Monday, August 17, 2015

Of Beauty Queens and Biotech

Beauty contests are popular whether in the big cities or villages. Beautiful, intelligent, and talented ladies vie for the different awards at stake, while audiences get an experience of second guessing the choices of judges. While winning local pageants is already an achievement, those who qualify to represent their respective countries in international events get the limelight and a head-start in careers often related to entertainment and media. Such is the case of women who represent their countries in international contests such as Ms. Universe which began in 1952. The logo of Ms. Universe or “the woman with stars” represents beauty and responsibility, hence, a shift from being merely a pretty face to a woman with the potential to influence and spread messages to the global community.

Since the ladies all look pretty and model their costumes and gowns with similar flair, the question and answer portion often becomes the make or break moment. Finalists, often the remaining five contestants, are asked a final question before one is chosen to go overseas to spread messages that span world peace, education, health, and public awareness of current issues and concerns. Just being a representative of women in a global context enables powerful statements to be voiced out and listened to by a captive audience.

Miss Uganda 2015/2016
Zahara Muhammed Nakigaya
The question “What are GMOs (genetically modified organisms)?” would not be a typical question, but wait, it was exactly the one asked of the finalists for the Ms. Universe representative of Uganda. With ease and confidence, 23-year old Zahara Muhammed Nakiyaga of Kampala said, “GMOs are genetically modified organisms made from joining tissue and DNAs of plants to produce more resistant and long lasting crops.” This, she explained after noting that she would use social media positively to sensitize the youth and the public at large about the different projects I want to do to promote rural development.”

The confidence to answer the biotech question was a result of participation of the pageant finalists, in an agriculture-focused bootcamp, supported by among others, the Uganda Biosciences Information Center (UBIC) and the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Kampala. The lady candidates spent a three-week activity-filled event on “Promoting agricultural entrepreneurship among the youth” which was the pageant’s theme. They engaged in sessions with scientists, visited laboratories and field trials and demonstrations, and were exposed to evidence-based research in agriculture. In an interview with Uganda’s newspaper, Daily Monitor, Zahara said, “I learnt so many things, including the benefits of modern agriculture, which I want to pass on to other youth during my reign.”

Lady candidates learn about agricultural machineries at the bootcamp.

The innovative approach to making biotech more mainstream in public narratives was the brainchild of the UBIC team led by Dr. Barbara Mugwanya Zawedde. UBIC, a member of ISAAA's information network, is committed to fostering greater awareness and understanding of biosciences in a country that is open to modern agricultural technologies to address productivity and population issues. Dr. Zawedde, however, notes that the “openness of the pageant organizers to have their candidates attend the bootcamp and to include a question for the candidates on biotech, opened up the opportunity to get the public interested in a topic often marginalized from daily conversations.” But more importantly, the pageant candidates found the experience very useful and an eye opener.

The contestants at the NaCRRI laboratory.

Indeed the challenge for biotech communicators is how to encourage public engagement, but not on a playing field that is unfamiliar with the latter. Science and its applications do not have to be robustly tested within the confines of the laboratory or field alone. Rather, efforts must be made to engage the public in new conversations that allow them to view science and technology as integral part of their daily life and incorporate public values into decision-making. UBIC can also be commended for popularizing biotech among the youth in Uganda, through essay contests, internships, and science fairs.

Meanwhile, this event is a unique strategy, one of many other possibilities to jumpstart public engagement that can hopefully make a positive difference. 

For more information about agricultural biotechnology in Uganda, send an email to:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sunrise of Hope for Small-Scale Biotech Farmers

The poet Jean Marble makes a plea in behalf of farmers:

Make sunrise early and the sunset wait;
Make summer early and the winter late!
Allow the crops to sprout and thrive
And give hope to man the drive.

