MANILA, OCTOBER 20, 2007 (STAR) By Rudy A. Fernandez - It’s been a long way to the “top of the world” for this Filipino farmer-leader who once worked as domestic helper in foreign countries.

Last Oct. 18, in the glittering city of Des Moines, Iowa, Rosalie Ellasus made the Philippines proud by being named the first recipient of the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award given by the Truth About Trade and Technology (TATT).

TATT is an organization committed to promoting free trade and agricultural biotechnology through farmer-led educational initiatives that target public officials, opinion leaders, and the agricultural community.

The Kleckner award, said TATT executive director Mary Boote, recognizes a farmer involved in the agricultural production of food, feed, fiber and fuel.

“This individual exemplifies strong leadership, vision, and resolve in advancing the right of all farmers to choose the technology and tools that will improve the quality, quantity, and availability of agricultural products around the world,” Boote said.

Ellasus, who was selected from a field of four farmer-finalists, received the award at a farmer-to-farmer roundtable sponsored by TATT in Des Moines.

John Reifsteck, an Illinois farmer who serves on the TATT board, said the Filipino farmer-leader was selected because “she represents what TATT represents. It’s a disservice to farmers like Rosalie to say that biotechnology and trade issues are only about large farmers; those issues affect all farmers.”

“Biotechnology can be used by any size or type of farmer in the world. It’s a very portable and usable technology. And Rosalie is a great role model to demonstrate this,” he added.

Biotechnology is any technique that uses living things to make or modify a product, to improve plants and animals, or to develop microorganisms for specific uses. Tools of biotechnology can be used to make products for agricultural, industrial, medical, and environmental applications.

Once a domestic helper in Singapore and Canada, Ellasus worked her way to the upper rungs of life — as a market executive and new president of the PhilMaize Federation, which groups together corn farmers’ organizations across the country.

She is also currently a councilor in her town, San Jacinto, Pangasinan, having been elected to that position during the May 14, 2007 elections.

The petite 48-year-old mother of three did not grow up on a farm.

She married early in life, and joined many of her countrymen working overseas, first as a domestic helper in Singapore and Vancouver, before finding a position as a marketing executive.

Those experiences served her well when her husband died in 1995.

“Hard work, research, and willingness to tell others about her experiences in agriculture, allow this ‘corn queen’ to tell others a compelling story about how biotechnology gave her the tools to send three sons to college,” TATT stated.

After her husband died, she bought a 1.3-hectare farm with her savings.

As a greenhorn farmer, she discovered early that pests and weeds were taking toll on her cornfields, and made her crops unsuitable for sale.

“We got so many rejections from buyers. The biggest problem with our corn was aflatoxin contamination,” she told TATT.

Insects, she added, drilled small holes in the corn, providing an environment for mites, diseases, and fungi that produce the toxin.

Confronted with these problems, Ellasus attended a 16-week Integrated Post Management-Farmers’ Field School (IPM-FFS) on corn conducted in 2001 by the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Subsequently, she began changing her farm practices, and after seeing a demonstration farm Bt field, she did a corn demonstration on her farm in San Jacinto to compare conventional and Bt corn.

Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that naturally occurs in soil. Through genetic engineering (biotechnology) technique, a specific gene of Bt has been introduced into a corn variety. The Bt corn produces its natural pesticide against the Asian corn borer, one of the most destructive pests attacking corn in the Philippines and in other Asian countries.

“It was the most well-attended technology showcase in her hometown,” TATT reported.

Aside from the fact that Ellasus’ corn was well accepted by feed mills, she was also able to sell her corn husks for local craft production because they were flawless and sturdy.

Profits that were the result of technology allowed her to expand her 1.3-hectare farm to six hectares.

“This kind of success persuaded other farmers to also use the technology,” TATT noted.

Summing up, Ellasus concluded, “I was convinced that a marginal farmer can improve her lifestyle only if she will adopt biotechnology.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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