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.

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