Human Face

GMO corn farmers in debt


From the start, there had always been concern about the havoc GMO-agricultural crops might create in the environment and the adverse health effects they might have on end-consumers. (GMO means genetically modified organisms.) The financial/material aspect—higher yields, more hungry people fed, etc.—seemed to be the redeeming factor.

There always had been protests against the “invasion” and production of Bt-corn and Bt-talong (eggplant). Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, the donor organism in the genetically modified plants.  The protestors were sometimes labeled as “purists” who were getting in the way of the advancement of science.

Among the advocates of GMO-free agricultural products are Masipag (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-Unlad ng Agrikultura) and Greenpeace.  Masipag is a network of farmers’ groups, scientists and NGOs that aim to improve the farmers’ quality of life “through their control over genetic resources, agricultural technology and associated knowledge.” And there are the consumer groups that are now raising their voices to make sure the food on their table are GMO-free. I wrote about the consumers groups’ concerns some weeks ago.

Masipag has just come out with a book which explains the adverse effects of GMO-corn on farmers and shows “evidence of failure” of what was supposed to have given farmers increased yields and better income. The book, “Socio-economic Impact of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines,” is an eye-opener for those who seem enamored with so-called high-yielding varieties that promise to feed the hungry of this world.

Dr. Chito Medina, Masipag national coordinator, says in the book’s foreword: “Promoters of GM crops always recite a litany of benefits including better yield, use of less pesticides, (being) less labor-intensive and improved income of farmers despite lack of sufficient evidence.” These supposed benefits are promoted without consideration for other socio-economic factors, he added. And while evidence of the adverse effects of GMOs on health and the environment are accumulating, data on the socio-economic impact of GMOs are rarely and dramatically laid bare, he stressed.

The book exposes the exploitation of poor farmers by local corn traders who, Masipag claims, “play a 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 production.” The book also exposes how agrochemical transnational corporations are raking in huge profits from GM seeds and chemical inputs.

The Philippine government approved the commercial propagation of Bt corn some 10 years ago, Masipag says, and “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, 59 GMO crops/ events were also approved for importation for direct use as food, feed and for processing.”

Masipag adds and warns that GM foods such as the Bt eggplant and Golden Rice have also been “field-tested” and are said to be up for commercialization.

In 2000, the book says, farmers were enticed by the introductory price of GM corn which was almost the same as the regular hybrid corn. It cites the case of Cuartero, Capiz, where the Roundup Ready GM corn (RR corn) used to cost only P2,800 per 18-kilo bag which is good for a hectare. In 2008, the cost ballooned to P4,600 for a 9-kilo bag and P9,200 for two bags of RR corn seeds. Prices of fertilizers and pesticides also increased.

Farmers turned to traders and money-lenders for loans with interest ranging from 20 to 40 percent during the four months of the cropping season. They were also bound to sell to the traders at prices lower than the market price.

In the end, inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) would eat up about 40 to 48 percent of the farmers’ total expenses per season. And all these go to the corn traders/financiers and agrochemical companies. Farmers who cannot pay end up losing control over their lands, or lose them entirely to evade legal actions.

As a farmer from Pangasinan said, “Nakain mo na, di mo pa naani.” (You’ve already consumed what you have yet to harvest.) They end up holding empty bags. To again quote a farmer who made an audience explode into laughter and rage: “Kaming magsasaka, naging magsasako.”

The Masipag research was conducted from February to March 2012. Masipag conducted focused group discussions (FGDs) with corn farmers and interviews with key informants (community leaders, local and national government officials, municipal agriculturists and Department of Agriculture regional officials). A total of 166 farmers participated in FGDs in case areas composed of 12 barangays and seven GM corn-producing provinces in Luzon (4), Visayas (4) and Mindanao (4). The provinces of Isabela, Pangasinan, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato belong to the top 10 corn-producing provinces, with Isabela having 34 percent of the total hectarage of GM corn areas in the Philippines.

For more on Masipag’s disturbing research findings, go to their website.

Greepeace is waging its own battle against Bt talong (eggplant), Golden Rice and other “GMO invasions” in, of all places, the courts (Greenpeace, Masipag et al. versus UPLBFI, UPLB-IPB, DENR-EMB. DA-BPI and PFA).

I am slowly learning the legal procedures for environmental cases adopted by the Supreme Court in 2012. “First in the world,” I am told, the writ of kalikasan was inspired by the more popular writ of amparo, writ of habeas data and writ of habeas corpus.

More on this another time.

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Tags: agricultural crops , agriculture , Bacillus thuringiensis , BT corn , Bt Talong , Farming , Genetically modified organisms , GMO , GMO corn

  • Vm

    Hmm. If GMO crops really make the farmers sink into debt then where is the control? How come the article doesnt mention farmers who don’t use GMO??

    If this article was fair then they would also look at the farmers nearby who practiced conventional agriculture (pestdicides and fertilizers but with normal non GMO crops) to see if they also became sunk in debt

    • Don Dee

      Precisely my point! One thing has got nothing to do with the other. NON SEQUITUR! I don’t how the author could slant it in a way to attack GMO. If there is anything to picked up in the problem cited in the article (via anecdotal tall tale) is that farmers are vulnerable to loan sharks! Conclusion: No GMO and the problem of lack of credit facility extended to farmers would be solved. Ang galeng!

    • Eustaquio Joven


  • Bukas Mata

    For readers who want to research more regarding what happened in india. You can look for the research, articles and books of Dr. Vandana Shiva and then judge and weight the facts for yourselves.

    • Bukas Mata

      From Wikipedia regarding the Indian farmer suicides linked to gm crops.
      “More recently, in 2012 the ICAR and the CCRI stated that for the first time farmer suicides could be linked to a decline in the performance of Bt cotton, and they issued an advisory stating that “cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”[34] As of August 2012, technical experts appointed by the India Supreme Court have recommended a 10-year moratorium on all field trials of GM food, as well as the termination of all current trials of transgenic crops.[38]”

      Sana sa simula pa lang mag iwas iwas na tayo kasi may time pa.

      • Don Dee

        GMO is not the silver bullet that will save farmers (not yet). GMO is just one label that covers a huge swath of engineered agri products. I am sure there are unprofitable GMO crops that would see the light of retail. But eventually, market forces will decide which products will prosper and which ones will not. If there are farmers that go into deep debt because of failed experiments, then the problem will be lack of credit facility made available to farmers and/or lack of correct government programs to propagate these new agri practices/products. But if you are going to say STOP all GMOs now. We might as well go back to the 1950s and be happy with the rice harvest then (pre IRRI days). Let’s allow half the population to starve to death because to tamper with nature is just WRONG.

      • WeAry_Bat

        “Let’s allow half the population starve to death”

        As I see, you don’t see everything fully well, apart from bandwagon of the GMOs. How can you explain the US and now, some population of the Philippines, are grossly overweight? Or can you guess the amount of food products which expires?

        Supposing, just supposing, there are abundant amounts of raw food from GMO, there will still be a starving population.

        GMO foods are not the answer. In already a few cases posted by Bukas Mata and a few commentators, they exacerbate the situation of farmers. GMO companies are like the fad of aerobics, taebo and rumba before people realize it is just a matter of any form of exercise and discipline. In the meantime, fad companies rake in the profits as they can.

      • Don Dee

        Ah yes, I will concede that there is a PROBLEM OF DISTRIBUTION. This is real. And GMOs will not solve that. Not yet, anyway. You do realize of course that rice is basically grass, right? Let’s say someone is able to GMO a rice variety that requires minimal pesticides, next to nothing in fertilizers, no artificial irrigation (you know, like grass). Wouldn’t that alleviate the starvation in Africa? The technology is still not there. But it is well within the realms of possibilities. And people are working on it as I type this. Someone has already manufactured beef from stem cells.

      • WeAry_Bat

        The stem cell research is different and quite laudable, but that is apart from the GMO in agriculture.

        Pesticides – many decades of pesticide use, what has happened? The surviving insects went on to mate with surviving insects thus acquiring greater tolerances. People in the early days of DDT even have themselves sprayed outright. How many decades to concede DDT was harmful? And for food with inherent pesticide?

        Fertilizers – When the rice farmer who rented our land started planting peanuts, I asked why. If you look at the Amazon forest, there are different plants yet they thrive so well.

        Artificial irrigation – same issue as with fertilizers above.

        Classical plant breeding such as selection and interbreeding, that is so much safer for everyone.

      • Don Dee

        Pesticides is a moving target (because insects are quick to evolve). Kaya nga wala pang permanent solution (emphasis on “pa”). But people are working on it. I only mentioned the stem cell produced beef because I believe that is even more “tampering with nature” than GMO. Ang target nga ng research — the ark of the covenant, if you will, is to create a rice variety that is as resilient as common grass (the weed variety). Create that, and you have solved world hunger because you’ve done away with chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

      • Bukas Mata

        You said so yourself that GMO is not the magic bullet that will save farmers but you seem to have a lot of faith behind it being the magic bullet in solving world hunger which is so laughable in itself. But until then it is just like that faith based. Faith based at nagbubulag bulagan sa totoong nangyayari at mga totoong ebidensya.

      • Don Dee

        Not the magic bullet (YET!). I have faith in SCIENCE. Alam mo ba, kung purely natural method of agriculture tayo ngayon (take away all the IRRI research) and half the world population will starve right now? Following the population boom after WWII, nagkaroon ng rice crisis (kahit pa maliit population nuon compared to now). IRRI nag solve nun. TRACK RECORD. Yan ang credential nila. It is nothing to sneeze at.

      • Bukas Mata

        Well how would you know and say na half the world population ay magugutom pag walang gmo? can you cite research and examples?
        Matagal na yung euphemism na yung science ay yung bagong religion. Yung mga priests nila ay yung mga scientists. Naka white din, lab coats na parang cassock ng priests. At kung ano man lumabas sa bibig nila is infallible. It seems follower ka na. Good luck then sa worship.

      • Don Dee

        Not GMOs necessarily, I was talking about IRRI biotech and how they solved the rice crisis. I don’t have the exact numbers in my head right now, but rice production would be halved at least (if i remember correctly). You can research that if you do not trust me. Pres Marcos nga was quick to ride on tech and launched his Masagana 99 program — (99 cavans per hectare ata yung target, kaya ganun ang name).

        Now, do have a crisis or not? IRRI is saying we should use every tech available. And I say why not?


        from IRRI website

        rice production
        1960 is 156.139 million metric tons
        2012 is 463.96 million metric tons.

        They are not claiming that it is all because of them. But hey, 1960 was the time they began to exist. If not for them you think rice production would have nearly tripled in that span of time? Check the rice varieties being used today. Find out how many are IRRI developed.

      • Bukas Mata

        Well you are saying to just blunder on and disregard the negative impact to the farmers economically which na demonstrate na sa India at ngayun sa pinas, and disregard the health concerns already raised by other scientists? Sa tingin mo ok lang ba yun?

      • Don Dee

        No. (and check the stats — I edited it in in previous comment). What I am saying is that there should be a neutral body who should study all food products before they are sold in grocery shelves. Kesyo GMO o natural, they should all be checked thoroughly. Ang angal ko lang naman (originally), ay TANGA ang article. Because it was pointing at GMOs as the cause of the problem of lack of credit facility to farmers, di ba? Hindi ba katangahan yun? The article is blaming GMOs dahil naloko ang farmers by unscrupulous traders/loan sharks. Na digress lang discussion. All that I am saying is, GMOs is neither good nor evil. It is neutral. Wala dapat irrational fear.

      • Bukas Mata

        Its poor yield and high costs is not the reason why the farmers had to resort to loan sharks?

