.
“It is the widest area right now in Mindanao with few competing crops in the area and the climate there is favorable for cotton,” he told the BusinessMirror in an interview.
The PhilFida chief revealed that they are planning to plant the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton variety, which will be sourced from India. However, he said, the agency is still awaiting the Bureau of Plant Industry’s (BPI) issuance of import permits to procure the seeds from India.
“PhilFida submitted a memorandum to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol and he has approved the importation of Bt cotton from India. So we will import the seeds and plant the variety this year, if it arrives early,” Costales said.
Riñen also said the importation of Bt cotton from India is part of PhilFida’s application for the propagation of the GM crop in the country.
However, should the importation be deferred by the BPI, then the PhilFida would use non-Bt cotton varieties for its cotton-development project this year, according to Riñen. These varieties, he said, are UPL C2 and NSIC CT11.
“It is very important for us to import the Bt cotton seeds because it has a built-in resistance to pests like bollworm, and cuts the use of pesticides. A reduction in pesticide use would be beneficial to farmers’ health and the environment,” he said.
“Furthermore, the yield of Bt cotton is more than double the yield of local varieties. If local varieties yield an average of 1 metric ton, Bt cotton can produce around 2 MT to 3 MT and more,” Riñen added.
He also expressed apprehension that the PhilFida may not be able to hit its target of planting cotton in 660 hectares this year if the agency will not be able to use Bt cotton.
Riñen explained that the project is being done in partnership with identified farmers and cooperatives. These farmers, Riñen added, prefer Bt cotton as it is cheaper to cultivate.
“Farmers want the Bt cotton variety because they are forced to use pesticides on non-Bt cotton varieties. The Philippines is capable of producing the non-Bt cotton variant, but what will the government do if farmers do not want to plant it?” he said.
Riñen said the PhilFida’s Bt cotton project has already passed the first two stages of the government’s approval process for genetically modified crops, which include direct usage and field trials.
Costales said the PhilFida was only able to plant non-Bt cotton in about 19 hectares, out of its target of 26 hectares, in Luzon. He added these areas are expected to produce about 19 MT to 28.5 MT of cotton by March.
The Philippines currently imports all of the cotton required by local garments manufacturers.