All ears: A farmer harvests corn in Malang, East Java. The Agriculture Ministry says the nation imported 780,000 tons of corn in the first quarter of the year, up 200 percent from the same period last year. (Antara/Ari Bowo Sucipto)
A major agricultural company says it is about time that Indonesia moves from hybrid to pest-resistant transgenic corn in an attempt to raise production amid limited land, curb skyrocketing imports and to meet domestic needs that go on rising every year.
Chris J. Peterson, lead manager in Indonesia for the world’s largest seed company, US-based Monsanto, said that Indonesia should stop relying on traditional hybrid corn seeds and put aside concerns over the safety of biotech plants in a bid to raise production and become self-sufficient in corn, which is used as a basic ingredient in animal feed.
Data from the Agriculture Ministry shows that Indonesia imported 780,000 tons of corn in the first quarter of this year, a 200 percent increase compared to the 260,000 tons imported during the same
period last year.
The Indonesia Animal Feed Producers Association (GPMTI) has predicted that Indonesia, due to the growing demand for animal feed, would import 2.8 million tons of corn this year, up by 64.7 percent compared to last year’s imports of 1.7 million tons.
Data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) shows that consumption of grain increased by an average 8 percent each year between 2000 and 2012, while corn yields increased on average by only 6 percent and corn per planted hectare increased by only 1 percent per annum.
Moreover, according to the company’s data, Indonesia’s corn production was vulnerable to the Asian Corn Borer — a major corn pest in Southeast Asia that reduces yields — with 28 percent of plants becoming infected and up to 9.4 percent of yields lost altogether.
By resorting to transgenic seeds, Peterson said that Indonesia could increase its production by 10 percent and raise farmers’ profits to 26-47 percent within four to five years.
Genetically modified (GM) crops are designed by scientists to produce higher yields and be more resistant to insects and herbicides.
The National Genetically Modified Product Biosafety Commission, which was established in 2010 to oversee the possibility of developing biotechnology in the country, has issued recommendations on 11 food products, animal feed and on the cultivation of genetically modified sugarcane.
GM crops still generate controversy worldwide. Scientists who eye GM crops with caution have carried out research on rats that links the consumption of GM crops with illnesses, such as cancer.
Environmentalists also regard GM crops as tampering too much with nature. Conversely, others say that GM crops use less pesticide and land, thus benefiting the environment. Critics also raise economic concerns over expensive patents on seeds.
Monsanto dismissed the concerns. “It has been scientifically proven to be safe since 1996. We’ve been eating biotech food in Indonesia for years,” Peterson said, pointing to the 76 percent of Indonesia’s imported corn and 94 percent of imported soybeans that come from countries that have approved biotech.
GPMTI chairman Sudirman said that, given that Indonesia was already consuming biotech products, it would be better for the country to develop its own technology rather than importing.