Monday, December 20, 2010

Agri Econ 7: Bt Eggplants vs Environmentalism

Mainstream environmentalism is often marked with romanticism and organicism. They romanticize the "native, non-bio-tech and organic" crops. Thus, their rabid opposition to the use of biotechnology, microbiology and other modern biological sciences in modernizing agriculture.

A few years back, many environmentalists attacked the use of Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) corn, using scary imagery and illusions about the dangers of using natural and soil-dwelling bacteria like Bt on humans if they eat Bt corn. Aside from fear of the "unknown" like using biotechnology in corn farming, the environmentalists also feared a multinational agri-business firm, Monsanto, as the pioneering company for Bt corn. SEARCA in UP Los Banos has a good scientific but simple explanation about Bt corn and why it is not harmful as pictured by the rabid environmentalists,

Just what is Bt? Is it really a "stranger" to crops and soil, imported only by profit-hungry multinational capitalists to exploit farmers and consumers and make huge profit in the process? Picture of Bt from wikipedia.

Here is a brief description of Bt, from

What is Bt?
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a spore forming (flash animation) bacterium that produces crystals protein (cry proteins), which are toxic to many species of insects.

Where is Bt found?
Bt can be found almost everywhere in the world. Surveys have indicated that Bt is distributed in the soil sparsely but frequently worldwide. Bt has been found in all types of terrain, including beaches, desert, and tundra habitats.

How many kinds of Bt are there?
There are thousands of different Bt strains, producing over 200 cry proteins that are active against an extensive range of insects and some other invertebrates.

How does Bt work?
Bt has to be eaten to cause mortality. The Bt toxin dissolve in the high pH insect gut and become active. The toxins then attack the gut cells of the insect, punching holes in the lining. The Bt spores spills out of the gut and germinate in the insect causing death within a couple days.

Now these environmentalists have attacked the field trial and experiment of Bt eggplants in UP Mindanao, Davao City campus. The City government of Davao itself ordered and implemented the destruction of Bt eggplants inside the UP Mindanao campus -- they uprooted the plants! See news today, Davao exec orders uprooting of Bt eggplants

The use of science like Bt in various crops like corn and eggplants is supposed to help farmers raise their income via (a) higher yield and lower crop damage, and (b) little or no need for expensive pesticides, insecticides, contributing even to organic farming. Consumers also benefit via larger crop output and hence, lower and stable prices. But ugly environmentalism and their hatred of capitalism and profit-motive under the system makes the activists become irrational. Is it wrong if farmers will make bigger profit through higher yield and lower farming cost?
Is it wrong if agri traders will make bigger profit?
Is it wrong if pesticide sellers will suffer lower profit as farmers will need less or none at all of their chemical products?

This type of petty environmentalism leading to irrationality contributes to underdevelopment and more poverty of many people in the developing world.

I wrote this last SEPTEMBER 24, 2010

Developing Agriculture with Little or Zero Government Support

A friend noted in his facebook status that "‎66 percent of the country's workforce is directly or indirectly employed in the agriculture sector. Unless we... provide the needed support to the agriculture and fisheries sector, we cannot address poverty head on."

I informed him that his data is wrong. Latest labor force data by the National Statistics Office (NSO), the July 2010 labor force surve, only 34 percent of employed Filipinos are working in the agri, forestry and fishery sector,

For the agri sector to develop, we just allow the real agri businessmen, both large and small, to develop commercial farming. A 200 sq.m. hydroponics farm by an urbanite agri-businessman can possibly equal the output of a 2-hectares farm if the latter wil not use modern tech, modern seeds farming.

The term "indirectly employed" is fuzzy. A fish and pork trader in a public market is officially under the services sector, retail trade, and should not be counted as "indirectly agri and fishery" worker. To remove any confusion, better use the NSO categorization of who are in agri, industry and services sector.

Again, "how to develop agriculture", just allow real agribusinessmen to develop agri, minus huge government subsidies. An urbanite hydroponics agri-entrepreneur for instance, can produce fresh and organic veggies for a nearby restaurant or supermarket with just 1,000 sq.m. of land (or only 1/10 of an hectare), all year round, whether there is bad El Nino or bad La Nina.

When there are lots of government interventions -- like endless agrarian reform and forced land redistribution for successful agribusiness ventures, like good fruit orchards -- agri-businesses will be discouraged. Treat agri like those in the services sector or industry sector, give minimum subsidies, allow the profit system to guide businessmen and small farmers.

I have a good friend. Her father bought an ugly place full of grasses in a small town in Nueva Ecija, planted mangos. After several years, the land became very productive as the mango trees were producing good fruits. Then local DAR bureaucrats came to him saying that the land is now subject to forced land redistribution under (zero timetable, endless) CARP. Pure parasitism, right? Good that my friend knows some higher govt officials just to scare those local bureaucrats, And they stopped harassing him, perhaps temporarily.

Goiod agri-businessmen need zero govt subsidy in production. Maybe they only need government protection from extortionists like the NPA rebels and local govt bureaucrats. Or support through good rural roads. And that's it.

See also:
Agri Econ 1: Food Prices and Government, April 13, 2008
Agri Econ 2: Rice Laissez Faire vs. Subsidies, May 06, 2008
Agri Econ 3: Dr. Samran Sombatpanit and WASWC, July 03, 2008
Agri Econ 4: Government Agricultural Interventions, October 21, 2008 (long paper)
Agri Econ 5: Land Reform Without Timetable is Wrong, July 01, 2010
Agri Econ 6: My Treehouse, August 16, 2010

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