Farmers wary of Golden rice’s commercial propagation

Published August 9, 2021, 6:00 AM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

Filipino farmers are wary that the commercial propagation of Golden Rice, a genetically modified (GM) rice variety, will require more participation from foreign companies in the value chain of the Philippines’ rice sector and may eventually lead to higher production cost.

In a statement, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) has joined the growing consensus of farmers’ and civil organizations condemning the approval for the commercial propagation of Golden Rice.

To recall, Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Director George Culaste issued on July 21, 2021 a biosafety permit for the said GM crop. Such permit for Golden Rice or any GM rice is the first and only in the whole of South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Golden Rice, described as a humanitarian project aimed at addressing Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), is targeted for free distribution among poor subsistence farmers.

However, KMP National Chairperson Danilo Ramos said that while golden Rice may not make many profits through seed sales, it will “increase demand for the various imported and costly chemical inputs required for its cultivation, raking in billions for foreign agro-corporations.”

In 2019, the country imported up to 82 percent of its fertilizer needs. Pesticides are mostly sourced overseas too, with the country importing almost 30,000 metric tons (MT) of insecticide, fungicide, and herbicides the same year.

More recently, fertilizer prices have almost doubled from the last cropping season. In Nueva Ecija, the country’s rice granary, the price of Urea has reached P1,300 per sack from just P850 last January.

“Rice farmers already suffered P165 billion worth of losses due to the Rice Liberalization Law. They are now set for further losses if the propagation of Golden Rice pushes through. At the other end, huge agrochemical corporations are set for bigger superprofits,” Ramos said.

The peasant leader also noted that the free distribution of Golden Rice seeds threatens local traditional rice varieties.

“A government-sponsored propagation of the Golden Rice could risk genetic contamination or even the very existence of at least 229 officially documented local traditional rice varieties,” Ramos said.

“We simply do not need this imported, costly, and hazardous technology to address VAD. Camote or sweet potato, which Filipinos have cultivated for centuries and in abundance all over the country, has 48 times more beta carotene than Golden Rice. Likewise, common veggies such as carrots, malunggay, kalabasa, and kamatis have more beta carotene content than this GM crop,” he further said.