Indeed, farming is a profession that builds on hope and optimism – that pests and diseases, vagaries of weather, and other challenges to growing plants will not stop farmers from experiencing higher yield, better productivity, and enhanced quality of life for their families and communities. A cotton farmer, for instance, waits for about 4 to 5 months for the seed to grow and mature into a plant bursting with bolls. He is uncertain whether nature will reward or punish him for his effort, time, and investment. He can only wait and pray.

But scientists have been seeking alternative and modern solutions to overcome such a scenario. These include biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops that have improved attributes such as insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. The first biotech crops were planted in 1996. Currently, over 17 million farmers are planting biotech soybean, maize, cotton, and canola, among others. While it is generally perceived that only farmers from developed countries are reaping the benefits of modern biotechnology, about 85% of farmers planting biotech crops are actually small landholders in the developing countries of China, India, and the Philippines.

The Adoption and Uptake Pathways of Biotech Crops by Small-Scale, Resource-Poor Asian Farmers: Comparative Studies in China, India, and the Philippines project was spearheaded by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) in collaboration with the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Indian Society of Cotton Improvement (ISCI) and the College of Development Communication at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (CDC-UPLB). The study sought to answer the following questions: Who are the biotech farmers? What are the factors that farmers consider in adopting biotech crops? How have they benefitted from adopting the technology? Who influenced them in adopting biotech crops?

The three-country research looked at farmers from Hebei, Shandong, Anhui, and Henan provinces in China located in the Huang-Huai-Hai cotton production zone; cotton-growing states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab in India; and maize-growing provinces of Pampanga, Iloilo and South Cotabato in the Philippines.

Who are the farmers using GM crops?

The study provides insights on a new breed of farmers as a result of biotech crops. While Bt cotton production is still a male-dominated activity in China, more and more women are getting involved in planting operations, They are attracted to the benefits of growing Bt cotton as there is less labor involved than would otherwise be needed for pesticide applications.

Filipino males dominate the planting process, but wives are major decision makers in the choice of crop to plant and farming methods to adopt since they control the input costs and spending. In Indian households, planting of Bt cotton has become a family affair with the household head, taking the more strenuous activities and mothers and children helping to pick and clean cotton bolls.

In India, it is a significant sign that Bt cotton is attracting the young with over 50% in the 21-40 age bracket among those surveyed in the cotton-growing areas of Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharasthra.

Interestingly, in the Philippines, even college graduates are venturing into GM maize production as it has become a viable income-generating alternative. Farmers in China and the Philippines report two to three times higher incomes from planting GM crops while Indian farmers obtain twice the income over traditional varieties

Reasons for Adoption of GM crops

The principal reasons why farmers adopt GM crops are higher economic and yield benefits, freedom or reduced infestations from cotton bollworm or corn borer, and dramatic reduction in pesticide use and frequency of spraying. Other facilitating factors include the presence of private traders that sell seeds and provide capital loans as well as trust and stronger ties among farmers that contributed to the information flow on biotech crops. 

Similar to other technologies, there are also factors that limit or slow down adoption of biotech crops. Foremost are lack of capital and the high cost of farm inputs, especially in India and the Philippines. Influence of skeptical elders and church groups with regard biotech crops in these two countries was also a limiting factor. In the initial years of commercialization in China, local seed companies could not meet the demand for biotech seeds. Delayed adoption was also attributed to limited access to information about the new technology and inadequate government support.

Uptake Pathways of GM Crops

As revealed in focus group discussions, early adopting farmers in India and the Philippines take the risk of a new technology by trying out a biotech crop which they initially heard about from a demonstration field trial set up by seed companies or from progressive village leaders. Other farmers in the community take a ‘wait and see’ attitude, they take time to see how things progress, but become easily motivated to try the new crop after seeing convincing results of higher yields and bountiful harvests from the early adopters.

Early adopters share biotech crop know-how with their relatives and peers through  personal interactions. This is due to the prevailing strong peer system among farmers and the belief that they owe it to themselves and their fellow farmers to share what would benefit everyone in the community (Figure 1).

