Published on August 19,2021 | Edwin Paraluman and Philippine Farmers Advisory Board Chairman | The Manila Times
WHEN it comes to new agricultural technologies, seeing is believing.
I planted genetically modified (GM) corn for the first time 15 years ago when I was losing massive portions of my yield to corn borer, an insect that eats through the plant’s leaves and stalks. The results speak for themselves: GM corn saved my harvests because it was designed to withstand and deter pests.
The following season, many farmers adopted GM corn and for all of us it has transformed our lives, increased our yields and had no adverse effects.
As farmers, we have already seen the benefits of improved varieties of crops in normal conditions. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it even clearer that we need crop science innovations to support our health and economic recovery.
Now, Golden Rice – a GM variety of rice that is fortified to provide vitamin A – can help secure a better future for our children by providing the essential nutrients they need to thrive.
Vitamin A is vital for children’s development, in particular that of the eyes, among others, and is typically found in fruits and vegetables.
But for more than 15 percent of children under six in the Philippines and millions of other children worldwide, vitamin A is often lacking in their diets because nutritious fruit and vegetables are expensive and hard to access.
Inadequate food intake among Filipinos, especially those in rural and poor communities, leave them vulnerable to macro- and micro-nutrient deficiencies. The risks of not getting enough vitamin A include blindness and even death.
Local efforts have concentrated on providing supplement tablets to at-risk children – which has helped reduce child mortality by 12 percent – as well as developing programs for diet diversification. But many families tell me the supplements are not always available and that healthy food is unaffordable. As a result, children are getting left behind.
Science has already made good on its promise to improve lives with GM corn. Now, science suggests Golden Rice can be an effective tool to help fight vitamin A deficiency.
For families who cannot afford fruits and vegetables, rice is the perfect vehicle to get more vitamin A. Filipinos eat almost 120 kilos of rice per year, meaning Golden Rice will give families the food their children need without requiring larger budgets or changes in eating habits.
It also provides communities and families with the tools to improve their own diets as well as their livelihoods.
As things are now, most farmers in the Philippines are subsistence farmers, focused on producing what they need to survive. Golden Rice will allow smallholder farmers to shift from growing what is needed to growing profits sustainably.
The crop, like the GM corn I planted years ago, is just as productive as traditional varieties. This means that farmers can expect similar yields with no need for additional resources or different techniques.
Given the nutritional benefits of Golden Rice, there is a built-in target market that needs the product. Between increased production and demand, Golden Rice can help grow local economies.
Sustainability is another important benefit of using GM crops. Their higher resistance to pests and diseases allows farmers to retain more of their yields and minimize pesticide usage.
The success of GM corn and the expected benefits of Golden Rice demonstrate that crop biotechnology does not need to be the controversial topic it often becomes. We can use these innovations to address nutritional and agricultural challenges that conventional methods alone fail to solve.
The path for Golden Rice’s approval has been long but with growing levels of public acceptance, farmers stand to benefit from new and improved varieties of rice as well as other crops.
Outside the Philippines, farmers are saving eggplant harvests with crop technology, too. GM brinjal has allowed farmers in Bangladesh to nearly double yields while reducing the use of insecticides.
GM corn saved many farmers’ livelihoods when we started using it 15 years ago. Now, farmers are ready for new technologies to improve yields for their families and future generations, especially during the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Farmers must receive education and training in how to get the best from Golden Rice. This time, we know just how much these innovations can change our fortunes and create a healthier future.