Facts modified

To help the biotech industry

Published: Monday 15 March 2004

pro-farmer groups have questioned the credibility of a study stating that the acreage under transgenic crops is increasing at a much faster rate in developing countries than the industrialised nations. As per the groups, the study drew such conclusions as it has been conducted by the us-based International Services for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (isaaa) -- an organisation funded by biotech giants like Monsanto and Syngenta.

As per the findings, though industrialised countries (led by the us) accounted for two-third of the 67.7 million hectares under gm crops worldwide in 2003, transgenic crop acreage in developing countries grew by 28 per cent as compared to 11 per cent in developed countries. Most farmers' associations say that isaaa's data is "exaggerated". In case of Africa, the figure is overstated by as much as 20 times, asserts Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies, the uk. "While isaaa claims that small farmers in South Africa are collectively using gm technology for 100,000 hectares of land, a survey by Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe puts the figure at 5,000 hectares," explains deGrassi.

Similar is the state of affairs for India. While isaaa proclaims that more than 100,000 hectares was under bt cotton in 2003, sources from the Union ministry of agriculture say that the transgenic crop covered an area of only 92,000 hectares. Bt cotton is the only genetically modified (gm) crop being commercially cultivated in India. " isaaa is an out and out industry group. It is trying to hoodwink the whole world into accepting gm crops," says Devinder Sharma, an agriculture and trade policy analyst based in New Delhi.

According to Mariyam Mayet of South Africa's African Centre for Biosafety, bt cotton is the industry's Trojan horse. "The industry is expected to push for the commercial planting of bt cotton in Africa by 2004," she asserts, adding: "existence of technologies is not a sufficient reason to utilise them." It should suit the requirements of the users and, more importantly, prove economically viable.

Ironically, this is not the case, shows the 12-year-long gm sweet potato project of Uganda. The project required 19 scientists and us $12 million to increase the country's potato productivity by 18 per cent. On the contrary, with the help of conventional breeding practices, a virus-resistant variety with yield gains of nearly 100 per cent was developed on a minuscule budget. "The isaaa study is clearly an attempt to push for the useless gm technology," concludes deGrassi.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.