“A vicious cycle of poverty” may sound clichéd, but in the case of Filipino farmers planting genetically modified corn, no statement is more apt and true. Small-holder farmers who were lured by promises of good yields and sure markets pay as much as 20-40% interest per cropping season to financers and traders who also buy the produce at a much cheaper price. But as the promised resistance to pests and tolerance to herbicides have decreased over time — as well as natural disasters and calamities – farmers found themselves with poor harvest and incomes. Thinking that they could probably recover by the next cropping season, they borrow loans once again, incurring compounded interests to their unpaid debts.
These are uncovered by a new research “Socio-economic Impacts of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines” by MASIPAG which was formally launched on Monday, September 16. 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.
“Promoters of GM crops always recite a litany of benefits including better yield, use of less pesticides and less labor-intensive, and improved income of farmers despite lack of sufficient evidence. In other times, the benefits are drum-beaten in isolation with other important socio-economic factors,” Dr. Chito Medina, MASIPAG national coordinator writes in the book’s foreword. “While evidences on the health and environmental effects of GMS are accumulating, the data on socio-economic impacts of GMOs are very few.”
The book discusses the effects of GM Corn production on farmers’ incomes, health and environment. The research also sheds light on the exploitation of local corn traders among the poor farmers, as well their role in the proliferation of GMOs and changes in the structures of ownership and control over land, natural and genetic resources as a result of GM corn adoption. A section of the book also discusses how agrochemical transnational corporations are reaping huge profits off GM seeds and chemical inputs.
Evidence of Failure
In the early 2000s, farmers were attracted to the introductory price of GM corn which was almost the same as the conventional hybrid corn. In Cuartero, Capiz for example, the Roundup Ready GM corn (RR corn) used to cost only Php2,800.00 per 18‐kilo bag which is good for a hectare. In 2008, the cost increased to Php 4,600.00 for every 9‐kilo bag and hence corn farmers have to spend Php 9,200.00 for two bags of the RR Corn seeds alone. Prices of other production inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides have also gone up.
Because of the expensive inputs, farmers turn to traders or financiers to avail of loans. In the study, farmers would incur loan interest ranging from 20% to 40% during the four months of cropping season. They are also bound to sell their produce to the traders at a price usually lower than the prevailing market price.
In all, external inputs (seeds, fertilizers and pesticides) eat about 40‐48% of the total expenses that a farmer spend per season, and all of these goes to the corn traders/financiers and agrochemical companies. “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.
Self-financed small‐holder farmers earn from Php 1,225.00 to Php 19,160.00, but loses can amount to as much as Php 6,611.00. Though farmers may earn as much as Php19,160.00 per season, they 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 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.
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. 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.
The research, which was conducted from February to March 2012 was a combination of desk and field research. Focused group discussion (FGD) among GM corn farmers and key informant interview (KII) methods were utilized in the field research. Community leaders, local and national government officials including, municipal agriculturists, and Department of Agriculture (DA) regional officials were interviewed as key informants.
A total of 166 farmers participated in the FGDs in all case areas which are composed of 12 barangays in
seven GM corn producing provinces in Luzon (4), Visayas (4) and Mindanao (4). Isabela, Pangasinan, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat, and South Cotabato belong to the top 10 corn producing provinces in the country with Isabela comprising 34% of the total hectarage of GM corn areas in the Philippines
Stop GM Commercialization
The Philippine government approved the commercial propagation of Bt corn about ten years ago. Since then, eight GMO corn varieties had been approved for commercial propagation in the form of Bt corn, RR corn and a combination of pyramided and stacked traits of the same GM transformation events. Over the same period, fifty nine GMO crops/events were also approved for importation for direct use as food, feed, and for processing.
GM foods such the Bt eggplant and Golden Rice have also been field tested and are said to be geared for commercialization.
“Globally, negative health and environmental impacts of GMOs have already been documented and reported,” said Dr. Medina. “With the evidence that GM corn have also failed to improve the socio-economic standing of poor farmers and in fact driven them further into poverty should be stronger reason to stop the commercialization of GMOs.”#