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Science-based upland corn protocol being institutionalized nationwide 

Through the Department of Agriculture’s strong partnership with the Local Government Units (LGUs), farmers groups and the Industry, the DA-led Sustainable Corn Production in Sloping Areas (SCoPSA) protocol is now being institutionalized to prevent soil erosion and ensure ecological balance in the upland corn areas nationwide.


It was gathered that SCoPSA protocol  is now being implemented nationwide through the DA Regional Field Offices  as one of the major interventions  of the  DA-Bureau of Soils and Water Management (DA-BSWM) –led program on  Sustainable Land  Management Initiatives.  Agriculture Secretary William Dar has declared the program as the key in restoring and enhancing land and water resources.

The SCoPSA started through the techno-demo farms which CropLife Philippines established in partnership with the DA and the LGUs in Region 2 (Cagayan Valley Region), showcasing easily adoptable and socially acceptable soil and water conservation technologies in combination with soil fertilizers improvements for genetically-enhanced corn varieties being planted in upland areas.

SCoPSA training for corn farmers in Nagtipunan, Quirino.

The DA-BSWM later developed the SCoPSA protocol and led the establishment of a 3-5 hectares area, farmer-managed techno demo farm in selected corn areas in the country.

The establishment of contour lines in sloping areas becomes the central element of soil conservation under the SCoPSA protocol.

Contour lines start at the highest portion of the farmer where soil erosion normally begins. The farmer then moves downward, establishing the succeeding contour line up to the lower portion of the farm. 

Farmers   are advised to use this as their guide in applying soil conservation measures following the principle of “water seeks its own level.”  When water is at its own level, it theoretically stops moving, thus minimizing soil erosion in sloping areas.

Buffer strips are then established along the contour with a recommended width of at least 50 centimeters either by allowing natural vegetation to grow by planting grass, legumes, shrubs, and permanent tree crops to serve as series of vegetable barriers to prevent soil erosion.

According to the Global Agriculture Information Network, the production areas for genetically engineered corn in the Philippines have surged by as much as 7,607 percent over the past two decades. From 10,769 hectares in 2003, the land dedicated to GE corn has reportedly grown to 834,617 ha last year. 

The Bureau of Plant Industry said more than 70 percent of GE corn is planted in Luzon, while 24 percent is grown in Mindanao.  The remaining 7 percent is cultivated in the Visayas.

Science-based, environment-friendly technologies help address threats of soil erosion 

NAGTIPUNAN, Quirino Province – Science-based and environment-friendly agriculture technologies have proven to be the key to the farmers’ sustainable yield while ensuring ecological balance in this upland corn-producing municipality.

Municipal Agriculturist Hedie R. Marquez admits that at first, it was difficult to convince farmers to adopt modern technologies, considering that they were used to their traditional practices despite the early adoption of the Bacillus thuringiensis Corn, the first commercially-approved genetically-enhanced crop in the country in 2003.

Soon, the rapid expansion of corn areas due to the introduction of glyphosate, a non-selective herbicide,   paved the way for “greater opportunity” for farmers to increase their corn yield and improve their economic conditions, she said.

Hedie R. Marquez, Municipal Agriculturist, Nagtipunan Quirino

But with the advancement in upland farming technology,   the Municipal Agriculture and Fishery Council (MAFC) later observed corn yield began to gradually decrease. Worse, topsoils were eroded downstream and gullies began to develop during the rainy season in some of the upland farms.

This prompted some local officials to eek the regulation of glyphosate in the upland areas with 18 degrees slope.

Chairman Isidro Acosta of the Regional Agriculture and Fishery Council, however, appealed to local political leaders to maintain an “open mind” since Cagayan Valley has emerged as the country’s leading corn-producing region with the surge in GM corn production, mostly in the upland areas. 

After a series of consultations with CLP and agriculture stakeholders in the region, RAFC later traced the problem to the “misuse” of glyphosate and other chemical inputs.

CropLife established the first SCoPSA technology demonstration (techno-demo) farm in Nagtipunan and conducted farmers training on the judicious use of herbicides, along with pesticide resistance management.

The RAFC members then agreed that if they sustained the GM corn production in the region, they need to adapt contour farming and other soil conservation technologies. 

