Hand to hand and uncontrolled transgenic corn in Cuba

Hand to hand and uncontrolled transgenic corn in Cuba

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By Narciso Aguilera Marín

Today, no one is able to know how many farms or how much area has been planted with FR Bt1 maize in Cuba. And if the degenerative process of the seeds is firm, it is also highly probable that this effect is transmitted to traditional varieties.

Three weeks ago, I still thought that it was possible to organize spaces for dialogues, reflections and debates on the scourge of the transgenic FR Bt1 corn that progressively invades Cuban fields. Today I am not so sure, after verifying that the questions expressed by the owners of transgenics referring to a possible coexistence and control is a sham. I have also understood that the silence of the media and institutions around this matter responds to the influences of power that the aforementioned owners of transgenics exert on ministries, producers and producer organizations.

I recently made a family visit to the Sancti Spiritus province. I had not set foot in the Mayajigua municipality, and the ghost of transgenic corn had already assailed me. I was surprised when I heard about transgenic corn in common dialogues between producers and non-producers. I had no choice but to turn those visiting days into field trips and dialogues with farmers and managers of cooperatives. The surprise was greater when I realized that the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) has been permissive for the FR Bt1 corn to spread through the peasant farms; evidently, under your consent. Anyone could be disappointed to see that the promoting organization of the Campesino a Campesino Agroecological Movement is being invaded by transgenic corn and nothing happens. There is no reaction from ANAP. Both producers and managers of the cooperatives affirm that this is authorized.

The areas to which I refer within the Mayajigua municipality are identified by La Canoa and Caliene. They are located about 35 kilometers from the Caonao Valley - the mecca for the production of this corn under the mantle of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in the Santi Spíritus province itself. There are two Strengthened Credit and Services Cooperatives (CCSF). They are the CCSF “Julio Tápanes” and the CCSF “Niceto Pérez”. Both with significant presence of transgenic corn. This means that this corn is not confined to the Caonao Valley, but is already following an expansive policy and without real control.

According to the producers visited and interviewed, they understand that this corn is produced by the Valle de Caonao Various Crops Company, and that it was sold to the Seed Company. Later it distributed it to different cooperatives. They consider that in addition to these two, there are others in the province that accessed said corn. There were those who said that it was sold to the one who wanted to sow, although these criteria are not supported by verified evidence. Those that were confirmed are in the farms of farmers in the mentioned cooperatives. For example: the CCSF “Julio Tápanes” bought one and a half quintals (about 68 kilograms) of FR Bt1 corn seeds that were distributed to about 10 to 12 farms. However, the seeds took other routes. There were those who wanted to try five or six races in their farm and so on, without going too deep, it is considered that some 40 to 50 peasants throughout the area have planted small spaces of transgenic corn.

There was so much promotion that –according to the producers- the technicians gave this corn, that they decided to try it. But the peasant as a good connoisseur of the land and plants, and by culture being very suspicious of what enters their farms, they decided to plant small spaces. Among all that is recorded in the aforementioned cooperative, there are about 50 ropes (2 hectares). Therefore, each farmer decided to sow between 2 to 5 ropes approximately (0.08 to 0.2 hectares). The seed was paid for by the cooperative and delivered to the producers. They received some minimal guidance from the technicians from the Valle de Caonao Various Crops Company. From what is inferred, that not even the researchers responsible for the generation of this corn visited these areas. However, suspicious peasants take a close look at the “new corn” despite being told that it is the “goose that lays the golden eggs”.

The information that the farmers showed they had about said corn is extremely basic and contradictory. Some say they were advised that it should only be consumed by animals. Others argue that no one warned them that it should not be consumed by humans, and that they were already consuming it in the same ways as the rest of traditional corn. They also did not receive information on possible risks to health and the environment. So they, naively, do not see in that corn a danger or a risk.

Suddenly questions appear like: who is responsible for this violation of biological security, ethics and the protocol that should be followed in these cases? How is it possible that ANAP is permissive for peasants to plant transgenics, when only a few months ago it held its congress where it was projected in favor of ecological agriculture? How to understand this double discourse? What respect is there for the peasant-to-peasant agroecological movement? Is this a microlocated movement or is it extensive? Who is responsible for the potential contamination of traditional maize varieties with the transgenic? How much damage and the ecological, cultural, productive and health cost to people that this corn can cause?

In the Cuban peasant culture, and according to my experience in other countries, offering seeds so that the neighbor, another farmer or a visitor can take them to their place and sow them, constitutes one of the best gifts. For them it is an infinite pride that later they tell them: "the seeds were wonderful." That was why, in all the cases that I asked if they could give me some ears of transgenic corn to take me to my province, the immediate response was, for example: “of course I do, which makes me sad that I don't have much, but if I had more, I would give you even 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms). Only one asked me: but why do you want them if you can't eat them? At that moment I answered him with a question. And if so, why did you plant it? The answer was: "out of curiosity."

Several peasants consider that this corn is already out of control, as they have given seeds to friends. People from other places have taken it to test, so the transgenic FR Bt1 corn is definitely already hand in hand, who and how can control it? Are the agricultural authorities and ANAP interested in controlling it? Until now they have not spoken about it.

Another element of high significance towards the danger of contamination is that all the crops are close together, next to or relatively close to the rest of the traditional corn. Many times we went through a field to get to where the transgenic was, and not even a guardrail divided them. The last row of traditional corn was finished and the other of the transgenic one began. In this way: will it be possible or not a contamination with transgenic corn similar to those that are occurring in Mexico, Spain and other countries that have invaded the fields with this contaminating scourge?