Figure 1. General pattern of adoption and uptake pathway of biotech crops in China, India, and the Philippines

In China, village cadres coordinate with technicians to arrange training and convince farmers to participate in farm-related activities. Facilitating factors for early adoption are: 1) support from trusted village leaders on GM crop production; 2) close ties among farmers; and 3) avoidance of heavy losses incurred by farmers in cultivating non-GM crops. 

It is not surprising, therefore, that farmer adoption of Bt cotton is now more than 95% of total cotton production in China and India, while 80% of Filipino yellow corn farmers are planting biotech maize.

It must have been biotech crops that poet Carrie Richards was referring to when she said:

Ploughs and pastures, furrows and frowns
Rows of seeds, for miles and miles
A crop, a harvest, to table, and smiles.

For the full research reports, visit

Friday, March 13, 2015

Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops 2014 Launched in Beijing; Media Conferences Held in Asian Countries

Since 1996, during the first year of commercialization of biotech crops, ISAAA has released the annual “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops” (ISAAA Brief No. 49), a Report that documents the latest information on the global status of commercially approved biotech crops. Year after year, ISAAA prepares the Report and supports its free distribution to developing countries to provide information and knowledge to the scientific community and facilitate a more informed and transparent discussion regarding the potential role of biotech crops in contributing to global food, feed, fiber, and fuel security, and a more sustainable agriculture.

The 2014 Global Status Report is the 19th Brief in the series, and documents the global database on the adoption and distribution of biotech crops in the world in 2014, when 18 million farmers from 28 countries planted 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops. Below are summaries of the country launches held for the 2014 Global Status Report.


Brief 49 was launched at the China World Hotel in Beijing, China on January 28, 2015, with 35 media representatives. A seminar where Dr. Clive James presented the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops in 2014 was held at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) on January 29, and co-organized by CAAS, ISAAA, China BIC, and five professional societies in China. The seminar was attended by 200 stakeholders from the government, academe, research institutes, media agencies, and private companies. Guests during the seminar include Dr. Chen Zhangliang, Vice President of China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), Dr. Paul Teng, and Dr. Randy Hautea.
Dr. James presenting the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops during the seminar in Beijing, China.


In Seoul, the media seminar for Brief 49 was held at The Plaza Hotel on January 30. It was attended by more than 60 people from the government, academe, and private companies. Dr. James presented the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops in 2014. The seminar was co-organized by Dr. Soo-Chul Park, director of the National Center for GM Crops (NCGC) of the Next-Generation BioGreen21 Program in RDA, South Korea; and Dr. Tae-San Kim, director of CropLife Asia.

Dr. Park emphasized the need for the development of GM crops in Korea and mentioned 4 events (drought tolerant rice, herbicide-resistant/male sterility grass, virus resistant red pepper) that are under risk assessment.
More than 60 people from the government, academe, and private companies attended the seminar in Seoul.


The seminar and media engagement in Tokyo were facilitated by Dr. Fusao Tomita, the Nippon BIC director and the Council for Biotechnology Information in Japan (CBIJ) currently headed by Dr. Masahiro Suzuki. The event was held at Belle Salle Yaesu on February 2 and gathered more than 100 participants composed of media, policy makers, and the academe, an impossible feat on a Monday in Japan. Dr. Suzuki opened the seminar and provided information on the activities of CBIJ, followed by the presentations of Dr. James and Dr. Hautea. Dr. Tomita presented the current status and views of GM crops in Japan. A short meeting with the media was also held immediately after the seminar.
Dr. James at the media seminar in Tokyo.


Brief 49 was presented at a conference held at the Sofitel Hotel in Hanoi, on February 3. Hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and AgBiotech Vietnam, in cooperation with ISAAA, the conference was attended by more than 100 regulators and scientists from science, environment and agriculture ministries, members of the academe and research institutes, representatives of businesses, associations and media agencies.

Dr. James presented the global status of biotech/GM crops. Dr. Hautea discussed the application and benefits of biotech corn in the Philippines, while Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, Executive Director of Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) highlighted the role of the media in providing correct and objective information about biotech crops against the misconception of this technology.

