IDIS joins calls for DA to rehabilitate Mindanao’s watersheds

February 23rd, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY –  A local  environmental advocacy group welcomed the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) recommendation that the Department of Agriculture and local government units should prioritize watershed rehabilitation in Mindanao to lessen the impact on farming systems in the island.

The Interface Development Interventions, Inc, (IDIS) which advocates for the preservation of the Davao City watershed welcomed BWSM Chief Dr. Silvino Tejada’s remarks but pointed out that rehabilitation should be expanded to include other watershed areas in the island that are in need of protection and preservation.

“Here in Davao, our very own Panigan-Tamugan watershed needs protection as it is being threatened by the expansion of  corporate plantations at the expense of the small farmers”, said IDIS Executive Director Lia Jasmin Esquillo.

Panigan-Tamugan watershed is the location of the City’s future drinking water source.

Esquillo revealed that  in the case of Mt. Tipolog, Davao’s forgotten volcano which lies on the Panigan-Tamugan range, small farmers have been forced to farm the mountain slopes because the lowlands have already been overrun by agri-plantations devoted to pineapple and bananas.

“As in the case of BWSM’s survey on the watershed resources in Northern Mindanao, watersheds here in the Davao region are already overexploited and therefore, small farmers will be at risk from the problems brought about by sudden and frequent climatic change.”, she said.

The BWSM survey, which  evaluated the soil and land resources of watershed areas in Lanao del Norte, Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Norte, had showed that  overexploitation of the natural resources in these areas have resulted to lower productivity among small farms present in the region.

Esquillo said that adopting  organic farming and prohibiting the further expansion of plantation areas are initiatives that DA should be adopting to restore farm productivity. “Since Davao City already has the Organic Agriculture Ordinance, DA should  be mainstreaming organic farming among the barangays in the upland regions as a initial step towards restoring the productivity of the land and in combating threats to food security from climate change”, she said.

Organic farming advocates challenge UPMin to show proof that latest talong plantings are not Bt-modified crops

February 17th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY –  An island network representing organic farmers and their support groups is challenging the University of the Philippines Mindanao’s  (UPMin) assurance that the latest round of eggplant trial testing at its campus site in Bago Oshiro  does  not involve the genetically modified Bt talong.

Go Organic Mindanao (GOM)  in its press statement said that UPMin and Dr. Eufemio Rasco should show proof that the eggplant seedlings which have already been planted in the former field trial site of the Bt talong are not  a new batch of genetically modified eggplants from the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) in UP Los Banos.  “It is not enough that we should take their word for it; because after all, these are the very same people who sought to circumvent local administrative processes in order to carry out the Bt talong field  testing experiment.  UP Mindanao should show proof that these are not genetically modified Bt eggplants. ”, the statement said.

Last January 28, 2011, UPMin Chancellor Dr. Gilda C. Rivero had written Mayor Sarah Duterte informing her of the latest  eggplant experiment which is being conducted by Dr. Eufemio Rasco.  In the letter, she wrote that the latest experiment is a study on pest management of eggplant  and assured the Mayor that the latest plantings do not involve the use of Bt eggplant. “The general objective  (of the experiment) is to determine the relative effectiveness of non-BT control measures”, she wrote.  “The results will also serve as benchmark information for evaluation the severity of the pest problem in Davao City”.   Her letter also asked for the Mayor’s endorsement  of the project to the City Agriculturist Office as well to the NGOs who are against the Bt talong field testing.

But GOM members are not  convinced.  “How are we to know that what they are telling us is the truth? Last week , they told us that the Bt talong field testing is funded by the University  but when copies of the contract came out, we found out that the contract was signed by private entities and not the University itself. Now they are telling us that this new batch is not Bt talong. Are we supposed to believe that at face value?”,   asked  Lia Esquillo, Executive Director of the Interface Development Interventions (IDIS)

Local critics of the latest field experiments point out there were already numerous studies which have been conducted , no less by the Institute of Plant Breeding-UPLB itself.  IDIS Research Head Ann Bolo  revealed that the research of Dr. Merdelyn C. Lit of IPB has provided important data  on the resistance of hundreds of eggplant genotypes and their wild relatives against leafhopper and shoot/fruit borer.  “Dr. Lit’s research had also resulted in the development of efficient field and greenhouse techniques for Host Plant resistance screening of the varieties, so what does Dr. Rasco seek to prove with his research?”, she asked. “If by gauging the effectiveness of non-Bt control measures, they mean to reduce the pest population in the field without use of insecticides, then the Lit research studies  are already a validation that one does not need Bt crops in order to achieve high production yield.”, she said.

