Plant Science Post

Bt Corn Doubled My Production – Filipino Farmer

March 10, 2016

Edwin Paraluman knows a thing or two about how important biotechnology is to Filipino farmers. He’s a farmer, the chairman of the Philippines Farmer Advisory Board, the coordinator of the Asian Farmers Regional Network and a board member of the Biotech Coalition of the Philippines. Hear his amazing story about how biotech transformed his life and agriculture in the Philippines.

Why did you decide to grow biotech corn?

I had stopped planting corn on my farm because of damage from the corn borer. But when I saw biotech insect-resistant corn and learned how the crop could resist the corn borer and increase my harvest, I was very happy to accept it.

I planted my first five hectares of Bt corn 12 years ago and at that point I was one of only two farmers planting it! Many other farmers were afraid to plant it because of the anti-GMO campaigners who said the technology was not good, could cause cancer and would harm the environment.

But from the two of us, there are now 400,000 farmers in the Philippines who are growing biotech crops. The farmers have seen that this technology is good for us and it boosts our economy.

How has biotechnology impacted your life?

Before I started planting Bt corn, I would harvest 3.5 tons per hectare. But now I am harvesting seven tons per hectare. So, it really helps me and my family.

I used to have a very little house and during the rainy season, when we were sleeping, the rain would come in through the roof! But now, I have changed my house for a better one. That’s how technology can change our lives.

What’s the greatest challenge to growing biotech crops in the Philippines?

Before we planted Bt corn, the campaigning from anti-GMO groups was really very strong. The community was made to be afraid of Bt and when I planted it, my neighbors would say: “If my goat or my cow eats the corn you are planting, that is dangerous.”

But for us farmers, we realized it was not dangerous at all. I have eaten corn from every harvest I have made, so I now say to the community: “See me? If it was dangerous, then maybe after 12 years I would not be standing in front of you now. So this is a safe technology. Why are you saying this is dangerous?”

But anti-GMO campaigners are still a challenge. Currently our farmers are waiting for the Bt eggplant to be commercialized because that is the number one vegetable in our country. Bangladesh has commercialized it already, but because of anti-GMO lobbying there has been a legal decision from the Philippines Courts to stop the trials. They won that battle and the campaigners remain one of our challenges today.

Why is biotechnology important for the nation?

We have a rising population – we are more than 100 million people and counting. If we do not adopt modern technology, many people will go hungry. Our aim as farmers is to feed the nation, so we should adopt biotechnology.

We cannot afford to go back to the primitive ways of planting, because our yields were too small. With biotechnology, we have higher yields. It’s beneficial to our health, and it enhances our livelihoods – not only for our families, but also the health of consumers. So we are looking ahead for some other innovations that will be introduced to our farmers.

What does the future hold for biotech crops in the Philippines?

I was really excited for the Bt eggplant, but that trial has been stopped.

Currently the Philippines has Bt cotton in the pipeline. Our cotton industry has died due to the damage of the cotton bollworm so we are happy that this new crop is coming.  We also have the ringspot virus resistant papaya that will be commercialized.

It’s good the farmers and we are looking ahead to more technologies that will be introduced by our scientists.

See videos from Edwin and other participants talking plant biotechnology at our inaugural Table for Twenty dinner here: