By Clet Wandui MASIGA
Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur
African farmers are set to benefit more from genetically engineered organisms than developed countries partly due to non-functional rights laws. Here are the conclusions from four peer reviewed publications evaluating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that have Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and herbicide tolerant (HT)/round ready (RR) traits.
Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services (Lu et al 2012). This is because transgenic crops producing insecticidal proteins derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have proved effective in controlling bollworm and reducing the need for pesticides. In USA, the net benefits, includes convenience of roundup ready (RR) soybeans, significant value on operator and worker safety, environmental benefits and market risks diminishes sharply as the percent of roundup ready soybean acres increases (Marra et al 2004).
Perhaps the most important thing that African leaders will need to know is a tradeoff between farmers getting out of farming to pave way for rich mechanized farms or adopt HT tolerant crops and keep more people in farming hence consumers have more choices on markets than having a few that will dictate the food prices (–a practice I personally support). The latter option will happen naturally as long as farming remains unprofitable in Africa. Farmers will either scale up or out of farming. We will see younger people selling off land to bigger farm entrepreneurs.
In Argentina GMOs particularly RR soybeans has increased total factor production by 10% on average with cost savings being more for smaller farms than larger farms (Qaim & Traxler, 2005). In terms of economics, the global value of biotech seeds was USD15.7 billion and farm gate prices of harvested end product was USD133.3 billion (James Clive, 2014). Note that it costs about USD135 million to develop and commercialize a GM variety. So if a company makes profit of a billion is worth the investment. But many other people across the value chain benefits. According to Qaim & Traxler (2005), the largest share of benefits from RR soybean went to consumers (53%), followed by seed and biotechnology firms (34%), and agricultural producers (13%).It’s also important to note that even when Africa rejects GMOs, private seed companies using conventional technologies still market seeds worth more than USD55 billion annually.
In Argentina due to comparatively weak intellectual property protection and because only small technology mark-ups in seed prices and widespread adoption, Argentine soybean growers receive 90% of the benefits in that country which demonstrates that farmers in developing countries can gain considerably when they obtain access to suitable foreign innovations through technology spill-overs (Qaim & Traxler, 2005). On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries (Klumper & Qaim, 2014).
Africans and others who are fighting GMOs, will need to remember that in absence of Bt, there will be more sales from chemical companies most them are owned by Europeans and Asian entrepreneurs. Alternatively as GMOs are being fought, most of the seeds will continue to be provided by private seed companies and they will sale it as proprietary technology.
Because ignorance seems to be ruling the world, let me end by providing some factual data. The world top three seed companies include Monsanto, DuPont/pioneer and Syngenta. All combined make about USD28 billion annually. The top three agrochemical companies include Syngenta, Bayer and Basf and they make USD46 billion, the top three food processing companies include Nestle, Archer and unilever and all together USD521 billion. And the top three food distribution companies include Walmat, Carrefour and Tesco and all together they make USD764 billion. So who is controlling the world or monopolizing world food?
I remain wondering if African leaders and others against GMOs have any of this data or have just been mislead with misinformation on subjects they do not understand. It’s therefore logical that African leaders need to make courageous and logical decision and support their farmers to have access to technology options for their development.
James, Clive. 2014. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014. ISAAA Brief No. 49. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY.
Lu Yanhui, Kongming Wu, Yuying Jiang, Yuyuan Guo, & Nicolas Desneux (2012). Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services. Nature 487, 362-365 doi:10.1038/nature11153
Marra Michele C., Nicholas E. Piggott, and Gerald A. Carlson (2004). The net benefits, including convenience, of roundup ready® soybeans: results from a national survey. NSF Center for IPM Technical Bulletin 2004-3. 39pp. Raleigh, NC
Matin Qaim and Greg Traxler (2005). Roundup Ready soybeans in Argentina: farm level and aggregate welfare effects. Agricultural Economics. Volume 32, Issue 1, pages 73–86. DOI: 10.1111/j.0169-5150.2005.00006.x