Bolo also added that she would be interested in finding out the project’s research design. “UPMin should also release a copy of the research design so that those who doubt the objectives of the experiment will have the chance to see for themselves”, she said.

Meanwhile,  GOM members called on the research proponents to include local farmers in the study. “If the goal of the study is to study organic and conventional methods in pest management, they should not ignore the indigenous farming knowledge that local farmers have in combating eggplant pests”, said Dennie Udtuhan, a community organizer for FARMCOOP. “ Farmers know what’s best for them since they have been doing it for all their lives”, she pointed out.

UPMin challenged: be upfront on the nature of Bt talong field testing

February 16th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY –  Organic groups in Davao challenged the University of the Philippines in Mindanao (UPMin) to be transparent on the true nature of the genetically modified Bt eggplant  field testing.  Previous statements prepared  by UP Mindanao officials on the nature of experimental  trials are now cast in doubt as copies of the contract have recently surfaced , revealing contractual obligations that run contrary to their official statements.

During last week’s hearing of the  City Council Committee on Agriculture, UPMin Chancellor Gilda Rivero said that the Bt talong project is a public research which is funded by taxpayers money. But based on the contract obtained by organic groups, UP Mindanao is not party to the agreement made with the International  Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications ( ISAAA), which made the Bt talong project feasible.

Opponents of the field trial testing have managed to get hold of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the ISAAA  and the University of the Philippines  Los Banos Foundation, Inc  (UPLBFI) and the University of the Philippines Mindanao Foundation Inc. (UPMFI).  Among the glaring  revelations in the contract is that the agreement was signed between private entities, and not with the State University itself.

The MOU lists the UPLBFI as a private corporation in Laguna while the UPMFI is a non-government organization based in Davao City.  Dr. Cecilio Arboleda, UPLBFI Executive Director and Dr. Edmundo Prantilla, UPMFI President  signed the MOU with Dr. Randy Hautea, ISAAA Global Coordinator.

Go Organic Mindanao  (GOM) member and IDIS Executive Director Lia Esquillo said that this shows who  the  real instigators of the project are.   “ Why are Hautea and Rasco insisting that the Bt talong is the property of the University when the contract was  signed between  private entities and not the University itself?”, she asked.

For GOM members, this is proof  that the experiment is not being publicly funded  but rather part of institutional arrangements between multinational corporations and research institutions.

GOM members are also particularly concerned over a  MOU provision which  states that the ISAAA, other than provide funds and technical and admin assistance to the other parties, shall assume no other responsibility and incur no liability  arising  from the conduct  of the field trials.

“So  this means that ISAAA can go scot-free if the Bt talong gene escapes into the local environment and gets consumed  unknowingly ? “ , asked Esquillo.

Last month , a new  analysis on the results of the feeding study  on Bt talong revealed that the genetically modified eggplant poses significant risks to health as it had caused  inflammation, reproductive and liver damage on experimental  rats.

For Dr. Romeo Quijano, a prominent University of the Philippines medical toxicologist, this is enough reason why the Bt talong field testing must be stopped.  Invoking the precautionary principle, he said     “ There are now sufficient indications to show that this particular genetic  modification of the eggplant will result to health related risks in humans . All the more reason, that the field testing must be stopped.”

Dr. Quijano, who also teaches at the UP Manila College of Pharmacology and Toxicology,  further said that, “With the precautionary principle, there is recognition that long-term health impacts of genetically modified crops are difficult to predict and often  impossible to prove,”he said.  “It puts the burden of proof of safety on the polluter, in which case, is Monsanto”, he emphasized.

Organic farming advocates have been quick to point out that the Bt gene was sourced from the eggplant stock of the Maharashtra Hybrid Company (MAHYCO).  MAHYCO is a known subsidiary of Monsanto,  one of the world’s largest multinational agricultural corporation.

The track record of Monsanto on  its devious strategies to ensure monopoly  on seed ownership has been well documented.  Under the guise of doing research to increase crop productivity, it enters into agreement with academic institutions. But the results of these industry studies which are usually submitted to regulators are unpublished and typically kept secret because they claim that it is “confidential business information”.

The MOU underscored  this.  In Section 1.3.8, the MOU obligates  UPMFI  not  to disclose  data info, findings and other incidents produced and borne during the field trial, hence fueling fears that if contamination occurs during the field testing, residents living near the testing site will never even know.

“If the gene contaminates the local varieties , who will tell us that what we are already consuming  are Bt eggplants?”, asked Dagohoy Magaway, a local organic farming advocate.  “And if we get sick from eating these genetically modified eggplants, who will be made  liable?”.