The basic instructions that the farmers received from the technicians are linked to the inputs they received along with the seeds; which is summarized in: complete formula fertilizer (8-7-16), urea and the herbicide called Finalé, whose active principle is glufosinate ammonium. The application times were summarized in adding the complete formula at the time of sowing, the urea once the growth and development started, and applying the Finalé around 45 days, to combat the presence of herbs, weeds or weed plants. Thus avoid eliminating them with implements coupled to oxen, as these at that age can damage the ears.

Some truths were also revealed:

1) FR Bt1 maize, in this initial version, was resistant to corn moth (Spodoptera frugiperda) and to the herbicide Finalé;

2) the plants marked up to six ears, but in all cases only two were harvested and in some plants three;

3) the myth of "the corn with the six ears" did not work here;

4) Yields of up to 6 quintals per string (6.8 tons per hectare) could be more well defined by planting density than by individual plant yield. The traditional maize varieties that they normally sow yield from 2 to 4 quintals per string (2.2 to 4.5 tons per hectare).

However, there is a big difference between the number of plants per unit area between transgenic and traditional. While this is planted at a planting frame of 0.85 meters between rows and 0.80 meters between plants; FR Bt1 maize was sown at the same distance between rows, but at about 0.20 to 0.25 meters between plants. To understand the proportions a little better, sown that way; one hectare of traditional corn would have about 15,000 plants, while one hectare planted with transgenic corn would be occupied by a population of 47,000 plants. The difference is 32,000 plants. From this point of view, and observing the obtaining of two and at most three ears per plant, in the case of transgenic corn, there is no doubt that the highest yields were achieved due to the population density.

From the point of view of agricultural yield, it does not detract from other attributes that may influence the yields of FR Bt1 maize, which is not directly associated with the inserted transgenes but with the non-transgenic base variety (FR-28) from which it comes; example: ear filling, number of kernels per ear, average kernel mass, as well as the plant density used. But it cannot be forgotten that many of the traditional varieties used by peasants in these places also produce two and three ears per plant, and some such as the one they call "70 Day Corn", turns out to be prolific, as it advances in harvesting almost 20 days, yields are in the order of 3 quintals per string (3.4 tons per hectare), sown in the traditional way; that is to say at 0.85 meters by 0.80 meters. It is also tolerant to the moth, as it is little attacked by it, and if it is planted in a similar plantation frame as the transgenic one -because they have well-similar growth habits and behaviors-, without a doubt very interesting results would be obtained without risks, or the need for a license to plant it. This maize has been cultivated in the region for about 15 years, and farmers are in love with this variety, who say "... we are not willing to displace this variety for others that bring us even though they paint us very pretty." In addition, the results they provide are without the use of fertilizers or herbicides, so the cost of production is also lower. And something very important, they can harvest their seeds and use them in the next harvest with similar potential yields. This is a sample of what can be done with local biodiversity, without having to resort to controversial and risky models.

Another issue revealed by the farmers interviewed is, as some of them say, having references that FR Bt1 maize, when the same seeds are harvested and sown, the plants degenerate. They only manage to produce an ear and the plants are weak. As is logical, the seeds would have to be bought out of obligation again from the company that produces them, to the detriment of the self-managed possibility of obtaining them themselves. Obviously, this gradually places them in an environment of dependency, which has nothing to do with the principles that we defend of food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture.

A small comparison of FR Bt1 maize, with respect to the traditional varieties that are planted in the area, without the application -to these- of the inputs that were used in the transgenic, yielded the following results:

It is a real shame that local varieties are put at risk, which undoubtedly can guarantee the farmer the safety of his seeds and his crops. They state that it is true that the moth attack has been a concern, but the greater affectation and crop losses are fundamentally attributed to prolonged droughts. They assure that if the weather is good; that is to say, it rains in a timely manner, they do not lose their harvests, and they reiterate that some of their varieties such as the "70 Day Corn" are hardly affected by said lepidoptera. At least, all expressed their roots in traditional varieties and do not want or intend to get rid of them, which gives great encouragement, but at the same time, their naivety in doing tests, even on a small scale, is making them participate in a potential destruction of their own varietal richness that they have carefully cared for and preserved for many years.

Today, no one is able to know how many farms or how much area has been planted with FR Bt1 maize in Cuba. And if the degenerative process of the seeds is firm, it is also highly probable that this effect is transmitted to traditional varieties.

Degenerate plants or not, can survive in adverse conditions, without adequate cultural care. There it was shown that this corn can live without the technological package that accompanies it being applied. The fact that many communities in the world are desperately trying to “detoxify” their varieties already contaminated with transgenics is not pure speculation, nor that there are demands on governments and authorities to take measures in this regard. The transgenic FR Bt1 is running from hand to hand uncontrollably in Cuban fields. Executives of the cooperatives estimate that the areas of transgenic corn will increase in the coming sowing campaign. Many of us look indignant at this situation and feel powerless, because suddenly our farms, cooperatives and companies seem destined by domination to be invaded by the "corn of the golden eggs".

Narciso Aguilera Marín, Agricultural Engineer, with a master's degree in biotechnology. Cuba

Video: Lord Rees of Ludlow at CSAR (June 2022).


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  2. Nijel

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  4. Gugrel

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  5. Blainey

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  6. Mariadok

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