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Wildlife

Transgenic Corn Vs. Traditional Corn: Planting Doubts in Nicoyan Farmers

By Wilberth Villalobos Castrillo
03/13/13


From the time of the Chorotegas until today, corn has been a mainstay in the Costa Rican diet, especially so in the Nicoya Peninsula, where local farmers have planted their own seeds for generations, personally identifying with their crops

However, after the company DPL Semillas obtained permission on January 21 to plant 0.9 hectares of transgenic corn in the country, concerns have grown in various sectors of the population, once again raising the debate of the dietary safety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

It should be mentioned that the history of GMOs in the country is not new since the first permits for planting crops with genetically altered characteristics were granted in the 90s.

According to the January 2013 edition of the magazine Germinar (Germinate) from the College of Agronomy Engineers of Costa Rica, “In Costa Rica since 1991 the National Technical Commission of Biosafety authorized tests to produce genetically modified seeds of corn and soy for export.”

These tests were also performed with cotton, banana, corn, pineapple and soy during 2007, 2008 and 2011. According to data from Germinar, in these years a total of 448,894 hectares of genetically modified organisms were planted

Currently in the country many think that the GMOs represent a threat to national dietary sovereignty since the introduction of these “different varieties” could replace farmers’ use of native corn in addition to modifying the genetic structure of native corn by means of pollination. 

But Nevio Bonillo, specialist in genetic improvement from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology Transfer Innovation (INTA), assured that there is a lot of misinformation and ignorance about GMOs and that the effects of these organisms have even been “demonized.”

Bonilla explained that in the country farmers use improved varieties, hybrids and local varieties. “In improved varieties, the most utilized being diamante 8843, the farmers use their own varieties or hybrids, that is to say the combination of a father and a mother plant that are very different in themselves, which yield a child that has a higher yield and better performance with plagues or environmental conditions,” he assured. 

This means that each farmer can produce their own seed, “crossing” the corn varieties they want to thus obtain higher yielding seeds. However Bonilla remembered that these hybrids are for personal use and not for commercial purposes.

Alonso Chacon, in charge of the National Seeds Office (ONS), explained that to grant the permit to plant seeds with commercial purposes, the producer should first have the approval of the State Phytosanitary Service. Then the National Biosafety Technical Commission is responsible for evaluation technical-scientific aspects and finally ONS supervises and follows up on the companies and their crops.

Chacon mentioned that currently ONS is gathering information about the existing local corn varieties that have been planted for years in the national territory.   

The Risk of Cross-pollination

One of the strongest points made by those who are speaking out against transgenics is the risk of cross-pollination. This happens when the pollen from a transgenic plant is “passed” to a non-transgenic plant. Jorge Baltodano, agronomic engineer in charge of Finca La Ceiba of Nicoya, explained that each grain in corn on the cob is a fruit and when it is found in the flowering stage, it receives pollen in various ways such as by means of insects or the wind, among others.

“This process is called cross-pollination, so if a corn plant were near white, yellow and purple (pujagua) varieties of corn, the grains of each ear could be of these three colors combined,” he assured.

But both Chacon and Bonilla affirm that studies prove that the pollen can travel up to 500 meters from one field to another, and currently the permit being granted to the company DPL establishes a minimum distance of one kilometer between crops.

Bonilla added that “the transgenic is the same plant genus and species, with the difference that science has made it possible to determine certain physical features and characteristics that aren’t present in the common varieties. For example, some of these organisms have a gene that is resistant to drought that has been taken beforehand from another plant or animal and is transferred to the corn plant, which allows this gene to activate in the corn plant so that when it is facing drought problems, it can resist the climatic changes,” he commented.

Local Corn Remains the Favorite 

In Nicoya, local producers think that the local corn is the best, for yield, ease of production and even for the sentiments acquired over the years.
 
“Since I started to work with my dad, I planted corn, beans and rice to eat at home,” Liborio “Goyito” Perez Madrigal, who lives in Matambuguito de Nicoya, proudly commented.

He believes that the local corn yields more than others and assured that the arrival of transgenic corn as part of the GMOs is a threat to the tradition of the farmers of the Nicoya Peninsula. 
Jose Luis Zuñiga, a resident of Santa Ana of Nicoya, is another local farmer who has lived most of his life among corn fields. He longs for the arrival of the first rains of April or May to start planting his corn, grains that his family will later turn into tasty tortillas, rosquillas, tanelas and chorreadas, among other treats. 

For his part, Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini, dean of the faculty of agro-dietary sciences at the University of Costa Rica who is mentioned in Germinar magazine, said that “corn is a crop native to Costa Rica, which boasts a wealth of biodiversity that could be altered by contamination from patented genes.” 

Arauz emphasized that “there is a lot of interest from small farmers to rescue local corn and give this local character an added value linked to cultural values.”

