GMO corn is transforming farmers’ lives in Philippines 

By Nkechi Isaac

January 25, 2019

“Before now, I didn’t sleep well when I planted corn in my field,” recalled Edwin Paraluman, a farmer from the Philippines. “I was always afraid that I would wake up one day to find my corn field destroyed by the corn borer. This is because the corn borer in the Philippines does not respect any season, it is always there in the corn field.”

Paraluman said his endless worries and precautions did very little to curtail the huge losses arising from the corn borer problem. “I would always lose when I planted corn and it came to a time when l had to stop planting corn and shifted to vegetables. I planted squash, string beans, other crops,” he added.

That was a disturbing course of events for Paraluman, who had been planting corn with his parents since childhood and continued the practice when he started his own family.

So his “joy knew no bounds” when he learned there was a technology that could deal with the corn borer in his country. Paraluman was among the first farmers in Philippines to embrace this new technology and plant the genetically modified pest-resistant Bt corn.

Edwin Paraluman was a pioneer in planting Bt corn in the Philippines.

The Philippines is the first country in Southeast Asia to approve the commercial cultivation of a genetically modified crop for feed and food. Bangladesh was the first country in South Asia to approve such a crop with its commercialization of pest-resistant Bt brinjal, or eggplant.

Bt corn in the Philippines was designed to be resistant to the Asiatic corn borer (ACB), Ostrinia furnacalis (Guenee), one of the nation’s most destructive corn pests.  The crop also presents a practical and ecologically sustainable solution for poor corn farmers everywhere to increase their yields and decrease pesticide use, thus improving their health and livelihoods, alleviating poverty.

Paraluman, who shared his story with an audience at last November’s United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, said that growing Bt corn changed his life. It gave him peace of mind and more time to do other things, like care for his family and take up side jobs.

“In December 2003, Bt corn was commercialized and I was the first farmer that planted it. The first time I planted Bt corn, I was so amazed that in seven hectares that I planted I didn’t see any corn borer,” he recalled. “There was no more damage to my corn. I planted the corn and it changed my life. Before now my house was just so small but now it is really big. Now, my income is good and I can make the right budgeting for my family. It increased my income and I am now going around telling other farmers that this technology is very good.”

Paraluman refuted claims that genetically modified crops cause health problems. “The people that were saying this would make you sick when we started initially have seen it is not true because I have proven it,” he noted. “I have been eating it for the past 14 years and I am still hale and hearty. So, it’s 14 years that I’ve been planting this corn and there’s not been any adverse effect on our health.”

Adopting Bt technology has made the Philippines self-sufficient in corn production, he said. The country no longer imports corn and the farmers are now planning to export the crop because they have surplus.

Dr. Rhodora Aldemita, director of the global knowledge center on crop biotechnology at ISAAA, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotch Applications, said farmers in the Philippines previously recorded a 30 to 50 percent loss to the corn borer, which destroyed the nation’s corn production.

“The corn borer problem in the Philippines had devastating effect on corn production,” Aldemita said. “The cost of corn went up because we had been importing. We needed to import because we needed to have feeds for livestock. So when the [Bt corn] approval came and farmers started planting in 2003, they were then able to get hold of the technology and were able to share the information from one farming site to another because they saw that the benefit is tremendous. It spread like wild fire. There’s no longer a lot of spraying and there’s minimal cultural management in the field. ”

More than 400,000 farmers are now planting Bt corn in the Philippines, Paraluman said. “Biotechnology has been helping farmers in the Philippines and there are other Bt products in the pipeline, like Bt cotton, eggplant, Golden Rice, which we’re really supporting. Our population is more than 107 million and our land is decreasing. We need modern technology for agriculture so that we can plant and harvest more on less land,” he added.