Tom Villarin, Executive Director of SIMCAARD, a non-government organization focusing on farming issues and asset reform said that Hautea and Rasco should come clean on this issue.  “Cut the crap. This is not just about raising crop productivity of eggplant farmers or  ensuring food security for Filipinos”, he said.  “The hidden agenda here is  about multinational corporations trying to control our country’s food production. If they control seed production, they control the food supply. “, he stressed

Attempts to amend OA ordinance a backward step for Davao City, say organic advocates

February 11th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY  – Members of the organic agriculture  movement assailed the plans of the City Council Committee on Agriculture to amend the Organic Agriculture Ordinance of Davao City ostensibly to allow the field testing of the genetically modified Bt talong.

“It is ironic that the call to review the organic agriculture ordinance came after proponents of GMOs attended  a city council hearing presided by Hon. Conde Baluran, Chair on the Committee on Agriculture”, said Tom Villarin, Executive Director of SIMCARRD, a non-government organization focusing on sustainable farming issues and asset reform.

Organic agriculture advocates like SIMCARRD have long maintained that Organic Agriculture and Genetically Modified crops cannot co-exist because of the danger of contamination. “They are poles apart and no win-win solution is possible. Transgenic crops kill indigenous varieties and will make OA impossible.  The city hasn’t even implemented the organic ordinance, now they are already thinking of amending it.  What gives?”, Villarin pointed out.

“Politicians should not fall into the myth that GMO proponents are peddling like it addresses poverty, increases productivity and solves hunger”, said Villarin. “It is a myopic argument that provides a singular solution to complex problems.  Besides it is really the profit interest of modern biotechnology companies that are behind this push for expansion of GMOs”, he added.

The Mindanao PO representative to the National Organic Agricultural Board (NOAB) also decried the attempt to amend  the local policy on organic agriculture.   NOAB Board Member Emalyn Legal that this latest attempt will undermine the advances made by the Philippines in the support of organic agriculture. “GMOs are being rejected worldwide, “she said. “So why should the city rethink its stand just to accommodate the testing of a GM crop?”

Legal, who is also the Advocacy Officer for the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Magsasaka (PAKISAMA,) pointed out the existence of RA 10068 or what is known as the National Organic Agriculture Law  should already be a guidepost for policymakers everywhere to uphold the supremacy of organic agriculture over conventional agricultural technologies like Bt technology.

“If  Negros Island, Bohol and Mindoro in the Visayas can show  the way in rejecting  GMOs, I don’t see why Davao City cannot lead the way for other cities in making Mindanao GMO-free”, she added. (PR)

Ban all GM crops, groups ask city council

February 7th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews) — Groups promoting organic agriculture urged the City Council to reject not only Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant, the first genetically modified vegetable scheduled for commercialization next year, but also all genetically modified crops in Davao City.

Lia Esquillo, executive director of the Interface Development Interventions Inc., made the call during the city council committee on agriculture hearing also attended by scientists and proponents of Bt eggplant.

”We appeal to our councilors to follow our Organic Agriculture Ordinance and to reject not only Bt eggplants but also all genetically modified crops in the city,” Esquillo said, adding, ”We want Davao City to be GMO-free.”

A plant breeder reportedly questioned the uprooting last December of the Bt eggplants field-tested within the 1,000-sq. meter experimental site at the University of the Philippines Mindanao campus in Mintal, prompting the city council committee on agriculture to call a hearing to decide whether or not to allow the field tests here.

Esquillo, a member of the Go Organic Mindanao, said that organic farming and genetically modified crops cannot exist side by side.

Dr. Desiree Hautea, project leader of the Bt eggplant field tests, told the city council UP scientists were keen on developing the insect-resistant genetically-modified eggplants because eggplant is one of the most important vegetables in the country, accounting for some P3 billion annually in the country’s total vegetable crop production.

She said genetically modified eggplants will totally eliminate farmers’ dependence on pesticides.

”Without pesticides, only 15 percent of the farmers’ harvest could reach the market, so what we are doing here is for the farmers,” she explained.
The group Go Organic Davao City, however, said the multinational companies not the farmers will benefit from the latest genetically modified crops.
”We know what happened to Bt corn and Bt cotton,” said a fact sheet distributed by the group during the public hearing, ”Farmers will have to buy seeds at very prohibitive costs every cropping season.”

The group also cited a recent study showing that Bt Brinjal, from which the Bt eggplants are derived, caused organ malfunction when eaten by rats and hence, not recommended for human consumption.

Hautea refused to rebut the results of the scientific experiment but said that the insecticidal protein inserted into the Bt eggplant is broken into amino acids once the eggplants are cooked.

She said rats were fed with powdered raw eggplants during the experiment. Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews