HA NOI — A record number of farmers from 29 countries world-wide took the risk of planting biotech (Bt) crops on 160 million ha in 2011.
|Agricultural experts visit a pilot farm of genetically-modified maize at the Agricultural Genetics Institute in Van Giang District in the northern Hung Yen province. — VNA/VNS Photo Dinh Hue
In total, 16.7 million farmers, up 1.3 million or 8 per cent from 2010, engaged in biotech crop cultivation last year.
Dr Clive James, Founder and Chair of the International Service for the Acquisition on Agriculture Application (ISAAA) told a seminar in the capital city on Thursday that the increase in the number of farmers, particularly small farmers, using genetically modified crops was an indication of their trust and confidence in biotech crops.
"Farmers are the masters of risk aversion and in 2011, a record 7 million small farmers in China and another 7 million in India elected to plant 14.5 million ha of Bt cotton," said James.
From 1996-2010, biotech crops contributed to food security, sustainable development and climate change by increasing crop production valued at US$78.4 billion, saving 443 million kg of pesticide.
In 2010 alone, biotech crops reduced CO2 emissions by 19 billion kg, equivalent to taking about nine million cars off the road, conserved biodiversity by saving 91 million ha of land, and helped alleviate poverty by helping 15 million small farmers, some of the poorest people in the world.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, deputy director of the Viet Nam Agricultural Genetics Institute said the country's field trials for Bt maize were a success in terms of productivity, with an increase of 30-40 per cent compared to control plots.
"Biotech maize produces higher quality corn and is resistant to stem borers," said Thuy.
Though results of field trials were promising, genetically modified maize has not yet been commercialised in the country as it is still waiting for Government approval.
Under decision 2133/QD-BNN-KHCN, biotech maize imported from Syngenta and Dekal companies is currently used as animal feed in Viet Nam.
Professor Vo Tong Xuan, an ISAAA member, said Viet Nam had to import between 1-1.5 million tonnes of Bt maize annually for animal feed, accounting for about 80 per cent of the raw materials in its production.
"This is a disadvantage for Vietnamese farmers due to the prohibition of growing biotech Bt maize," said Xuan.
He estimated that by 2020, Viet Nam would need some 50 million tonnes of cereals to feed its people. And by 2050 the figure would jump to 80 million tonnes while agricultural land was getting smaller.
Nguyen Tri Ngoc, general director of the Crop Production Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said some one million ha had been planted with maize in Viet Nam, yet low productivity meant Viet Nam had to import 1-1.5 million tonnes of maize each year.
"If cultivation of Bt maize is allowed, we will not have to import such a large volume of maize for animal feed production," said Ngoc.
At present, relevant agencies were speeding up their approval process for the commercialisation of Bt maize, he said.
"After maize, we'll conduct field trials on cotton and soybeans. Hopefully these two plants will be commercialised in 2013-2014," said Ngoc. – VNS