We had the opportunity to chat with Sonny Tababa of CropLife Asia and presenter on the Global Product Stewardship panel at BIO about ag biotech outreach efforts in Asia and stewardship in plant biotech.
1. What is the status of ag biotech adoption in Asia?
Adoption of biotech crops in Asia remains vibrant which is reflective of the multiple benefits derived by millions of small-farmers. In 2008, 10% of the total global area for GM crops or 12 million hectares have been planted to different biotech crops in Australia, China, India, and Philippines. With functional regulations in place, different Asian countries– notably Korea, China, Japan, and Taiwan– continue to import huge amounts of corn and soybeans from countries that planted biotech corn and soybeans.
2. What are the challenges faced by farmers in Asia?
Access to appropriate production and post-production technologies is a major constraint. However, there are other non-technological factors like access to credit and markets, infrastructure like farm-to-market roads, access to basic services like health, etc. Our farmers are resource-challenged and every bit that we can feasibly do to help them improve their situation in life must be done.
3. Rosalie Ellasus, a farmer from the Philippines and a panelist at BIO 2009, said that if Asian countries adopt agriculture biotechnology, it “will boost the economy of each country.” How do you think ag biotech can contribute to the economies of Asian countries?
There are many progressive farmers, like Ms. Ellasus, who tried the new technology-biotech crops and continue to adopt it to this day. With better protection against insect pests and weeds, yields are much higher by at least 20-30%. For Bt corn, dramatic increases are observed when there is higher incidence of corn borer in the farms. This in turn, translates to higher incomes and opportunities to invest in other small businesses by farmers. For instance, farmers can have ‘extra’ income that they can use to buy small farm implements, or buffalos for hire, or to start a small piggery business. Or, use some amounts for home improvement, or to support the continuing education of their children. With a bit more purchasing power in farming communities, benefits domino to local or community businesses.
4. In your panel description you discuss the “importance of stewardship in plant biotechnology and the industry’s lifecycle approach to stewardship.” What do you mean by “stewardship” in plant biotechnology and what is its importance?
Stewardship is taking care of what is entrusted. The plant science industry commits to develop high quality plant biotechnology products and promote its safe and responsible use. Lifecycle approach to stewardship means an ‘inception to a life beyond’ approach of ensuring that our pledge of commitment is being met. For instance, during the gene discovery phase, our scientists examine the source of each gene and the potential for allergenicity and toxicity. Many of these genes do not see commercial light if found too risky. Also, all of our member-companies support and comply with biosafety rules and regulations of importing and cultivating countries. We support farmers and their responsible use of the technology during provision of technology via integrated pest and weed management and even after when technology has been provided so that the longevity of the technology can be maintained. We work with farmers and regulators in insect resistance and weed resistance management programs.