Cuba’s progress in the genetic engineering and biotechnology sector has allowed it to produce genetically modified seeds.
HAVANA TIMES – An interesting thing that sets the Juan Darian Credit and Services Cooperative (CCS), in the Jarahueca region of the Sancti Spiritus province in the country’s interior, apart from its counterparts across the nation: it is the only one with a biological safety licence to plant GM soy and corn.
Last December, the first tons of GM corn for seeds were planted in the 12 hectares of this cooperative in the Yaguajay municipality. This action forms part of a program that is geared towards reducing imports of expensive seeds, Mesa Redonda TV show announced on Monday.
Between 2014 and 2018, Cuba imported 700,000 tons of corn every year, over 1.5 billion USD were spent on importing food, “an expense that our country doesn’t have the luxury of paying every year,” Mario Pablo Estrada said, the director Agricultural Research at the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center (COGB), which has developed Cuban hybrids.
“The hybrid GM seeds we are pushing seek to find seeds that have the greatest yield potential worldwide, which are simple hybrid genetically modified seeds,” the scientist explained.
A hybrid seed (or F1) is the result of cross pollinating two different parent varieties, naturally or artificially (that is to say, by man);
“This seed is ours, it’s a seed that has been created by Cuban science,” Estrada stressed, who praised the work of different research centers which have found varieties that are internationally renowned.
“These varieties have been used for genetic modification and we are the owners of these seeds, which is a very important difference when it comes to what is being practiced abroad,” he weighed in.
According to him, a variety of conventional dried maize can yield between 1-3 tons, while the simple hybrid can bring in over 12 tons.
One of the features of this product of Cuban agricultural biotechnology is that it is resistant to grain moths, the pest that affects fields of this crop the most, and it is also resistant to the herbicide used the most to keep weeds under control.
Cuba plans to plant 500 hectares of CGIB hybrid GM seeds this winter, which would allow them to plant a total of 25,000 hectares in 2020-1, with an average yield of 5 tons per hectare giving roughly 125,000 tons, that will be turned into dried maize for making animal fodder, news agencies reported in early February.
Some arguments against
The introduction of this kind of agriculture has its detractors, especially amongst those who have been advocating for an agro-ecological movement for almost three decades, opting for farmer-managed seed systems, and the rescue and improvement of native strains using eco-friendly techniques.
Experts have also expressed their concern about the dangers this kind of farming poses for the environment and human health. In this regard, Eulogio Pimentel, vice-president of BioCubaFarma, highlighted that products obtained via genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for better seeds and greater yields have to prove their nutritional value and that “they are neither toxic or eco-toxic.”
The scientist added that there are several factors that have led Cuba to opt for using GM crops, including climate change and its effect on rising temperatures, which is estimated to cut agricultural yields by 50%.
Meanwhile, the director of Agricultural Research at the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Centre repeated that this practice is being carried out within an existing legal framework here in Cuba, that takes biological security into account, as well as health registration and checks by different regulatory bodies.
Decree-Law no. 4 that protects its use, is made up of a series of policies that are linked to the country’s scientific/technological progress and the search for seed production via biotechnological means.
The Caribbean country now has a National Committee for the Use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), that has been running since last July, and its mission is to control and organize use of this biotechnology technique, as an alternative for national agricultural development.