The RAFC-led Soil conservation interventions in corn-producing areas prompted the Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Soils and  Water Management (BSWM) to develop a protocol called “Sustainable Corn Production in Sloping Areas” or SCoPSA. 

The DA-BSWM allocated funds for SCoPSA adoption in the Cagayan Valley and when the protocol was developed, it became a DA-led program in corn-producing regions nationwide.

According to Marquez, the SCoPSA has greatly helped the farmers in their town “to understand the importance of the topsoil on corn and why they should ensure that this is not washed off when it rains.

As she put it, “SCoPSA was implemented to benefit not just the farmers, but also teach them sustainable land use management.”

In 2017, Nagtipunan became the first municipality to officially adopt SCoPSA through SN Ordinance No. 272.  The “No Burning” policy was also strictly enforced by the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office “so farm waste is piled up in the soil which carries the soil nutrients are being maintained and environmentally contributes to the increase of yield and income of the corn farmers.”

“SCoPSA features easily adaptable soil and water conservation technologies focused on soil erosion and gully stabilization in combination with the soil fertilization,” Marquez said. 

“More farmers are (now) embracing the project, not because of what they will receive as incentives, but they are doing this to preserve the environment for the next generation to come,” she explained.


How forging partnerships are making a difference in upland corn production 

By EDILBERTO DE LUNA
CLP Executive Director 

In the Philippines, corn is not just an emerging cash crop but is now second to rice in the use of agricultural resources. With the widespread use of quality planting seeds, including GMOs, yellow corn plantations eventually expanded to sloping areas. 

Yellow corn, which takes up over 50 percent of the local feed production, is the preferred energy source in animal feed formulation.

The gradual expansion of corn areas is a welcome development, however, interventions should be managed upland plantings. 

In Region II, there were earlier reports of threats of soil erosion in the upland municipality of Nagtipunan in Quirino Province and a few other corn-producing areas.  With the timely intervention of the Regional Agriculture and Fisheries Council (RAFC), it was found that there was, indeed, misuse of chemical inputs, and non-observance of planting protocols.

After a series of government-led consultations with farmers, RAFC chair Isidro Acosta said they agreed the solution to the problem was to ensure that all corn farmers in upland areas implement contour farming and other soil conservation approaches.

“We may have enjoyed the benefits of modern technology (in GM corn), but we still need to complement this with traditional approaches in soil conservation if we are to succeed,” he said.

Contour farming, it turned out was not really new to most farmers. In the not-so-distant past, the Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Natural Resources had already promoted the Sloping Agriculture Land Technology, or SALT, where fast-growing nitrogen-fixing hedgerows were planted along contour lines creating a living barrier that traps sediments and gradually transforms sloping areas to terraced land. 

As an association representing the Plant Science Industry, CropLife Philippines partnered with the government and farmers group to address the issue.

The DA-BSWM and DA Regional Office and Municipal LGU’s and CropLife established tech-demo farms to promote SCoPSA in key corn-producing areas. From being a BSWM-led project, SCoPSA emerged as one of the major DA interventions in land management use.

Based on the SCoPSA experience, I am convinced more than ever that sustainable agriculture really entails “cost-effective environmentally sound and socially accepted” approaches in food production.

Agriculture, being the lifeline of a majority of our people, is not only about improving farmers’ income and an increase in productivity. We also need to show that we care for our present and future generations by maintaining ecologically-balanced agricultural communities

We are featuring SCoPSA in the maiden issue of our online advocacy newsletter if only to emphasize how building partnerships can make a difference in addressing vital issues affecting agriculture in the country. It’s a good start to promote science-based sustainable agriculture.


Understanding and appreciating GMOs

By ANTONIO A. ALFONSO, PhD

If you search “GMO” around this time, Google will turn up more than 170 million hits. That’s a lot of online materials to learn about genetically modified organisms. Yet, GMOs are still largely misunderstood by many partly because the subject is highly technical in nature and, with all the online materials available, it is difficult to separate facts from fiction.
 
Lack of understanding of GMOs often results in negative opinions, fear and distrust, and may even lead to heated discussions about safety. But GMOs have been cultivated and consumed safely for more than two decades.
 
GMOs and the useful products derived from them provide incredible benefits, including increased economic gains for farmers, reduced CO2 emissions, and improved food security.
 
Let’s set the record straight, understand deeper and appreciate GMOs by knowing the basic process of producing them, using the GM corn approved in the Philippines as an example.
 
Knowing GMOs entails basic understanding of biology and the genetic material
 
GM crops are plants whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Before we discuss the techniques, it is important to revisit basic biology.
 
The genetic material in all living organisms (except for some viruses) is called DNA, a long, complex molecule that contains all of the information necessary to build and maintain these living organisms.  
 
DNA is packaged in the form of chromosomes, which are thread-like structures located inside the nucleus of the cell, the basic building blocks of all living organisms. Located along the entire length of every chromosome are genes, the basic physical and functional unit of heredity. 
 
Each gene encodes a functional product, typically a protein that affects the expression or appearance of a characteristic of the plant. There is a large variation in the number and types of genes expressed by different plants in the same species.  For example, different varieties of maize have different genes that make them look, taste, and grow differently. 
 
Genetic improvement, the conventional way
 
It is this biological variability that is used by breeders to select for desired traits.  The breeder crosses two plants, essentially intermixing their genes. The progenies in subsequent generations contain different combinations of the parental genes and, as a result, exhibit different traits.
 
This provides opportunity for the breeder to select superior individuals that, by chance, have inherited favorable characteristics from the parents. Selection is typically based on superior agronomic performance, quality, pest resistance, environmental adaptability and other preferred traits.
 
Application of this “conventional” plant breeding method for hundreds of years resulted in the many plants varieties that are now helpful in meeting man’s supply of food, feed and fiber.
 
Genetic engineering allows faster, more precise and novel genetic improvement
 
Scientific advances in genetics and molecular biology led to better understanding of genes, their structure, how they are expressed and eventually affect traits.
 
These tools allow scientists to isolate genes and transfer them directly into an improved plant to make them even better. For example, the first Bt corn grown in the Philippines contains a gene derived from a common soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). As a result, this Bt corn has become resistant to the highly destructive insect called Asian corn borer.
 
Bt corn cannot be developed using conventional breeding, which is limited to crossing of sexually compatible individuals.
 
The new tools are collectively called genetic engineering or genetic modification. Like conventional breeding, the purpose of such genetic modification is to make these organisms able to exhibit useful and desirable traits.
 
Genetic engineering broadens not only the sources of genes that can be transferred but also the combinations of genes, allowing expression of new traits never before present in that organism.
 
Ultimately, these would translate to higher yield of crops, improved resistance to insect pests and diseases, improved nutrition, better adaptation to non-favorable growing environments, or even production of novel products.

A quick look at the GMO products in the market
 
Insect resistance and tolerance to herbicides are the first traits in major crops such as corn and soybean that were successfully commercialized and widely adopted by farmers.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has been documenting the adoption and distribution of biotech crops since the first year of commercial planting of GM crops in 1996. In their latest report, ISAAA reported planting of various genetically modified or biotech crops in 190.4 million hectares.
 
With approximately 112-fold increase since 1996, biotech crops are the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times. ISAAA reported that in 2019, 71 countries have adopted biotech crops with 29 engaged in commercial cultivation and 42 additional countries importing these products.
 
Biotech crop cultivation in the Philippines
 
Based on hectarage, countries that plant biotech crops are called biotech mega-countries.
 
The top three mega-countries in 2019 as reported by ISAAA are USA (71.5 M hectares), Brazil (52.8 M hectares), and Argentina (24 hectares). The Philippines, which only grows biotech corn, ranks 12th with 900,000 hectares.
 
The Philippines was the first country in Southeast Asia to approve commercial planting of a biotech crop. In 2002, Bt corn was approved by the government, and in 2003, commercial planting started. Approval of the Bt corn in the Philippines was government’s response to infestation of Asian corn borer.
 
In 2005, glyphosate tolerant corn was approved. The following year the so-called stack-trait biotech corn was introduced which contains both an insect resistance and an herbicide tolerance trait in the same crop.  Stack-trait corn has since been highly preferred by Filipino farmers based on monitoring reports from the Bureau of Plant Industry.
 
GMOs are evaluated for safety, proven safe
 
In the early years, little was known about how biotech plant would grow in the field. With little - or no - actual experience, some people were concerned on the possible undesirable impact of GMOs on human and animal health and the environment, particularly on biodiversity and even the potential to become weeds.
 
This led to formulation of biosafety guidelines in conducting recombinant DNA research and cultivation. Today, the establishment of a working regulatory system based on established framework is a pre-requisite for the importation and cultivation of biotech crops.
 
Early adoption of GMO corn in the Philippines became possible with the establishment of national regulatory policies and guidelines that continued to evolve through the years.

During the two decades of biotech corn cultivation in the Philippines, not a single biosafety incident has been reported and confirmed. In fact, this picture extends to any other country in the world where GM crops are cultivated.
 
As science and research continue to progress and new tools and technologies become available for plant breeders, farmers, producers, government and society also need to continue to adopt new technologies to ensure food security and sustainability for generations to come.

Benepisyo ng SCoPSA sa karanasan ng isang magsasaka  

Dati rati daw, tuwing magtatanim si Kelvin Mauricio ng mais  napapansin nya na ‘di lang mababa ang ani, lagi pa itong inaatake ng peste sa Barangay Ponggo, Nagtipunan, Quirino.

Pero nung nakagamit na siya ng GM corn, nakita niya ‘yung kaibahan. Hindi na ito sinisira ng mga peste,  sigurado pang laging maganda ang kaniyang ani.

Upang tuluy-tuloy ang pagtatanim niya ng GM Corn sa dalisdis, natutunan din ni G. Mauricio  ang kaniyang mga responsibilidad na kailangang mapangalagaan ang lupang sinasaka.

Kaya’t isang araw, sumama siya sa isang training at sumubok ng SCoPSa, o Sustainable Corn Production in Sloping Areas, sa kaniyang taniman.
 

Aniya, sa tulong ng MAO o Municipal Agriculture Office at Department of Agriculture, nalaman nilang mga magmamais  ang kahalagahan  at benepisyo ng SCoPSA sa kanilang mga maisan. 

Isa sa mga importanteng bagay na itinuro sa kanila ay ang konsepto ng contour farming at paglalagay ng hedgerows.

Gamit ang mga binhing bigay ng DA, itinanim nila ang mga ito sa hedgerows para mapangalagaan ang lupa at maiwasan ang soil erosion.

Dagdag pa niya, ang mga bunga ng mga nakatanim na hedgerows ay dagdag pang  kita bukod sa mais nila.

Kaakibat ng SCoPSA, nalaman din nila Kelvin ang benepisyo mula sa  paggamit ng GM Corn.

Ngayon, ayon kay Kelvin, lumaki talaga ang kaniyang kita kaya’t  may naiuuwi siya para sa kaniyang pamilya.  

CLP underscores importance of Mode of Action labelling

CropLife Philippines (CLP) continues to promote its advocacy to educate agriculture stakeholders and frontliners on the best practices to improve production amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The recent #CropLifeWebinarSeries underscored the importance of labelling for the success of resistance management in the Philippines.

Oscar D. Edralin, who chairs the CLP Resistance Action Committee, shared the current situation in the country and underscored how the inclusion of the mode of action (MoA) information on the product labels of pesticides could help address gene resistance.

“The inclusion of MoA information on product labels, supported by training and other resources, is critical to ensure growers have the information they need to follow resistance management guidelines. MoA labelling is currently only a regulatory requirement in a small number of countries, however there are strong indications that more countries will make it mandatory in the foreseeable future,” Edralin explained.

He noted that CLP is actively engaging stakeholders  through series of  training and workshops to promote better understanding of the MoA and how it can become a game changer to address the issue of resistance that arise when farmers use products with the same MoA continuously.

Edralin underscored that labeling plays a factor since the frequency of genes for resistance to an insecticide will decline during application of alternative insecticide with different MoA.

“Growers and extension workers and other stakeholders need to recognize and understand which products they can rotate through MoA labeling. It is a critical component to educate the farmers in managing resistance. Participation of the distribution chain is a must if resistance management is to succeed,” he said.

For his part, CLP Executive Director Edilberto de Luna said the Industry will continue with its mission to introduce innovative interventions even at the time of the pandemic. 

Regional Food Supply Chain & Farmer Resiliency Take Center Stage as Asia’s Plant Science Industry Convenes Virtually by CropLife Asia

Croplife International Publishes Recommendations For Modernizing The Regulation Of Genetically Modified Crops by CropLife International

Asian Biotechnology Information Centers Pledge to Advance Biosciences by ISAAA
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