Heads of ministries graced the occasion, including Dr. Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy,  General Director of Department of Science and Technology of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; and Prof. Dr. Trinh Khac Quang, Director of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Discussions on the Q and A revolved around management of biotech seeds after commercialization and effective methods of communication on biotech crops to the public.
Dr. James is joined by Dr. Le Huy Ham (left) and Dr. Vo Tung Xuan (right) during the seminar in Hanoi.  


Thailand’s Biosafety and Biotechnology Information Center (BBIC) Director Dr. Supat Attathom and Biotechnology Alliance Association (BAA) head Dr. Nipon Lamsupasit led the seminar in Bangkok held in Century Park Hotel on February 4. 119 participants composed of media, policy makers, the academe, and the industry attended the seminar. Simultaneous translation during the seminar was supported by BAA.

The seminar which featured presentations from Drs. James, Hautea, and Arujanan  was opened by Prof. Dr. Yongyuth Yuthawong, the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, who also met with the ISAAA team at breakfast. The country has permitted field trials of GM crops and is looking forward to commercialization. Former agriculture minister Thira Sutabutra also attended the seminar.
Dr. Hautea and Dr. James is joined by Dr. Arujanan in Bangkok.


Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MOAI), the National Economic and Social Advisory Council (NESAC) co-organized the ISAAA seminars held in Summer Park View Hotel, Yangon on February 5; and at Thingaha Hotel, Nay Pyi Taw on February 6.

At the Yangon media conference, Dr. Sein Hla Bo, Presidential Economic Advisor to the President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar chaired the seminar. More than 30 media representatives and members of the academe in Yangon attended the briefings by Dr. James and Mr. Bhagirath Choudhary, ISAAA Director for Strategic Initiatives.

The Nay Pyi Taw seminar was attended by more than 50 government representatives, policy makers, members of the academe, and media representatives. Dr. Ye Tint Htun, Director General of Department of Agriculture presided over the seminar with presentations from Dr. James, Mr. Choudhary, as well as from Dr. Khin Thida Myint, professor at Yezin Agricultural University who discussed the progress of GM crops in Myanmar, and the possibility of developing collaborative project on other crops important to food security in Myanmar. Prof. Daw Than Than Nu of the Department of Industrial Crops Development shared the achievement of Bt cotton and the development of new promising Bt cotton variety Ngwe Chi-9, to be released in the near future. It was notable that Dr. Ye Tint Htun, Director General of Department of Agricultural Research of the MOAI invited ISAAA to help them access new biotechnologies and facilitate technology transfer to Myanmar.
Dr. James (center) and Mr. Choudhary (second from left) at the seminar in Yangon.


Dr. James was joined by the Honorable Minister of Agriculture Matia Chowdhury who gave a message in the seminar in Dhaka held at the Bangladesh Agricultural Council (BARC) on February 8.

The event was co-organized by Bangladesh Biotechnology Information Center (BdBIC) Director Prof. Dr. Khondoker Nasiruddin and ISAAA in partnership with BARC and ABSP II (Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II). Dr. James and Mr. Choudhary were joined in the forum by Dr. Md Rafiqual Islam Modal, Director General of BARI; Prof. Dr. Md Shahidur Rashid Bhuiyan, Pro VC of Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University; Dr. Abul Kalam Azad, Executive Chairman BARC; Prof. Md Shadat Ullah, VC of Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University and Mr. Md Eunusur Rahman, Secretary of Agriculture who each gave short message during the program. Around 450 participants from the scientific community, agricultural universities, different government departments, industry, seven media outlets who recorded the event, and a dozen print and online media attended the seminar.
Hon. Minister for Agriculture Matia Chowdhury was chief guest during the launch in Dhaka.


The seminar in Indonesia was attended by 150 stakeholders consisting of scientists, academicians, policy makers, farmers, journalists, and entrepreneurs. It was held on February 11, 2015. Dr. James shared the recent global developments in biotechnology. It was organized by the Indonesian Biotechnology Information Center (IndoBIC), ISAAA, Ministry of Agriculture, and National Outstanding Farmers Association (NOFA), and supported by the Indonesian Society for Agricultural Biotechnology (PBPI), CropLife Indonesia, and SEAMEO BIOTROP.

Dr. James also highlighted a significant development in biotechnology in Asia, saying that Vietnam and Indonesia are close to the commercialization of biotech crops, which is expected to begin in 2015. Dr. Ir. Hasil Sembiring, General Director of Food Crops of the Ministry of Agriculture represented the Minister to deliver the opening remarks on that event.
Speakers and moderator of the seminar in Jakarta (left to right): Prof. Agus Pakpahan, Dr. Hautea, Dr. Teng, Dr. James, and Ms. Veronica Moniaga.


The Manila launch of Brief 49 highlighted the continued expansion of biotech corn in the country. A media conference, co-organized with the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), was held on February 27, at the InterContinental Manila Hotel in Makati City

Speakers at the conference include ISAAA Board Chair Dr. Paul S. Teng; Dr. Hautea; ISAAA Senior Program Officer Dr. Rhodora R. Aldemita who presented the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops in 2014; and Bukidnon farmer Mr. Edgar Talasan, who expressed his eagerness to plant an upcoming biotech crop, Bt eggplant. Representatives from government offices, scientists, and members of the media attended the seminar.
ISAAA Senior Program Officer Dr. Rhodora R. Aldemita presented the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops in 2014 during the seminar in Manila.

More information about ISAAA's Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014 are available at ISAAA website: Various information resources, including the Executive Summary, Top Ten Facts about Biotech/GM Crops in 2014, Powerpoint slides, infographics, and videos are all available for download from the same link.

For more information about ISAAA, visit, or follow ISAAA on Facebook ( and Twitter (

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Biotech Crops Show Sustained Growth and Benefits in 2014; Global Plantings Increase by 6 Million Hectares

The 2014 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops, authored by Clive James, Founder and Emeritus Chair of ISAAA, reports that a record 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops were grown globally, an increase of more than 6 million hectares from 2013. With the addition of Bangladesh, 28 countries grew biotech crops during the year. The 20 developing and eight industrial countries where biotech crops are planted represent more than 60 percent of the world’s population.

“The accumulated hectarage of biotech crops grown in 1996 to 2014 equals, roughly, 80 percent more than the total land mass of China. Global hectarage has increased more than 100-fold since the first plantings of biotech crops.” - Clive James

Since 1996, more than 10 food and fiber biotech crops have been approved and commercialized around the world. These range from major commodities such as maize, soybean and cotton, to fruits and vegetables like papaya, eggplant and, most recently, potato. The traits of these crops address common issues affecting crop benefits to the consumer and production rates for farmers, including drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance and increased nutrition and food quality. Biotech crops contribute to more sustainable crop production systems and provide resilient responses to the challenges of climate change.

According to the Report, the United States continues to lead production at 73.1 million hectares, up 3 million hectares from 2013, the highest year-over-year increase, surpassing Brazil, which has recorded the highest annual increase for the past five years.

The Report also highlighted key benefits of biotechnology, including alleviation of poverty and hunger by boosting the income of risk-averse small, resource-poor farmers around the world. Latest global provisional information for the period 1996 to 2013 shows that biotech crops increased production valued at US$133 billion; in the period 1996 to 2012 pesticide use decreased significantly saving approximately 500 million kg of active ingredient. In 2013 alone, crop plantings lowered carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing 12.4 million cars from the road for one year.

These findings are consistent with a rigorous meta-analysis, conducted by economists Wilhelm Klumper and Matin Qaim in November 2014, which concludes that GM technology has, on average, reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 percent, increased crop yields by 22 percent, and increased farmer profits by 68 percent during the 20-year period 1995 to 2014. 

A corn farmer's family in the Philippines (ISAAA file photo)

Bangladesh: a model for success

Bangladesh, one of the smallest and poverty-stricken countries in the world, approved Bt brinjal (eggplant) in October 2013. Commercial planting began in January 2014 when 120 farmers planted 12 hectares of Bt brinjal throughout the year. Bt brinjal not only brings financial opportunity to farmers in the country, but also decreases farmer exposure to pesticides by 70 to 90 percent.

“The timely approval and commercialization of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh speaks to the power of political will and support from the government. This lays the foundation as a model of success for other small, poor countries to quickly introduce the benefits of biotech crops.”

The case of Bangladesh in 2014 reconfirms the value and success of public-private partnerships. The Bt biotech trait for brinjal – one of the most nutritious and important vegetables in Bangladesh – was donated by Mahyco, an Indian company.

“Public-private partnerships continue to increase the probability of timely delivery of approved biotech crops at the farm level,” James said. “They will remain essential in the years to come.”

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project is another example of a public-private partnership at work. Beginning in 2017, select African countries are scheduled to receive the first biotech drought tolerant maize, a food staple for more than 300 million Africans. The donated biotechnology trait is the same as the DroughtGard™ variety used in the United States, which increased 5.5-fold in planted hectares from 2013 to 2014. This demonstrates strong farmer acceptance of the biotech drought tolerant maize.

New approvals address consumer concerns

In the United States, approval of the Innate™ potato was granted in November 2014. The Innate potato decreases production of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen, when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. Furthermore, it increases consumer satisfaction while precluding up to 40 percent yield loss as the potato will not discolor when peeled and has fewer bruising spots. These attributes will have meaningful impact on food security as food waste continues as an important factor in the discussion of feeding 9.6 billion people in 2050 and approximately 11 billion in 2100.

Potatoes represent the fourth most important food staple in the world. As such, a continuous effort is being made to improve the potato and combat losses due to diseases, insects and weeds, and other constraints.

Biotech-based control of the fungal disease late-blight, the most important disease of potatoes in the world, is already being field-tested in Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. Late-blight caused the 1845 Irish famine, which resulted in 1 million deaths. Biotech control of virus diseases and the Colorado beetle, the most important insect pest, are already available, but not deployed.

Status of biotech crops in Asia

In Asia, China and India continue to lead developing countries growing biotech crops at 3.9 million hectares and 11.6 million hectares planted in 2014, respectively.

The adoption rate of biotech cotton in China increased from 90 to 93 percent in 2014, while virus resistant papaya plantings increased approximately 50 percent. More than 7 million small farmers in the country continue to benefit from biotech crops and the latest economic data available indicates farmers in the country have gained US$16.2 billion since the introduction of biotech in 1996.

Bt cotton farmer in China (ISAAA file photo)

According to the Report, India cultivated a record 11.6 million hectares of Bt cotton with an adoption rate of 95 percent. Economists Brookes and Barfoot estimate that India enhanced farm income from Bt cotton by US$ 2.1 billion in 2013 alone.

Farmers at a cotton farm in India (ISAAA file photo)

Developing countries Vietnam and Indonesia granted approval for commercialization of biotech crops to begin in 2015. This includes several hybrids of biotech maize for importing and planting in Vietnam and drought tolerant sugarcane for planting as a food crop in Indonesia
Growth continues in Africa and Latin America

Having cultivated 2.7 million hectares in 2014, South Africa ranks as the leading developing country to grow biotech crops in Africa. Sudan increased Bt cotton hectarage by approximately 50 percent in 2014 and several African countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda conducted field trials on several pro-poor crops including the food crops rice, maize, wheat, sorghum, bananas, cassava and sweet potato. These crops can contribute to resilience and sustainability in the face of new climate change challenges.

In Latin America, Brazil ranked second, after the United States, for biotech crops planted in 2014. At 42.2 million hectares, this represents an increase of 5 percent from 2013.

