Today in AgBioView: December 12, 2002:
* GM Crops Generating Global Benefits: Small Farmers Major Beneficiaries
* Food Crisis Requires Political Solution - WFP Boss
* More GM Crops to be Grown in Asia
* Cancer Risk From GM Crops?
* Analysis of Biosafety of GM Food Crops: An Industry Perspective
* Biosafety of Genetically Modified Crops - An African Perspective
* Decision Support Toolbox for Biosafety Implementation
* Report on Talk to The United Nations
* Engineering Fruit Quality via Novel Genetic Intervention
* