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Hybrid corn seed firms asked to indemnify Bukidnon corn farmers

(Monday, July 28, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Walter Balane, MindaNews, 07/18/03: MUSUAN, Bukidnon -- Earlier dubbed "mysterious," the growth disorder which has affected some 665 hectares of land planted mainly to hybrid corn has been traced to the "interplay of genetic and climatic factors," for which hybrid seed manufacturers Monsanto Philippines, Inc., Pioneer Du Pont and Syngenta, Inc. have been asked to indemnify some 200 farmer-victims in three towns here.The corn growth abnormalities were characterized, among others, by abnormal length of cobs, multiple ears, barren cobs or cobs with no kernels at all.The Technical Ad Hoc Committee (TAC) set up by the Department of Agriculture (DA) to investigate the corn growth disorders, recommended, among others, that hybrid corn seed companies Monsanto Philippines, Inc., Pioneer Du Pont and Syngenta, Inc. indemnify the victims in Kalilangan, Don Carlos and Pangantucan towns, who will earn nothing from this season's harvest.

The other recommendations made by the TAC are: for LGUs to declare the affected areas as calamity areas; to withdraw all batches of seeds imported and subject these to further multi-location field tests. The TAC also recommended that two-season trials be conducted in coordination with the municipal agriculture office and Central Mindanao University and quality assurance of imported hybrid seeds should be instituted.

The TAC presented its findings during a forum on July 16 at the Administration Conference Hall of the Central Mindanao University (CMU), here.

The committee report's summary stated that the hybrid corn seeds were prone to develop reproductive abnormalities given a short dry spell and that it has not been tested in such climatic conditions. The committee concluded that the phenomenon was a result of the "interplay of genetic and climatic factors."

The committee ruled out population density and mutual shading among corn plants in the area, high temperature and deficient nutrients, as causes of the phenomenon.

The committee report also indicated that sege-sege corn, a non-hybrid variety, was not affected by the phenomenon.

CMU's Dr. Conrado Duque, TAC member, who presented the findings, pointed out that the affected areas were exposed to moisture stress. He said that sample areas were planted to the hybrid corn variety on the first week of April. From May 21-June 5, there was zero rainfall and the vital stage of tasseling and pollination reportedly occurred from June 1-4, which jointly caused the abnormalities, he said.

According to the website, www.keylate.com, the most important period of growth in corn occurs early in the plant's life. "The crown will 'set' the genetic _expression on how the plant grows ... roots, stalk, leaves, and ear. The next most important period is 10 days before tasseling until pollination. This period determines silk growth, cob growth, direction of sugar flow from the stalk to the ear (early dying or stay green), kernel abortion, cob length. During this period, a massive amount of a hormone is made by the top growth of the plant during this period. If it is in a high concentration compared to the rest of the plant, all of the negative things happen such as poor silk growth, poor pollination, poor cob growth, early dying of the plant."

"Moral considerations" only?

Chaired by Dr. Artemio Salazar, DA Director for Corn Program, TAC's members include Duqye and Dr. Nonito Franje of CMU and a Dr. Manuel, a nutritionist. The committee did not expound on the "interplay of genetic and climatic conditions" but said further studies or observations would be needed to really pinpoint the details of the phenomenon.

But Dr. Salazar, TAC chair, told MindaNews that the TAC report is "not binding" on the seed companies in that they cannot compel the hybrid corn seed firms to indemnify the farmers. He said the findings were only empirical descriptions of what happened and a longer study is needed to determine if the abnormality was genetic or climatic.

Salazar, however, said the firms should help the farmer-victims "out of moral considerations." Salazar added that hybrid corn seeds have passed quality standards and product testing, although their report showed that the seeds were untested in the situation observed in the three towns.

Pio Moreto, research director of Monsanto Philippines, Inc stressed that their products underwent "very intensive testing" of around three to seven years before they were commercialized. He said the phenomenon observed was Monsanto's first in its history. Salazar said a "big number" of the corn farmers affected by the phenomenon used Monsanto's Dekalb 9051 seed variety. But he added that most farmers prefer this variety because of its "commercial success."

"It so happened that these abnormalities happened this time with the hybrid seeds", Salazar said.

The TAC report on conditions observed in an area in Don Jose Kalilangan town which was planted to hybrid corn varieties or varieties grown adjacent to each other showed that in the use of Dekalb 9051 or DK 9051 seeds of Monsanto Philippines, Inc. 100% of the corn plants grew multiple ears, had incomplete kernels, or had barren cobs or cobs without kernels at all.

In the area planted with Pioneer 30M50 of Pioneer Du Pont Seeds, Inc., 70% to 80% of the corn plants were observed with incomplete kernels and barren cobs.

In another area planted to DK 9051, 30% of the corn plants suffered from missing kernels while 70% of the corn plants grew barren cobs.

The GSI 40 of Asian Hybrid Seeds, Inc. and the sege-sege or sige sige OPV/ non-hybird variety, showed no abnormalities.

In another area outside the 'adjacent planting" area, NK 8840 of Syngenta Hybrid Seeds, Inc., indicated abnormalities but no percentage or figures were given. DK 818 of Monsanto also suffered abnormalities but no figures were given.

In the Department of Agriculture's website on the "9 basic steps towards a bountiful corn harvest," the first step it recommends is "choosing the appropriate variety of hybrid and securing good quality seeds."

"In choosing the appropriate variety, consider adaptability to climatic conditions, potential yield, maturity resistance to insect pests and diseases, and market demand" and "use only high quality seeds to avoid thinning of seedlings or expensive replanting operations."

A representative from the barangay council of Don Jose, Kalilangan, told the forum that the council has not approved the resolution declaring the affected areas as calamity areas because they are waiting for action from the hybrid seed companies.

No commitment

But representatives from Monsanto Philippines, Inc. Pioneer Du Pont and Syngenta seed companies at the forum, said they still have to refer the matter of indemnification to their top management.

DA Regional Executive Director Rufo T. Chan, Jr. required the representatives of the seed companies to state their companies' action on the indemnification issue on July 22 at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan regular session.

Also present at the forum was SP member Anacleto Macias (3rd district), the board's committee on agriculture chair. Macias urged the representatives of the seed companies to indemnify the farmer-victims and not rely on action from the local government units "so that the issue would not grow bigger."

He said they owe it to the people and to their good name to help the farmers recover from the problems caused by the corn abnormalities. Chan said that whether or not the hybrid seed companies pay the farmer-victims, the government must act on the matter and protect the interests of the people.

He said they are expediting the study so that the farmers could already be assisted. Salazar stressed the affected areas "do not even comprise 1% of Bukidnon's 120,000 hectares of agricultural lands planted to corn" and so it is not really a big problem for the province's corn industry.

In the three towns, the affected areas, the committee said, comprised only 9.3% (190) of the 2,033 hectares in Don Carlos; 9.1% (275) of the 3,000 hectares in Kalilangan; and 5.2% (200) of the 3,819 planted in Pangantucan.

But Salazar acknowledged that the areas affected are within the corn basket of the province.

Salazar said no reports had been made about similar incidence in the other towns. Bukidnon provincial agriculture officer Pacifico Ramos earlier told MindaNews that the condition has only affected a small portion of Bukidnon's corn production.

Ramos said his office in coordination with municipal agricultural offices, has prepared a master list of the farmers affected.