GREEN MINDED: Thoughts on Philippine Agriculture Today

With the worsening crisis in our nation’s rice industry brought by neo-liberal globalization, people especially in Mindanao Island use corn as an alternative staple. However the corn industry is being threatened by the contamination of genetically modified organism (GMO). A recent study conducted by farmer-scientist advocacy group Magsasaka at Siyentipiko sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag) exposes a new variety of corn that might trick the rice-consuming population in Mindanao.

The white corn variety that is indigenous to the Philippines which consumers prefer over the GM (genetically modified) corn has a GM counterpart known as sige-sige variety. Sige-sige corn is also an RR corn, RR is a short-hand term for Round-up Ready Corn an herbicide tolerant variety produced by agro-chemical giant Monsanto. According to Masipag’s research, sige-sige are widely planted in various provinces in Mindanao: North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Bukidnon, Sarangani, Agusan Del Sur, Compostela Valley and Davao Del Norte. It also noted that there are portions of the Visayan Island that grow this GM corn.

Along with the growing support for organic agriculture and growing consciousness for healthy lifestyle at least 12 countries already banned the cultivation of GM Corn within Europe alone. Austria, Germany, France, Romania, Luxembourg, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Scotland, Switzerland, Italy and Latvia expressed their dissatisfaction with GM corn.

Avid supporters of GMO might still argue about the safety of GM, but the rich experiences of ecologically destructive effects from communities in various regions that used to grow GM crops in our contemporary history can easily disprove their claims. Remember the sick farm workers in the cotton fields in India that grows Bollgard, a GM cotton?

Another populist assertion to justify genetic engineering is its scientific value and relevance. I do have great respect with people in the science community, especially to those hard working researchers. I have nothing against with genetic engineering in the context of pure research. However, multi-national companies are making profit by fooling our people in the guise of research and field tests, now that’s bad science.

The necessity of having GM crops in agricultural production is pure fiction, especially in third world countries where pervasive landlessness and lack of technology are more pressing concerns. There is a mismatch between the problems in the Philippine agricultural economy and the programs being given by the past and present administrations.

Now, let us be scientific in dealing with the Philippine agricultural economy. A review on basic scientific method can be of great help. In a nutshell scientific method basically entails problem identification, hypothesis building, experimentation and drawing of conclusions.

In the context of Philippine agriculture the primary problem is severe landlessness where 7 out of 10 farmers remain to be landless. Landlessness spawns more and complex problems like usury, land use conversion and mono-cropping, among others. Moreover the government that is dominated by landlords will never sincerely address this problem, instead trivial programs and fictional solutions like variety through the introduction GMO were being implemented in order to divert the land problem issue which is fundamental.

Farming system that involves the use of GM crops is highly dependent in chemical based pesticides. Another problematic issue that will confront us with regard to GMO is the monopoly of seeds and inputs like pesticides. Dependence on agrochemical companies will never solve the problem in our agricultural economy, it will further destroy the production system that is supposedly sustainable, the soil profile, and our aquifers beneath the soil and so on.

In other crops like rice there are GM varieties that contain terminator gene that will restrict the reproduction of that particular variety, therefore if we are going to produce these varieties, it will only last for only one cropping. Farmers will keep on buying seeds every time they plant, instead of providing them the sufficient knowledge and technological advance in breeding and recombination of locally suited varieties.

GM production will surely be a double murder for our farmers. First, monopoly capitalist will extort them with high prices of seeds and seedlings and second, the dependence on chemical based pesticides that is already costly will also increase. Chemical based agriculture will not solve pest problems, it will only worsen it.

Dependence and sustainability are two contradicting points, especially in the context of the Philippine agriculture. For the longest time our policies and programs were highly dependent in agro-chemical companies, not a single administration pushed for a progressive and sustainable framework for agriculture. Now here comes a seemingly “new technology” (which is actually obsolete in more advance countries), and the landlord dominated bureaucracy will obviously shift and promote this to escape the real problem in our agricultural economy.

Davao City’s stand when it comes to GMO is a good one, the ban on GM crops in Davao City should serve as an inspiration to the various local government units throughout the country. As we call for the ban on GM crops there is a greater need to advance a sustainable agricultural policies and practices. Sustainable agriculture is the most scientific agricultural system that will address the growing needs of this agricultural nation.

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