By MASIPAG farmer-scientist group
Los Banos, Laguna – Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG fears that with the commercialization of Bt talong, farmers will become more indebted that before. According to the initial results of a study conducted by MASIPAG and IBON Foundation, Incorporated on the socio-economic impacts of genetically-modified (GM) corn ten years after the Department of Agriculture (DA) approved its commercial production, small-holder GM corn farmers incurred huge amounts of debt from higher costs of production i.e., more expensive seeds and higher volume of costly chemical inputs required by GM corn.
This resulted to loss of ownership rights to their lands, including food insecurity, threat to health and the environment. GM corn includes Bacillus thuringeinsis (Bt) corn, Herbicide tolerant (Ht) corn such as Roundup Ready Corn and the stacked trait (Bt/Ht) corn varieties. The study areas include the provinces of Isabela, Pangasinan, Iloilo, Capiz, Bukidnon, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.
“GM corn has completely changed the landscape of corn farming in the country, in a negative way” said Dr Chito Medina, National Coordinator for MASIPAG.
“The proponents always say that the farmers benefited from GM corn adoption, but this is not the case. Seeds became a commodity, as seeds need to be bought every planting season. In the study, farmers incurred huge income losses as GM corn seeds and inputs have become more expensive. The traders and financers took advantage of this situation, and now the corn farmers are completely under their control. The traders, financers, landlords and Agrochemical TNCs are the ones really benefitting from GMOs” said Medina.
The Impact of GM corn to farmers
The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), with its biotechnology consultants, in its recent meeting with CSOs on GMO regulation last March said that farmers are benefitting and gaining from GM corn production.“But this is absurd. If you are to go to the barrios and ask the corn farmers, the real corn farmers, they will tell you how terrible GM corn farming is.
The running joke is that during harvest season, farmers tend to speak English words such as ‘over-draft’ or ‘failure’”, adds Medina.
Because of the expensive inputs, farmers run to traders or financiers to avail of loans. However, traders would usually charge farmers with 5% to 10% interest every month for the loans the farmers incur from them. The inputs are priced higher when bought on a loan basis. Price mark up range from Php5.00 to Php30.00 to as high as Php100.00 - Php300.00 to Php1,500.00 on chemicals, seeds or other inputs.
In the study, after four months of GM corn cultivation, farmers would have to pay interest on their loans ranging from 20% to as high as 40%. They are also bound to sell their produce to the traders at a price usually lower than the prevailing market price.
Farmers also lose more to the traders because traders would declare a lower weight for the farmers’ corn by 3 kilos to 5 kilos per cavan. Assuming that farmers sell 100 cavans of dried corn kernels to the traders at a minimum Php 10.00 per kilo, the farmers would lose an additional Php 3,000.00 to Php 5,000.00.
Oftentimes, the farmers only take home receipts from what they sold to the traders, and then the debt cycle repeats again next planting season. Based on the case areas computation of their costs of production in the last cropping season, small-holder farmers who spends their own cash only earn from Php1,225.00 to Php 19,160.00 to being bankrupt by Php 6,611.00.
The farmers that netted Php19,160.00 however said that in reality, nothing really comes back because almost all of their production needs are financed by the traders/financiers including their food, tuition and other expenses. According to one farmer in Bgy Banaban, Bayambang, Pangasinan – “nakain mo na di mo pa naaani” (we’ve already consumed what we have yet to harvest). Far worse, the small-holder farmers that borrowed from traders ended up with negative incomes.
Corn farming inputs’ cost increased significantly after GM corn introduction
Prices of inputs including the prices of seeds have also gone up. From 2003 to 2011, the price of 14-14-14 and urea, the most common fertilizers used by the GM corn farmers increased annually by 13.7% and 10.6% respectively. Prices peaked in 2008 when price per bag of 14-14-14 reached Php1,671.67 and Php1,551.43 per bag of urea.
In the early 2000s, introductory price of GM Corn was almost the same as the conventional hybrid corn. Farmers say the GM corn seeds were sold to them before at 18 to 20 kilos per bag. In Cuartero, Capiz for example, the Roundup ready GM corn (RR corn) then when it was introduced only cost Php2,800.00 per 18-kilo bag which is good for a hectare. In 2008, it already cost Php4,600.00 for every 9-kilo bag and hence corn farmers have to spend Php9,200.00 for two bags of the RR Corn seeds alone.
In all, farmers now have to shell out Php10,700.00 for 18 kilos of GM corn and the Roundup Ready herbicide – an increase of Php7,900.00 or 282% increase from its introductory price. “They say that with GM corn such as the herbicide-tolerant variety, farmers can cut cost from weeding. But on the contrary, farmers are now spending more in order to use the technology” said Medina.
Farmers Pay the Price
For farmers who are not able to pay, they usually end up losing control over their lands – what crops to plant, decision making over which crop or variety to plant because traders would not lend to farmers unless they use GM corn, and traders also insist on which brand to sell to the farmer even if the corn farmer wants another brand. In some cases, farmers are forced to leave, lease or give up their land in order to evade legal actions such as arrests from not paying their debts.
One mother in Cordon, Isabel shared that the family, would spend sleepless nights to save whatever there is worth saving from their corn harvests in order to pay for their mounting debts – “Agsang-sangit kami lattan, pampanunutem ta nagadu utang mi, kasano kami nga makabayad ton…” (We just cry as we separate the damaged corn from the good ones, thinking about our debts and how we will be able to pay up).
10 Years After, No Post-commercial Monitoring
Post-commercial monitoring of the released GM product is also not being done. According to BPI, majority of the 655,589 ha of corn planted in the country is stacked-trait. Meaning, apart from the Bt trait, it is also able to resist herbicide application.
“If you are going to compute, a hectare of Roundup Ready corn needs about 4 liters of glyphosate or Round-up Ready Herbicide to kill weeds. If there are 655,589 Ha of corn in the country then, about 2,622,356 liters of herbicide is being sprayed. And that is per season, because we usually plant corn twice a year. Slowly we are killing our farms and our food systems eventually” Medina said.
n a study by Gilles-Eric Seralini, Roundup formulations can lead to human embryonic, umbilical cord and placental cell death. In addition, Roundup adjuvants amplified the action of the active principle glyphosate; and that one of its metabolites may be even more toxic.
“Take note also that farmers have been spraying Roundup since 2006, and that herbicide residue has been contaminating GM corn food and feed products” added Medina. Erosion is also present, as herbicide run-off tends to kill weeds that hold the soil. Herbicide drift has also affected much of the vegetables and fruit trees of the farmers, which significantly affects their food security. As the erosion depletes nutrients from the soil, the tendency is for farmers to increase fertilizer application. Add to this is the growing tendency of weeds acquiring resistance due to continued use of the herbicide. New pests are also documented.
Corn plant hopper are now affecting GM corn farms such as those documented in San Dionisio, Iloilo leaving most of the farmers bankrupt. The pest attacks the corn cobs, inhibits the development of the corn and stops the production of kernels.
In Alamada, North Cotabato, about 12,000 hectares of GM corn farms equivalent to about 60,000 metric tons of GM corn perished in early 2011 because of a disease, corn leaf blight. According to the Mr. Zaldy Boloron, Region 12 Regional Farm Unit (RFU) Officer of the Department of Agriculture, the disease is traced to the ‘no-till’ practice of the farmers who usingglyphosateherbicides to kill weeds.
.The soil-borne corn leaf blight tends to proliferate if the soil is not ploughed. Corn farmers have been advised to go back to deep ploughing. “Deep ploughing talaga ang kailangan para magamot ito. Good agricultural practice kasi ang deep ploughing” (Deep ploughing is the only solution to leaf blight.
Deep ploughing is good agricultural practice), says Boloron. It is also documented that poor farmers and indigenous people once in a while eat GM corn, to supplement their scarce food. Almost all respondents experienced either stomach pains such as gas pains and diarrhea, shortness of breath, chest pains, coughing, itching and skin allergies.
Farmers also experienced numbness of lips and tongue after eating GM corn cobs while these are still young. Farmers also observed that every time the corn plants reach flowering stage, the incidence of asthma attacks among the children increases. Children passing by flowering corn fields also start coughing. Farmers doing the spraying of herbicides suffer from headaches and shortness of breath as well as skin irritation.
Fear of Bt eggplant commercialization
“As of now, the corn industry is a multi-billion peso industry wherein traders, financiers, landlords, huge compradors and the multi-national companies such as Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta rake the benefits. They have long been benefitting from this pro-corporate, anti-farmer system coupled with the very lax regulation of government agencies such as the BPI and quasi-government scientists.
After 10 years, the promise of GM Corn to bring better yields and better income has failed the small-holder farmers” added Medina. “We fear that eggplant farmers will also suffer the same fate as that of the GM corn farmers. We hope that the government, especially the Supreme Court will not be swayed by the ‘sweet talks’ of the proponents.
The GM corn experience says it all. We call the Supreme Court to implement the temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) and Continuing Mandamus for us to investigate the real score who benefits from GMOS. An investigation should be done on the process of regulation and monitoring of GMOs, and the lending practice in corn farming. Pending the result of the post-market monitoring, all GM importation, field tests and commercialization should be terminated” added Medina.
“The government should be concentrating more in attaining food security thru sustainable means such as diversified and sustainable agriculture, and do away with the ‘business-as-usual’ type of agriculture. The chemical, capital and GMO-intensive agriculture is a thing of the past. Also, the government should support small scale farming that use of biodiversity and agroecological systems to attain food security and sovereignty” said Medina ##
Masipag is a nework of farmers’ groups, scientist and non-government organizations in the Philippines seeking to improve the farmers’ quality of life through their control over genetic resources, agricultural technology and associated knowledge.