Rise of the Bt Superwoman

Heroes come from different races and places, and they fight for different causes. Today, amidst the ongoing issues concerning the current state of biotechnology in our country, a Superwoman continues to stand strong.

The journey

It seemed like being a hero came naturally to Rosalie Ellasus. Before dabbling in the field of biotechnology and farming, she was already one of the so-called “modern heroes”—an Overseas Filipino Worker in Singapore.

Despite graduating with a degree in medical technology, Rosalie worked as a domestic helper, thinking she might be able to provide her family with a better future. Always the heroine, she put others before herself.

A better job offer brought her to Canada, where she continued working as a domestic helper. Nevertheless, Rosalie continued searching for various ways to maximize her skills and capabilities.

She worked during the day and attended sales and business classes during the night. Her training brought her back to Singapore when she was offered a job as an executive—no longer a domestic helper.

Unfortunately, a few years later, her husband died. Soon after that sad event, she gave up her job and returned to her homeland, San Jacinto, Pangasinan.

When she made this big decision, she had no idea that an adventure was waiting for her.

Finding her calling

How does one start again after many years of being away? Unfazed, Rosalie was driven by love for her children. From her savings, she bought a 1.3-hectare farm and attempted to produce corn. However, problems such as pests, weeds, and crop disease stopped her from selling her produce at a good price. It wasn’t easy at all. It was tedious and tiring, and at times she was discouraged—but she never gave up.

Rosalie continued searching for easier ways to earn from her land. In 2001, she attended the Integrated Pest Management – Farmers Field School (IPM-FFS) and word about field trials for Bt corn reached her. Bt corn is genetically modified corn that is resistant to the destructive Asian corn borer (ACB). Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacterium that produces natural toxins that kill larvae of ACB.

During that time, Bt corn was already commercially available here in the Philippines. “Nag-volunteer ako. Nag-demo trial kami sa field ko,” Rosalie recalls. “The difference was amazing!”

The Bt corn yielded 7.2 tons per hectare, when conventional corn can only yield 4.2 tons per hectare. The production cost was lower, and in turn, she had higher profit. Chemical spraying was no longer needed. Sure the seeds were more expensive, but the cost of land preparation was significantly lower, as well as the labor needed.

Rosalie never looked back. She expanded her farm and became an active advocate of biotechnology. She has travelled all over the Philippines and the world because she is frequently invited to talk to farmers and share her experiences. Her fame skyrocketed in 2007 when she was chosen to be the first ever recipient of the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award. The award was given for “exemplary leadership, vision and resolve in advancing the rights of farmers to choose the technology and tools that will improve the quality, quantity and availability of agricultural products around the world.”

Although awards and speaking engagements are overflowing, Rosalie remains the humble farmer heroine. She grows rice during the rainy season and maintains a piggery. She also served as a municipal councilor for three terms. Years ago, while serving as a domestic helper abroad, Rosalie had no idea that she would be a famous biotechnology advocate.

Bt corn used to be a controversial issue, and up to now, there are still those who are against Bt crops. Of course, there are also people, who like Rosalie, support biotechnology with all their might.

The controversial decision

Rosalie was one of the many farmers who were waiting for Bt eggplant to become available. With the Supreme Court’s recent decision, the Bt eggplant farm she was readying might not become a reality after all. Bt eggplant does away with the excessive use of pesticides and results in an additional income of PhP 50,000 per hectare.

“Let me speak on behalf of Filipino biotechnology farmers--we are vehemently disappointed and shocked,” Rosalie answered when asked about her reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The Supreme Court should have listened to the voices of true farmers first before deciding. We believe they don’t feel the plight of farmers in our country. They should have made efforts to consult with both biotech and non-biotech farmers in order to make a fair decision.”

According to Rosalie, the decision was “paranoid” and will significantly affect the lives of millions of farmers and their families as well. “What will happen to marginal corn producers and marginal hog raisers if we will not adopt a crop that is promising like Bt corn?”

Keep moving forward

Rosalie has proven over and over again that she does not give up easily. Though disappointed by the decision, she will not stop advocating about biotechnology. “When I volunteered for the demo trials of Bt corn before, the farmers in my town also observed the big difference and significant benefits of Bt corn. The dream of farmers was instilled in this innovation!”

She is surprised that the Supreme Court ruling will actually cease the innovations, which might have significant implications on world food security, environment, health care and scientific advancement.

Rosalie is just one of the many farmers whose lives were changed because of biotechnology. “The biotechnology method was the major reason why I became passionate in farming,” she fondly recalls. From a domestic helper, she became a well known biotechnology advocate here and abroad. “I believe that in my own little way and with no regrets, that I am contributing to food security and sustainability. Along with other people, I was able to help open doors for marginal farmers for them to have a better life.”

Our heroine is ready to face more obstacles but she needs our help. “I am appealing to the general public and to all the farmers around the world. Let us face these challenges by working hand in hand. Let us be unified for the advancement and global competitiveness of Philippine agriculture.”

More in this category: « On Firm Ground