Let the farmers decide

Posted by on Sep 28, 2015 in Activities, News | 0 comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Dr. Emil Javier
September 26, 2015

This article was prompted by moves of certain local government units to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops (GMOs) in their efforts to promote organic agriculture under Republic Act 10068, otherwise known as the “Organic Act of the 2010.”

These moves are misdirected, constitute an over-reach of local autonomy, and, alas unwittingly anti-poor.

As described by its advocates, organic farming is the natural, ecologically sustainable way of growing food. As an alternative to conventional farming, organic farming is notable not so much for the cultural methods it preaches, but for the technologies they prohibit. Organic farming bans the use of chemical fertilizers, the application of chemical pesticides and the growing of GMOs, which increasingly are the key features in modern conventional agriculture.


PROHIBITIONS NOT BASED ON SCIENCE

The prohibition on the use of chemical fertilizers flies in the face of what has transformed world agriculture during the last two hundred years. Contrary to what organic advocates claim synthetic chemical fertilizers are not necessarily bad for soil health.

In fact judicious applications of lime, nitrogen, phosphate, potash fertilizers and other elements are what kept crop lands continuously planted to wheat productive in the classic long-term soil fertility fields experiments started in 1843 by Lord John Lawes at Rothamsted, England and still going on to this day. The same conclusions are reached from the continuous maize cropping trials in the Morrow plots at the University of Illinois which began in 1867. And closer to home, the long-term rice continuous cropping experiment at IRRI in Los Baños which began in 1963 has similarly shown that with three crops a year and balanced chemical fertilization the yield of rice can be maintained at 17 tons palay per hectare per year..

The ban in growing of GMOs likewise is not supported by science. The mass of evidence belie the contention that GMO crops are harmful to human health and the environment. Since GMO crops were commercialized in 1996, close to two billion hectares of GMO maize, soybean, canola, cotton and other crops have been harvested and utilized world-wide. To date no single instance of human allergy and poisoning caused by GM crops has been reported. The lone often-quoted study by the French researcher Gilles Eric Seralini attributing tumors in laboratory rats due to feeding with GM maize had been widely challenged, discredited and subsequently retracted by the science journal which published it.

Filipino farmers have been planting GM corn since 2003. GM corn had been so profitable and last year, our corn farmers planted over 800,000 hectares of Bt corn. The only claim of Filipinos suffering from exposure and consumption of Bt corn had been by a visiting Norwegian doctor who reported all kinds of disorders among villagers allegedly exposed to Bt corn pollen. However, this claim was debunked when upon further investigation the same health conditions were observed among people in nearby villages where no Bt corn were being grown.

The remaining difference between organic versus conventional farming is the non-use of chemical pesticides in favor of organic botanical pesticides in the control of pests and diseases. However, the advantage is more imagined than real because organic pesticides are often not readily available, their efficacy inconsistent and they cost as much if not more than conventional pesticides.

ORGANIC FARMING UNWITTINGLY  ANTI-POOR AND ANTI-ENVIRONMENT

Organic farming has two shortcomings: yields are very often lower and cost of production higher compared with conventional agriculture. With yield penalties in the order of 20%–30% the only way the farmer could make money is to sell his organic produce at a premium.

This can only lead to higher food prices which only the affluent can afford. Thus making more Filipinos food insecure.

The other unwitting sinister consequence from organic farming is the need to plow more grasslands and cut down more forests to make up for the low yields. Expansion of organic farming could be at the expense of the National Greening Program.

LET THE FARMERS DECIDE

Scientific arguments aside, the bottom line is that organic farming and conventional farming are competing, alternative business models.

For farmers so inclined and those who have access to the premium organic produce market, organic farming makes good business sense. However, for majority of the farmers who have little capital, and who have no market access, they would be better off economically if they stay with conventional farming.

Local governments proscribing the practice of certain methods of culture in effect restricts the choice of farmers which business model to adopt. This is not right.

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Dr. Emil Q. Javier is a Member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and also Chair of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP).

 

Source: http://www.mb.com.ph/let-the-farmers-decide/

Photo credit: bic.searca.org

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