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The Jakarta Post
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Development underway for first transgenic sugarcane plantation

  • Anggi M. Lubis

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Mon, May 20 2013 | 11:58 am
Development underway for first transgenic sugarcane plantation

Sweet and sticky: Workers harvest sugarcane at a plantation in Tulungagung, East Java. The government recently approved the first transgenic sugarcane and other 13 biotech food crops for commercial production. Antara/Sahlan Kurniawan

The National Genetically Modified Product Biosafety Commission (KKHPRG) recently approved the first genetically-altered sugarcane crop, paving the way for the development of transgenic sugarcane for commercial production.

Bambang Purwantara, a member of the commission, said that the institutions which held the mandate to approve biotech plants had all given the nod to a drought-resistant transgenic sugarcane seed

The cane, developed by state plantation firm PT Perkebunan Nusantara, the Indonesian Sugarcane Plantation Research Center (P3GI) and experts from the State University of Jember in East Java, is currently under a limited field testing.

'€œWe are proud to announce that the first biotech staple crop will be a drought-resistant sugarcane. We expect to see the transgenic sugarcane planted by next year at the latest,'€ Bambang explained.

The commission is currently assessing another sugarcane variety '€” said to be resistant to herbicide '€” developed by the state plantation company and scientists from the research center and the university.

The drought-resistant sugarcane is the first out of 14 recommended biotech crops that are being assessed by the commission, which was established in 2010 to oversee the developing biotechnology.

Thirteen other transgenic food crops have passed food safety testing, which ensures that the products are safe for human consumption.

The recommended biotech crops include several varieties of corn, soybeans, sugarcane and an antifreeze protein producing plant.

Besides food safety testing, the biotech plants also have go through feed safety and environmental safety tests to assess use as animal fodder and to assess its environmental impacts respectively, as laid down in the Agriculture Minister'€™s regulation No. 61/2011 sets out the establishment of a transgenic system.

Genetically modified crops are designed by scientists to for higher yields and resistance to insects and herbicides, but still the idea has generated controversy worldwide. Scientists who view biotech crops with caution have linked the consumption of biotech crops with illnesses, such as cancer.

Environmentalists also regard genetically-altered crops as tampering too much with nature.

Conversely, others say that the crops use less pesticide and land, thus benefiting the environment.

With growing population and demand production needs to increase on limited plots of lands.

Critics also raise economic concerns over expensive patents on seeds.

There are plans to import 2.27 million tons of raw sugar this year, up by 8.1 percent from 2.1 million tons in 2012, in a bid to meet the surge in refining capacity of local sugar mills.

Data from the Agriculture Ministry shows that 780,000 tons of corn were imported in the first quarter, three times as much as the 260,000 tons last year.

Data from BPS also 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.

The high demand for soybean-made tempeh and tofu cannot be met by local production and 60 percent of soybean needs are met by imports.

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