A Philippine farm woman who used biotechnology to solve her production challenges on the 1.3 hectare farm she purchased with her savings after her husband’s death is the first recipient of the Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award. (1 hectare = 2.47 acres.) The award was presented Wednesday, Oct. 17, during a farmer-to-farmer roundtable sponsored by Truth about Trade and Technology (TATT) in Des Moines.Rosalie Ellasus of San Jacinto, Philippines, didn’t grow up on a farm. The 48-year-old Ellasus 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 passed away 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.

Ellasus says she discovered early on that pests and weeds were taking a 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 said. Insects drilled small holes in the corn, providing an environment for mites, diseases, and fungi that produce the toxins.

That led her to attend an Integrated Pest Management – Farmers Field School on corn in 2001. Ellasus found herself even more intrigued about the science and skill involved with farming during the 16-weeks of the school. She began changing her practices, and after seeing a demonstration farm Bt corn field, she did a corn demonstration on her farm to compare conventional to Bt corn.

It was the most well-attended technology showcase in her hometown. Not only did she find her corn being well accepted by feed mills, she also was able to sell her corn husks for local craft production because they were flawless and sturdy. Her profitability provided by the technology (she gets a 125% return each year) allowed her to grow her farm to 6 hectares. This kind of success persuaded other area farmers to also use the technology.

Since then, Ellasus has adopted corn “stacked” with both a Bt gene and a gene that makes plants herbicide resistant. That allowed her to reduce cultivation from three times a year to only once—a great savings in labor-intensive hand-weeding. “I was truly convinced that a marginal farmer can improve her lifestyle only if she will adopt biotechnology,” Ellasus said.

Ellasus, president of the PhilMaize Federation, was selected from a field of four farmers nominated for the first Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award. John Reifsteck, an Illinois farmer from Champaign County, who serves on the TATT board, says Ellasus 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.”

“Right now, I’m sitting in my combine surrounded by computers,” Reifsteck said. “That’s technology that isn’t transferable to all farmers because of economic issues. But 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.”

Read the article in Crop Life Magazine [PDF]