News that farmers now prefer planting genetically-modified (GM) Bt-corn should not encourage the Department of Agriculture (DA) to promote the controversial crop. A recent study shows that small holder farmers planting GM corn in the country end up more indebted and poor, contrary to earlier claims that GM corn planting will improve farmers’ incomes.
IBON’s joint research with farmers-scientists group MASIPAG found that small holder corn farmers-- estimated at around 270,000 around the country-- mostly end up bankrupt and indebted to traders who are also their financiers.
Local government officials in different regions who were interviewed by IBON said they are encouraging the farmers to shift to hybrid corn because the cost of producing hybrid corn is cheaper. Farmers however complained they have no choice because the traders would not provide them lending unless they use GM corn.
Worse, the cost of GM corn seeds has increased by 282% from its introductory price. The Roundup herbicide which was then packaged with the GM corn seeds is now sold separately by traders. GM corn seeds alone eat up 18-21% of the farmers’ total cost of production. Fertilizers on the other hand eat up around 23% of the total cost of producing GM corn.
Farmers interviewed also complained of high interest payments to traders-financiers. Payments on interest from loans to traders, including mark-up on prices of inputs eat up 26% of the small farmers’ total cost of production.
Moreover, the IBON study noted adverse impact on environment and health. For instance, farmers said that although they would have initial good harvest, the crop needs increasing volumes of fertilizers and agro-chemicals because of increased pestilence. The herbicide tolerant-Bt corn requires increasing use of glyphosate, the active ingredient of the Roundup herbicide introduced by Monsanto, the agrochemical corporation that introduced Bt corn and later on Roundup ready GM corn in the country.
Health issues have also been noted. The study found that farmers allegedly experienced stomach pains, diarrhea, chest pains, itching and skin allergies reportedly after prolonged exposure to Bt corn. Farmers and their families have also reportedly experienced numbness of lips and tongue after eating young GM corn. The field research was done in GMO corn areas in Pangasinan, Isabela, Capiz, Iloilo, Bukidnon, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.
Despite being standard protocol, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), the country’s GM crops monitoring agency, has not conducted any post monitoring on the impact of GM corn commercial propagation on the environment and health of corn farmers and their families, including the livestock that directly consume GM corn as feeds.
IBON calls on the Aquino government to follow all protocols before any additional GM crops are released in Philippine farms, including conducting a thorough assessment of the effects of GM corn. It should also look into the real impact on farmers, livelihood, incomes and their overall welfare, the research group said. (end)
IBON Foundation, Inc. is an independent development institution established in 1978 that provides research, education, publications, information work and advocacy support on socioeconomic issues.