Biotech crops impact food security, sustainability and the environment

From 1996 to 2013, biotech crops have increased crop production valued provisionally at $US133 billion; helped alleviate poverty for more than 16.5 million small farmers and their families – more than 65 million people, collectively – some of the poorest people in the world; and decreased the environmental impact of food and fiber production by reducing pesticide use, increasing land savings and reducing CO2 emissions.

According to economists Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, if the 441 million tons of food, feed and fiber from biotech crops from 1996 to 2013 were not produced, an additional 132 million hectares of conventional crops would be needed to produce the same tonnage. This required increase in hectares could have negative impacts for biodiversity and the environment due to a greater demand for cultivated land.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) is a not-for-profit organization with an international network of centers designed to contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty by sharing knowledge and crop biotechnology applications. Clive James, Emeritus Chairman and Founder of ISAAA, has lived and/or worked for the past 30 years in the developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa, devoting his efforts to agricultural research and development issues with a focus on crop biotechnology and global food security.

For more information about ISAAA and Brief 49, visit

The Top 10 Facts, infographics, and PowerPoint slides are available at:

Friday, June 06, 2014

How Biotech Corn Transformed a Farmer’s Life and Made Him the Community’s VIP

Ryan Lising, 39, has lived all his life in a farming community in Mandani, Magalang, Pampanga, one of seven provinces in Central Luzon, Philippines. 

Like his father before him, Ryan is a corn farmer, and corn is his family’s main source of income. Corn gives him money not only to send his four children to school, but also to help him expand his business and buy his own farm machinery. His crop also allows him to assist other corn farmers in their community. But unlike his father who planted white corn before him, Ryan plants biotech corn now — a crop that has made him an important person in their community.

Planting biotech corn has made Filipino farmer Ryan Lising an important person in his community. 
(Photo by Ian Mari Reaño)

‘It was never enough’

Before he ventured into farming, Ryan worked as a messenger and errand boy for some of the big corn farms in Mandani. When his motorcycle was stolen, he felt that he lost his family's livelihood, too.

He was helpless without the motorcycle that allowed him to move faster around the community, doing his job. Ryan then became a farmhand, working on different farms doing all available work.

“I used to wake up at four in the morning to look for work. I went from one farm to the next, hoping to get a job that will help me feed my family.”

Despite Ryan's perseverance and hard work to provide for his young family of four, it seemed that "it was just never enough".

In 1996, after participating in a corn farm demonstration, Ryan sought his father's help so he could plant white corn in the family's 1.5 hectare farmland. His income improved a bit, but his crop challenged him.

"White corn is very laborious to plant. It needs more insecticides and we need to apply granular insecticide to each plant on a daily basis depending on the level of infestation."

The challenges continued to chase him, including the low selling price of corn, on top of the relentless pests, and the high prices of insecticides needed to control them.

New life

Years went by and Ryan’s struggles with farming remained unabated. Change came in 2003 after the Philippine government approved the commercial planting of Bt corn in the country.

Ryan became one of the early adopters of Bt corn when it was introduced by seed company technicians in Mandani in 2003. Though uncertain about the new corn that the technicians introduced in the farm demonstration, his frustrations with white corn - his crop then - urged him to try it.

Following his first Bt corn harvest, it became clear to Ryan that there was no turning back. He knew that it was the beginning of a new life for him and his family, who has faced so many hardships in trying to make ends meet.

“When I realized that I will earn more if I plant Bt corn, I decided to add two more children to my brood. Sending my children to school was not that difficult anymore.”

When stacked traits corn was approved for commercial planting in the country, Ryan did not hesitate to plant it on his farm which has grown from 1.5 to more than 20 hectares.

“I have a new motorcycle now to replace the stolen one, and I was able to buy my own farm machines. I have two trucks and two tractors, and I am getting a new, bigger tractor soon.”

Ryan also has more time to spend with his family because he does not need to spend a lot of time on his farm. He also found other means of livelihood in their community.

