MAKASSAR, South Sulawesi -- Hundreds of hectares of the genetically modified cotton fields at three villages in the regency of Bulukumba, South Sulawesi, have been destroyed by pests identified as Helicoverpa armigera and Spodoptera.
However, officials dealing with the genetically modified cotton business said separately that there was "nothing to worry about."
Tri Soekirman, Corp. Communications manager of Monsanto, the supplier of the genetically modified cotton from South Africa, said here on Thursday that the pests were not dangerous.
"They are just larva which eat the leaves, but will not disrupt cotton production," Tri told The Jakarta Post.
He said that based on a survey made by his team, the population of the pests was still tolerable. "Therefore, pesticide is not necessary to eliminate them. The farmers know how to handle them."
On Wednesday in Bulukumba, the leader of the genetically modified cotton monitoring team, Ibrahim Manwa, voiced similar optimism that "the pest population is still at tolerable levels."
He said 40 trees had been taken as samples from Balleanging village in Bulukumba. "Out of the 40 trees, less than seven were attacked by the pests. This means that the population of the pests is still very low," he said, showing dried cotton leaves which had been destroyed by Spodoptera.
Ibrahim was in Bulukumba with the deputy head of the South Sulawesi Agriculture Office, Karya.
The controversy over genetically modified cotton started in early May this year when a total of 40 tons of Bollgard cotton seed belonging to U.S.-based Monsanto was imported by Jakarta-based PT Monagro Kimia.
A number of activists have said that genetically modified products must be prohibited from directly entering the province, and demanded that such seeds be quarantined for detailed examination before being distributed to the farmers.
It was Minister of Agriculture Bungaran Saragih who recommended the importation of the seed and its distribution to seven regencies in South Sulawesi.
State Minister for the Environment Sonny Keraf criticized the decision.
In Bulukumba regency alone, the genetically modified cotton was planted on a total of 1,571.75 hectares, managed by 80 farmers' groups consisting of 2,003 families.
At least 180 hectares of the cotton fields in the village of Balleanging, Ujungloe district, have been invaded by the pests.
Local farmers said that the pests started attacking the cotton in mid-June.
Many farmers have complained about the pests. They said the supplier had claimed that the cotton variety was resistant to all kinds of pests.
Thanks to the Natural Law Party Wessex for sending this file.
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