Davao City’s Upland Watersheds

January 29th, 2011 by

Why are Davao’s upland watersheds important?

Water. They provide the present and future sources of drinking water for the city.

Mountains. Homes of Mts. Apo, Talomo and Tipolog, mountain towers crucial in the production of freshwater for Davao. It is where a significant amount of rainwater seeps in to fill the City’s underground sources of water.

Diversity. Home of the Philippine Eagle, tarsier, rare birds and exotic flora. The Philippine Eagle reflects the biodiversity of the area, important in maintaining ecological balance.

People. The uplands are home to the Bagobo-Obo tribe and their descendants who have lived side by side with nature and have for so long played a major role in conserving our water sources.

What is happening to the watersheds today?

Massive deforestation due to illegal logging and years of neglect endanger the Davao mountain’s capacity to continue serving its function as large water reservoirs.

The expansion of agricultural plantations is dramatically changing the landscape of the uplands resulting in soil erosion, landslides, and flashfloods, threatening our water sources.

With intensive agriculture is heavy pesticide use. The use of aerial spraying as a method to apply pesticide in plantations further exacerbates the amount of pesticide the small farmer is exposed to.

Policies that aim to protect our uplands are routinely ignored worsening our environmental problems and marginalizing upland peoples.

Poverty in the uplands. As large plantations encroach upland areas, small farmers are driven up higher into the mountain doing subsistence farming.

Organic farming advocates refute DA official’s claims; organic agriculture is the key to crop productivity.

January 28th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY –  Members of the Go Organic Mindanao movement refuted  the statements made by Department of Agriculture official, Dr. Saturnina Halos, when she urged city councilors at a briefing last week to review the law that promotes organic agriculture because it can impede crop production in the country.

“It is unfortunate that  Dr. Halos is misinformed”, said Dondon Florentino, National Coordinator for the Movement  for the Advancement of Sustainable Agriculture (MASA) Philippines. Florentino pointed out that there is already a global consensus  among international scientists and policymakers  that organic agriculture can address local and global food security challenges.

MASA Philippines , a national movement of sustainable farming practitioners and advocates, is  a member of the Go Organic Mindanao.

According to Florentino,  the key towards ensuring  food sustainability is to reorient local and global food systems towards greater social equity and sustainability. “While industrial farming has brought some benefits, it has done so at the expense of the environment and social equity.”, he said.  “The shift to organic agriculture will reverse those trends, and could also tackle climate change”, he added, pointing out that conventional agriculture, together with deforestation and rangeland burning, are responsible for 30% of the CO2 and 90% of nitrous oxide emissions worldwide.

Another GOM member, the Third World Network (TWN)  , also deplored the DA official’s recommendation. “ Such recommendations are contrary to DA Secretary Alcala’s agenda of promoting  organic agriculture as the key to food productivity.  We would check with Secretary Alcala, if he knows what his subordinate is blabbering about”, said Atty. Lee Aruelo, TWN Associate.

“Even the United Nations  Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has already come out in favour of organic agriculture because it can overcome the faults of conventional farming systems”, Aruelo declared.

In particular, Aruelo cited  findings from the United Nations-led International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)  which warned that the continued dependence on technological fixes- such as transgenic crops- is an approach unlikely to address persistent hunger and proverty.

The IASSTD is a World Bank-initiated international effort that evaluates the relevance, quality and effectiveness of agricultural knowledge,sciend and technology. It is an intergovernmental process , involving  110 countries, and under the co-sponsorship of international agencies like the FAO, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO and WHO.

According to Aruelo, the report showed that in general, the IAASTD found little evidence to support a conclusion that modern biotechnologies are well suited to meeting the needs of small-scale and subsistence farmers, particularly under the increasing unpredictable environmental and economic conditions that they face.

The report urges policymakers and scientists to re-think biotechnology as a cure  for food sustainability.  Among its recommendations are:

  • Engage all stakeholders in open, informed, transparent and participatory debate about new and emerging biotechnologies.
  • Use the precautionary approach in decision-making (e.g. as per the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety), which may entail prohibiting the transfer of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) among countries that are centers of origin or of genetic diversity.
  • Limit production of GMO plants in regions that have wild relatives and show botanical characteristics that could contaminate the gene pool. Build institutions to support social equity and sustainability
  • Revise intellectual property laws to prevent misappropriation of Indigenous, women’s, and local people’s knowledge; establish IP rules that recognize farmers’ and independent researchers’ rights to save, exchange and cultivate seed, particularly for purposes of livelihood and/or public interest research.
  • Strengthen the capacity of farmers, Indigenous peoples, vulnerable or marginalized communities and developing countries to engage effectively in international discussions and negotiations (for example, around intellectual property,bilateral, regional or global trade, climate change, environment, sustainable development, etc).
  • Establish and enforce fair competition rules to reverse harmful effects of corporate concentration and vertical integration in the food and agriculture industry.

Aruelo reitierated GOM’s call for to stop the testing of genetically modified organisms nationwide. “ Instead of promoting GM crops, DA should take note of the IAASTD recommendations to better improve the sustainability of  farming practices on the grassroots level”,  she added.

Florentino, meanwhile called for more support for small farmers from the Aquino administration.  “The  passage of the Organic Agriculture Law is the right direction.  The government should follow it up with continued support for small farmers by ensuring that they have secure access to land, seeds, water, information, credit, marketing structure and information. “, he said. (PR)

New international study shows Bt gene to be toxic

January 28th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY –   Organic  farming advocates in Davao welcomed the latest independent  study which revealed that  the consumption of the Bt eggplant can  cause inflammation, reproductive disorders and liver damage.

