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Jakarta Post

Cultivation of GM crops, plants urgent: Farmers

  • Anggi M. Lubis

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, September 27, 2013   /  12:03 pm

Farmers say there is a growing need to shift to genetically modified (GM), or transgenic, seeds to cope with irrigation problems, climate change, pests and land conversions amid a rising demand for foodstuffs.

Farmers and Fishermen'€™s Society (KTNA) chairman Winarno Tohir said Indonesia was struggling to feed its 250 million population with damaged irrigation systems, which led to droughts during the dry season, adverse weather conditions that were not forecast, pest and weed outbreaks and land that had been converted to non-food plantations.

For example, local rice production was currently 9 percent below the nation'€™s total rice consumption, according to the KTNA'€™s latest study, with the gap estimated to widen further in line with the country'€™s
economic growth.

'€œCoupled with a growing population, all these problems could lead us to 12 million tons in rice deficit alone by 2030 if we keep trying to solve them with our outdated agricultural technology,'€ Winarno said in a conference on Wednesday. '€œHence, we'€™ll only become a market for other producing countries.'€

He said the government needed to support farmers with biotech seeds through a genetic revolution program, to help them increase food production amid a growing amount of stagnant land.

In the long run, he said, the technology could help farmers cut their expenses and raise income.

Biotechnology has been applied by 16.7 million farmers in 29 countries around the world, including 19 developing countries, and has resulted in the cultivation of 160 million hectares of land in 2011 compared to 1.7 million hectares in 1996.

No biotechnology products have been cultivated, however, since a government regulation on biosafety and genetically engineered foods was first introduced in 2005, according to Winarno.

Among the industries in high need of transgenic crops was animal husbandry, which needed corn for livestock feed, he said.

Corn consumption is continuing to rise, with corn imports reaching 780,000 tons in the first quarter of this year, three times as much as the 260,000 tons imported in the same period last year, Agriculture Ministry data shows.

Central Statistics Agency (BPS) data also shows that grain consumption 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.

KTNA data, meanwhile, shows that the country has spent US$2.5 billion on corn imports, 76 percent of which are transgenic.

A recent study by the Bogor Institute of Agriculture in West Java showed that the country could boost its corn production by 14 percent by applying biotechnology.

The National Genetically Modified Product Biosafety Commission (KKHPRG) actually approved the first genetically altered sugarcane crop earlier this year.

Commissioner Bambang Purwantara said that drought-resistant transgenic sugarcane seeds would be ready to be planted next year, the same year the country was expected to start growing transgenic corn.

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