SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia – After a year of serious drought and insect infestations, Bolivia – although it grows several types of corn – is finding itself forced to import genetically modified versions of the crop from Argentina, a situation that has caused unease and disappointment among Bolivian producers.
Bolivia’s corn production for 2015-2016 was about 950,000 tons and expectations are that the 2016 winter and 2016-2017 summer harvests will yield only 926,000 tons, although some 20,000 hectares (about 50,000 acres) more of corn have recently been planted.
To alleviate the shortfall, Bolivia between August 2016 and January 2017 imported 113,320 tons of yellow corn, which is used for livestock fodder, at a cost of $19 million, according to the Bolivian Foreign Trade Institute (IBCE).
“We need corn, the government is going to Argentina, it’s making an agreement and brings in genetically modified corn and they’re giving us the seeds,” complained Freddy Taboada, a small corn producer in the San Julian area of Santa Cruz province during a visit organized by IBCE for the media, including EFE.
Taboada noted the paradox of Bolivia importing genetically modified corn for the market, but – at the same time – restricting the use of genetically modified seeds to just one type of soybeans resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide.
Santa Cruz farmers are asking the government to be more flexible vis-a-vis transgenic corn to be able to produce crops resistant to herbicides and pesticides so as to be more competitive with nearby markets, above all those of Argentina and Brazil.
President Evo Morales has expressed his willingness to study the idea of opening up the country to transgenic crops to avoid a food shortage, but that approach has not yet been pursued.
On the other hand, Santa Cruz, which produces about 60 percent of the country’s corn crop, has a business and production vision favoring genetically modified crops.
While corn production has risen in recent harvests in other Bolivian provinces, in Santa Cruz and the central province of Cochabamba it’s been falling for three years, reducing the country’s total production.
Corn producers fear that the losses in Santa Cruz during the next harvest will amount to $48 million.
The problems facing the crop include the fungi that result in worm plagues and the intense drought affecting the zone.
“We had lots of drought problems in January and February, with some 35-40 days without rain,” said the administrator of the San Jorge farm, Marcelo Pantoja.
At San Jorge, 400-500 hectares of corn are planted each year and during a normal year the yield is three tons per hectare, but this harvest losses of about a third of that are expected.
“This year we’re not going to cover the (production) cost,” said Pantoja, adding that “we can’t compete with the corn coming from Argentina, which is genetically modified.”
Although Bolivia’s corn yield is between two and three tons per hectare, the yield in Argentina and Brazil is between 12 and 13 tons.