      • Don Dee

        Like I said, farmers are not stupid. If non gmo is more profitable, they will go for it. Only a complete idiot will continue planting something that is not profitable or less profitable than an available alternative. So okay, a farmer might lose one planting season, if the allegations are true, Beyond that, the problem would be STUPIDITY.

      • Bukas Mata

        What method did IRRI used to develop these varities? gene splice?

      • Don Dee

        They have produced a lot over the years. Some cross breeding. Some gene splicing. Napapamura talaga ako when I see videos of ignorant hippie protesters marching to IRRI (saw on tv), mga taong walang pakinabang sa lipunan, protesting GMOs. Anong alam nila? What have they contributed to society? Waste of sperm talaga. Dapat gawing fertilizer na lang para may pakinabang naman.

      • WeAry_Bat

        World hunger will not be solved by the current systems in place and into the future. So GMO will never be effective on that score.

        The plants which do not attract insects are plants which have nothing nutritional. What is the soil is what is the fruit, like wine, yes? Different grapes in different soils yielding different tastes. Alternate the plants in the farm.

        In the US, they have corn which they convert to oil. Because the corn has grown for many decades on the soil, when you eat the edible young corn, you have to spit it out because it tastes bad.

        Sir, perhaps if you could kindly read up something on agriculture if you have not first hand experience on it. I am sorry but you just missed the area on fertilizers by a wide margin.

      • Don Dee

        Ahm, I studied crop science in UPLB. Ok, granted na dated na stock knowledge ko (will not tell you how long ago I was in college). But I do understand the basic mechanics/science behind this. I do get what you are trying to say with fertilizer (nutrients has to come somewhere), all that I am saying is, it need not be the expensive chemicals being used now. It is well within the realm of possibilities (ok I allow me to repeat that phrase). Again, if rice is as resilient as common grass, wouldn’t that solve a lot of problems? It will not solve the politics of hunger in Africa (being used as a weapon of war), but it will certainly change the equation.

      • WeAry_Bat

        That nitrogen in the soil from lightning or peanuts will help, thus the artificial fertilizers are nitrogen-based.

        For our region, rice should be as resilient as bamboo which is grass. I would be in favor of GMO like that, just not in the product of plants like fruits, grains and etc.

        have to go…doesn’t mean i am giving up or running away…i assume you are same as of this time.

      • Don Dee

        Yup, had to run before you posted that, haha. It was a pleasure to have an intelligent exchange here for a change. :)

      • Vm

        also from wikipedia, the GMO cotton was introduced in 2001 and suicides started in the 1990′s

      • Vm

        from the indian newspaper the Hindu.August 29, 2013

        title of article is “Use of Bt. cotton increased yield, farmers’ income: Pawar”

        it says

        “Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Tuesday said
        that the use of Bt. cotton, the only transgenic crop, cleared by the
        Environment Ministry and the committee concerned, has resulted in
        increased cotton production/farmers’ income, and controlled bollworm disease in the cotton crops. “Farmers themselves have accepted Bt.crop. That is why, we have supported it.”

        Replying to a question in the Lok Sabha on Bt.cotton, Mr. Pawar said that the Indian farmer was more-wiser than him. They understood what crops should be taken. “When 93 per cent of cotton growers are using this seed [Bt.cotton], .. they are the sensible people and they are for the larger interests of the country. Therefore, it is not proper to say that Bt.cotton is not useful.””

      • Don Dee

        Haha! I like the part “the Indian farmer was wiser than him”. This is TRUE! Unlike this article which paints farmers as STUPID. Actually I learned something counter-intuitive from a farmer (because he knows his stuff more than my book learning stuff). Bad weather is not exactly frowned upon by farmers. And good harvests are not exactly welcomed either. It has something to do with law of supply and demand. Bad weather that results in poor harvest can sometimes turn in better profit (if you are fortunate enough to have harvested) because price in the market skyrockets. If every farmer harvests good, sometimes, they lose money.

      • Bukas Mata

        It would be highly probable that proponents of gm crops made similar inputs last year in front of the Indian Supreme Court. But it did not stop the court from its ruling.

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