The Institute for  Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology released a report prepared by  Lou Gallagher, an environmental epidemiologist and risk assessment expert  from New Zealand , which revealed that the safety claims made for the Bt  brinjal (eggplant) are unwarranted and not supported by existing data.  “On the contrary, there are alarming signs that the consumption of food derived from these plants could result in adverse health effects”, Gallagher said.

After analyzing the raw data of the 14 and 90-day feeding studies of the Bt brinjal on experimental rats, she confirmed that there is  “organ and systems damage: with  OVARIES at half their normal weight, enlarged spleens with white blood cell counts at 35 to 40 percent higher than normal with elevated eosinophils, indicating immune function changes;  and toxic effects to the liver: as demonstrated by elevated bilirubin and elevated plasma acetylcholinesterase”.

She then concluded that on the basis of the existing data, the genetically engineered eggplant cannot be recommended for human consumption. ““Major health problems among test animals were ignored in these reports. The single test dose used was lower than recommended by the Indian protocols. Release of Bt brinjal for human consumption cannot be recommended given the current evidence of toxicity to rats in just 90 days and the studies’ serious departures from normal scientific standards”. ,she said.

Go Organic Mindanao Coordinator Angelica Castro said that this latest report underscored the dangers of the Bt eggplant to human health.  “The City Government of Davao was correct in deciding to uproot the Bt talong from the experimental site to prevent contamination and the eventual accidental consumption of the Bt eggplant”, she said.

The gene being used in  Bt talong has been sourced from the same stock of bt brinjal hybrids being tested in India. The Bt eggplant is genetically engineered to produce insecticidal proteins (called Bt toxin) which target  the Eggplant Fruit and Shoot  Borer (EFSB) pest.

But according to Dr. Rodel Maghirang,  Bureau of Plant Industry scientist,  there is really no need for Bt talong because there are varieties which are resistant to EFSB.  Maghirang who was in Davao last November  11, 2010  to give a seminar on Integrated Pest Management to personnel of the City Agriculture Office was asked about  his opinion on the Bt talong issue. “May matitibay na  tayong variety ng talong pero nagdevelop pa rin sila ng Bt mainly for money.”, he said.

UP Mindanao  has repeatedly  maintained that it is testing the open pollinated variety (OPV)  which it intends to  distribute to small farmers everywhere.

But GOM members are not convinced.  Interface Development Interventions  Policy Advocacy Officer Chinkie Pelino-Golle said that the field testing of the OPV Bt talong opens the  gates for further  testing of commercial varieties  of genetically modified BT talong which  are better than the OPV but will be sold in the market.  “ Who will then stand to gain from this scenario? Certainly not the small farmers who cannot afford to buy these hybrid seeds. Only Monsanto, who will continue to profit from these seeds”, she said.

The Bt eggplant was originally developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company  (Mahyco), the Indian subsidiary of the US seeds corporation Monsanto.  Mahyco  had sub-licensed the technology to the University of the Philippines in Los Banos to develop Bt talong in the Philippines.

Gallagher’s  findings are the latest in the list of negative findings on the Bt eggplant . In 2010, negative findings have already been discovered from an examination of the dossier by  Jack Heinemann (Genomics), Judy Carman (study design and statistical rigour etc) and the authoritative environmental risk assessment by Andow (published), which confirme  that the ERA (Environmental Risk Assessment) for Bt brinjal has essentially not been done.

Cancellation of permit to test genetically modified eggplant hailed

January 19th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—Advocates of sustainable agriculture welcomed the decision of the Bureau of Plant Industry to cancel the permit to test-grow genetically modified eggplant, locally referred to as “BT talong.”

The bureau had granted the permit to the University of the Philippines in Mindanao and the Visayan State University in Baybay, Leyte.

In an order dated December 29 but made public by groups opposed to the propagation of genetically modified organisms on Tuesday, BPI director Clarito Barron said all Biosafety Permits for field testing were being suspended due to lack of public consultation before these were conducted.

“All activities related to the field trial must cease immediately until rectification of the condition for public consultations is carried out,” Barron said.

Barron pointed out that in the case of UP Mindanao and the VSU, no public information sheets had been posted in the city hall of Davao and the municipal hall of Baybay.

The lack of public consultation also angered Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

She ordered a halt to the testing and the uprooting of Bt talong plants here—some of which were already in the flowering stage—in December.

Prof. Nilo Oponda, UP Mindanao vice chancellor for academic affairs, later said in a statement that the university never violated any law when it went through with the field testing.

But he admitted that the university did not post the public information sheet that the BPI had required of them.

“UP Mindanao has not violated any requirements that would impact on biosafety and public health. The cease and desist order is not based on violation of any of these concerns but only on an administrative lapse—the lack of posting of the public information sheet (PIS),” Oponda said.

Oponda also maintained that the testing was done in a confined site.

Lia Jasmin Esquillo of Go Organic Mindanao (GOM) said that with the decision, the BPI should also cancel permits it issued to other institutions.

She pointed out that eggplant modified with the genes of the Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) bacteria is still being tested at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato; Sta. Maria, Pangasinan; Pili, Camarines Sur; Sta. Barbara, Iloilo; and Bae in Laguna.

“We ask the Department of Agriculture to suspend all field trials on BT eggplants because we are certain that that the proponents have violated provisions in the permit,” Esquillo said.