Soy producers in eastern Bolivia's Santa Cruz region welcome the government's decision to allow cultivation of genetically modified soy, albeit only for the purpose of producing biodiesel.
President Evo Morales ' administration, which has been skeptical about GM crops, said Monday that it would authorize farmers to plant modified soy as part of a project to produce biodiesel and reduce imports of the fuel.
The head of the National Association of Oilseed and Wheat Producers (Anapo), Marcelo Pantoja, has spoken out about a "critical period" ahead for farmers.
"Hydrocarbons and minerals have been the engine of the country's development, but they are depressed, they have problems, so I believe that it's the epoch of the countryside," Pantoja told journalists visiting Santa Cruz on an excursion organized by the Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade (IBCE).
Fidel Flores, the Anapo representative in Cuatro Cañadas, Santa Cruz, told reporters that by planting the drought-resistant HB4 strain of GM soy, growers could boost yields by between 20 percent and 30 percent from the current average of 2,500kgs (5,506lbs) per hectare (2.2 acres)
Last week, associations representing both small farmers and large producers in Santa Cruz joined in declaring an agricultural emergency in the region, pointing to damage affecting more than a third of the soy crop planted during the current austral summer.
Destruction due to drought, floods and other causes has already generated more than $168 million in losses, the associations said, urging the government to approve the use of HB4 and consider accepting GM maize.
Morales and other senior officials met with business owners Monday in Santa Cruz city to discuss biotechnology.
Hydrocarbons Minister Luis Alberto Sanchez announced the approval of GM soy to make biofuel.
The authorization calls for planting 250,000 hectares (617,763 acres) with GM soy to be used exclusively to make biodiesel and includes roughly $2 billion in public funds for the necessary infrastructure and machinery, the minister said.
Sanchez's announcement was some of "the best news in the last five years for small and major producers," IBCE director Gary Rodriguez told EFE.
Producing its own biodiesel, which is less polluting than fossil fuel, will reduce Bolivia's need to import conventional diesel, he said.
Last year, Bolivia spent around $900 million on imports of conventional diesel fuel, according to IBCE data.
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