Science Speaks - Blog by ISAAA

Engage to Empower: Maximizing Impact of Biotechnology through Stakeholder Engagement

By Janine Cyren Escasura
June 20, 2024

A study conducted by Spreen & Klimmt (2024) revealed that even today, misconceptions drive public skepticism toward food products derived from biotechnology. The public’s negative perception of biotechnology poses significant challenges to the acceptance and adoption of these technologies. Often, a lack of knowledge and understanding of biotechnology greatly contributes to the negative attitudes of the general public. 

This knowledge gap is where discussions and conversations among various audiences become crucial. Engagement with essential stakeholders, such as farmers, researchers, policymakers, and members of the academe, provides accurate and up-to-date information that addresses misconceptions about biotechnology. As misinformation proliferates in the digital age, science communicators should engage and encourage different publics to participate in discussions about biotechnology.

Public briefing on Philippine biotechnology and biosafety regulation

ISAAA Inc., in partnership with the Philippine Biotechnology for Agriculture and Fisheries of the Department of Agriculture (DA Biotech Program Office) and Asian Farmer's Network (ASFARNET), conducted a public briefing titled Biotech for Filipino Farmers: A Public Briefing on the Philippine Biotechnology and Biosafety Regulations on June 6, 2024, at Iloilo City, Iloilo. As part of the Know the Science project, this public briefing aimed to provide recent developments and information on the status of biotechnology and biosafety systems in the Philippines.

The public briefing was attended by 130 participants representing important stakeholders in the province such as rice and corn farmers, local government officials, members of the academe, and individuals from the private and agricultural sectors. During the opening remarks, Mr. Iñigo D. Garingalao, Iloilo City Agriculturist, mentioned that the public briefing contributes to many initiatives of Iloilo City towards food security. With the country’s growing population, a participant mentioned that “biotechnology is the future of farming as it will aid food shortage in the Philippines.”

Before the start of the event, the attendees expressed their interest in learning about biotechnology. “Hope it will also be initiated at the municipal level through local government units (LGUs) and the Department of Agriculture (DA),” a participant said. Events like this, especially when conducted at a local level, are indeed essential to have meaningful conversations and discussions with various stakeholders. Other participants even mentioned that events like this should also be done more frequently in their area.

The public briefing featured presentations from Dr. Rhodora Romero-Aldemita, Executive Director of ISAAA Inc., and Ms. Ma. Lorelie U. Agbagala, Head Secretariat of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) and Assistant Scientist at the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Dr. Aldemita perfectly captured the audience's interest as she discussed the basics of biotechnology and how it has benefitted many farmers. Dr. Aldemita also discussed some of the gene-edited products available in the pipeline and in the market. As Dr. Aldemita’s presentation concludes, she highlighted some of the pressing challenges in advancing biotechnology in the Philippines such as promoting science culture among the youth and manpower development through capacity-building and mentoring.

A 2022 study by Jimenez et al. mentioned that risks associated with biotechnology continue to become a public concern and cause opposing views and perceptions. With Ms. Agbagala’s discussion, the participants were equipped with knowledge about the biosafety regulations in the country. As safety is one of the main concerns of many, Ms. Agbagala educated the participants on the role of NCBP in setting scientific, technical, and procedural standards to promote biosafety in the Philippines. She also talked about how Bt eggplant and Golden Rice went through the biosafety approval process. According to a participant, these presentations enlightened them and made them more interested and eager to learn more about biotechnology. 

Why does stakeholder involvement matter?

For decades, ISAAA Inc. has been actively participating in various initiatives of partners and like-minded organizations to spread knowledge about biotechnology. With the Court of Appeals decision released on April 17, 2024, against Bt eggplant and Golden Rice, this public briefing holds immense significance in information dissemination and raising awareness.

In the pre-activity survey conducted by ISAAA, 52.3% of the participants have basic knowledge and 7% admitted that they don’t know anything about biotechnology. After the event, the post-activity survey results show that 100% of the attendees have improved their knowledge and are now aware of the products of biotechnology. This number only proves the effectiveness of events like this in providing relevant information and engaging with the general public.

Before the activity started, 32% of the participants had neutral to negative perceptions towards the benefits of biotechnology in agricultural productivity. After the event, the results showed that 90% of the participants agreed that biotechnology offers more benefits than risks to society. Similarly, the participants’ confidence in the human use and consumption of biotechnology has also improved. The survey results also showed a 41% increase in confidence in the safety of biotechnology products for human health from 62.7%  to 88.5% combined strongly agree and agree ratings.

The post-activity survey also showed that 98.4% of the attendees believe that the current regulations and biosafety assessments are sufficient to address concerns about the safety of biotech products. Thus, the survey results also indicate that 91.8% of the participants are likely to support policies that promote the safe use of biotechnology. The event concluded with 85 signatories from farmers, students, local government officials, and other relevant stakeholders in the Declaration of Support for the Commercial Planting of Bt/HT Corn, Bt Eggplant, Bt Cotton, and Golden Rice–signifying the support of Iloilo stakeholders for the products and innovations of biotechnology in the Philippines.

The public briefing in Iloilo City is part of a series about modern agri-biotechnology applications and products in the Philippine context. The second part of this series is being conducted at General Santos City on June 20, 2024, to continue the organization’s efforts to equip local stakeholders with information and knowledge on Philippine biotechnology and biosafety regulations.

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