For several years she was a domestic helper (DH) in Singapore and Canada. Through a twist of circumstance, however, she later became a successful corn farmer in San Jacinto, Pangasinan. So successful she has become with the genetically modified (GM) Bt corn that she has virtually become a roving ambassadress of the so-called biotech crops.
The lady is 53-year-old Rosalie Ellasus of San Jacinto, Pangasinan, a medical technology graduate who had to accept a job as house help in Singapore, thinking that it would provide her three children a brighter future.
She had an American boss in Singapore who treated her very well. However, a better offer, also as a household help, brought her to Vancouver, Canada. There, she had the initiative to take up lessons in sales and business management at night. Her training brought her back to Singapore after two years in Canada because she was offered a better job as an office employee. No longer a DH.
In 1995, her husband died. Although she remained working in Singapore, she thought of giving up her job so she could be with her children. In 1999, she went back to San Jacinto and bought a 1.3-hectare farm. She asked a cousin to operate the farm but after two years, she decided to do the farming herself. That was because she had a very meager share of the harvest.
That was when she started attending seminars on farming. In 2002, a year after Bt corn was approved for commercial planting, she offered her farm as a demo farm. She planted 1.3 hectares to Bt corn and 7,000 square meters to the conventional corn variety. Immediately, she saw the big difference between Bt corn and conventional corn.
In the demo farm, Bt corn yielded 7.2 tons per hectare. On the other hand, the conventional corn yielded the equivalent of 4.2 tons per hectare. Bt corn does not only yield higher. It is also cheaper to produce because the farmer does not have to spray chemical pesticide to control the Asian corn borer which is the most destructive pest of corn in the country.
Since then, she has been planting Bt corn. Last dry season, she planted 12 hectares (some hectares rented) and produced an average of 7.2 tons per hectare. After deducting all the expenses, she realized at least P500,000 as clean profit.
It maybe pointed out that Bt corn used to be a very controversial issue. There used to be a strong opposition to genetically modified crops, including corn. Up to now, there are those who are adamantly against Bt crops. And that is probably the main reason why the scientists and other groups who believe in the big contributions of Bt crops to food security and to the income of farmers have harnessed the help of Rosalie to spread the good news about biotech crops.
We met Rosalie in Bogor, Indonesia last November 12 where we attended a workshop on biotechnology. Rosalie was there to tell her own success story as well as those of other farmers. She said that that was her fifth time to be invited to talk in Indonesia.
Last September, she was invited to Kauai and Oahu in Hawaii, again to pitch her piece on Bt corn. In previous years she was also invited to attend seminars and forums on biotechnology in many other countries. These include several occasions in mainland USA, Mexico, Peru, Belgium, France, Germany, Taiwan and Australia. In 2007, she was the first person to receive the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award – World Food Prize in the United States.
Of course, she has practically covered the whole Philippines talking to farmers, politicians, farm technicians and even school children about Bt corn. Very recently, she talked about the advantages of Bt corn before science high school students in Tuguegarao City.
Rosalie also grows rice during the rainy season. But a bigger source of income is her piggery. At any one time, she has 50 fattening pigs of different ages in her pens. She herself mixes her own pig feed using her own Bt corn.
By the way, Rosalie is also a public servant. She is in her third term as councilor of San Jacinto. We would not be surprised if we meet her in the future, she would already be the mayor of her town.
(The Biotechnology Workshop in Indonesia was under the auspices of SEARCA based in Los Baños; BIOTROP based in Indonesia; International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, and Indonesian Biotechnology Information Center)