With so much local affection for corn, Baltodano assured that the Nicoyan rural community will never change their local seed, with which they have “even been feeding the chickens.” 

 

More Regional News

Guanacaste Reps and Presidential House Initiated Dialogue

“The balance sheet is positive… We’re leaving satisfied. This is only the beginning,” commented Wilmar Matarrita, member of the Guanacaste Struggle Front (Frente de Lucha Guanacasteco) who traveled with other members of the negotiating commission to look for urgent solutions for the province.

Nicoya and Samara Have Budgets Approved to Invest in Communities

The districts of Nicoya and Samara now have the amounts approved by the Municipal Council that correspond to the specific line items budget assignments for the 2012-2013 period, while Nosara will have to wait a few more weeks to know the final amount of its line item budget.

Opinion Column
A Bust for Orozco

Like the art of sculpting a bust, Costa Rica seems to be frozen in time. Some may think the country is extremely conservative and reactionary when compared to both neighboring and distant countries. Others might think the issue lies in its infrastructure, seeing that it took us 20 years to develop a simple coastal road, and in countless other topics.

Workshop about the Future of Water United Members of 11 ASADAS

Worried about the future of water in the Nicoya Peninsula, a group of 50 people met last Thursday, March 14, to visualize and evaluate the possible future scenarios in the area for the most vital liquid, as well as to define the principle actions to take for responsible management of hydraulic resources.

Guanacastecans and Government Will Meet To Seek Agreement

Under the threat of protest by different sectors in Guanacaste, the central government organized a roundtable to dialogue with members of the negotiating commission of the Frente de Lucha Guanacasteco (Front for the Guanacaste Struggle) for next Wednesday, March 20, in the Presidential House.

Strong Winds Expected

The National Meteorological Institute (Instituto Meteorológico Nacional - IMN) reported that a new cold front will move in on Thursday, March 14th. Although lower temperatures are not expected, strong winds will increase.

Public Pressure Forced Spanish Physician to Cancel Lecture on Homosexuality

Spanish physician Jokin De Irala, known for his theory that homosexuality is a curable disease, was forced to cancel a planned lecture on the subject in Costa Rica, due to the controversy sparked by it. 

Marino Protti Exchanged Nicoyan Rocks for Polar Ice

In the country, many know him as the man with the beard and white mustache, who wears a beret and predicts earthquakes. In the canton of Nicoya specifically, he is known as the person who warned us about the coming of a major earthquake and who is currently being accused by the Nicoya Council of decrease tourism with his predictions.

Bidding Process Begins For Restoring Colonial Church

In a meeting on February 12, Nicoyans received the good news that the restoration work of the emblematic colonial church is up for bid, after having been affected by the earthquake last year on September 5th.  Work could begin in three months.

Costa Rica Breaks Tourism Records in 2012

The Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT) announced 2012 was a record-breaking year for Costa Rica, with the country receiving over 2.34 million visitors, a 6.9% increase from 2011.

Strong Winds Damage Houses and Halt Fiestas

Strong winds on Saturday and Sunday, March 2 and 3, left many sleepless, listening to the metal roof sheets banging, loosening and in some cases actually flying loose.

Muni Accuse Scientist Marino Protti for Tourist Cancellation in Samara

Predictions and information provided about earthquakes in the Nicoya Peninsula by scientist Marino Protti Quesada have caused so much controversy that the Municipality of Nicoya agreed in the regular session on February 7 to give a vote of censure for alleged mistakes and inaccuracies.

Unusual Cases of Dengue in the Nicoya County During the Dry Season

A high amount of cases of dengue fever in the Nicoya County were being seen during January and February, unusual for dry season when there should be less breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the illness. 

Muni and Nosara Police Reinforced with New Motorcycles

The Nosara Public Force can now count on two brand new motorcycles, purchased with funds from the specific line items budget allocated to the Nosara district, with the goal of giving greater security to this coastal district of the Nicoyan canton.

Nicoya Hospital Resumes Surgical Service, Again

After having the three operation rooms closed for remodeling since last year due to an order from the Ministry of Health, the La Anexion hospital in Nicoya has now resumed its surgical program, which it had to conduct in an improvised room as well as in the hospital in Liberia and in the Centro de Atención Integral en Salud (CAIS- Center of Integral Health Attention) of Cañas.

Pictures and News of the Month

The Voice of Nosara brings you a brief recap of February stories you might have missed.

Gas Price Hike Approved: Super ¢17, Regular & Diesel ¢15

Get ready for higher gasoline prices in the coming days. That is the word by the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos (Aresep) – regulator of public prices and services.

Nicoyans Seek Answers From Government in March 19th Protest

Convinced that there is strength in numbers, hundreds of protestors from different districts of Nicoya are preparing to unite in a solid front on Wednesday, March 19th to request answers from the central government regarding various projects and problems that face the communities of the canton.

 

 

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