A portion of Ryan's farm in Mandani, Magalang, Pampanga. (Photo by Ian Mari Reaño)

'An important man'

A decade of planting biotech corn has changed Ryan’s and his family’s life. His increased and steady income from planting biotech corn allowed him to explore other business opportunities.

He says that nowadays, he still wakes up at four in the morning, but not to look for work anymore.

“I go to different corn farms in our village to see their corn. I am now a corn buyer.”

Ryan uses his two trucks to transport the corn that he buys from the various farms in their village. He also buys and transports other agricultural produce such as sweet corn and vegetables, and helps the people in their village by providing them with jobs, an undertaking that makes him proud.

“Biotech corn changed my life completely. After years of planting it, I am now an important man.”

Ryan Lising is one of 397,500 farmers in the Philippines who is growing and enjoying the benefits of biotech corn in 2013. The Philippines is among the 27 countries in the world and one of the six developing countries in Asia (including India, China, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh), that are commercially planting biotech crops.

Monday, April 21, 2014

ISAAA Brief 46 Publications, Videos

ISAAA's Brief 46, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2013, written by ISAAA founder and emeritus chair Dr. Clive James, has reached over 3.7 billion media impressions 2 months after its global launch. The number of media articles has increased to 2,231 in the same period of time, with Brief 46 materials translated into 45 major languages, reaching 72 countries worldwide.

The two-page highlights of the full Brief 46, "Top Ten Facts on Global Biotech/GM Crops in 2013 has been translated and now available in 53 languages. The languages are: Amharic, Arabic, Bahasa, Balochi, Bangla, BicolanoBisaya, Brahvi, Bulgarian, Burmese, Chichewa, Chinese, Chitumbuka, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Ewe, FarsiFilipino, Finnish, French, German, Hausa, Hindi, Hungarian, Igbo, Ilokano, Japanese, Kabyè, Khmer, KoreanLuganda, Malay, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Sindhi, Siraiki, Slovak, SpanishSwahili, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Welsh, and Yoruba. The translations are available for download at:

The Executive Summary, a 13-page document summarizing information on hectarage, adoption, and benefits of biotech crops in 2013, as well as its future prospects, is now available in 12 languages: Arabic, Balochi, Brahvi, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, and Ukrainian. The translations are available for download at:

ISAAA Brief 46 is also summarized and presented in four videos: 

More information about ISAAA's Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2013 are available at ISAAA's website at Various information resources, including the Executive Summary and its translations, Top Ten Facts about Biotech/GM Crops in 2013, Powerpoint Slides, Infographics, and videos are all available for download from the same link.

For more information about ISAAA, visit, or follow ISAAA on Facebook ( and Twitter (

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ISAAA Network Meets in Hanoi

Members of the ISAAA network from 15 countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa gathered together for an annual meeting at Hilton Garden Inn in Hanoi, Vietnam on March 18-19, 2014. Thirty-eight members of the network attended the meeting to evaluate and discuss discuss their knowledge sharing initiatives on biotechnology.

In his welcome message to the group, AgBiotech Vietnam Director Mr. Le Van Tien acknowledged ISAAA as the leading organization sharing knowledge on biotechnology, while Vietnam Institute of Agricultural Genetics Director General Dr. Le Huy Ham said that it is a great experience that representatives of Biotechnology Information Centers (BICs) from different parts of the globe convene to strategize on how facts on biotechnology will move forward to the stakeholders. He added that efforts of the BICs will all lead to a greater impact for the future, especially for Vietnam where food security is at risk due to shortage of land, increasing population, and climate change. 

ISAAA Chair Dr. Paul S. Teng facilitated a discussion to synergize the efforts of ISAAA and the BICs to achieve individual and institutional targets. Highlights of research on farmer adoption in Asia, science communication among scientists and academics in Asia, and biotech approvals were also shared with the team. Popular techniques in disseminating information were also discussed during the hands-on workshops on videography and infographics. 

For more information about ISAAA, the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology and Biotech Information Centers, visit the website at:, or follow ISAAA on Facebook ( and Twitter (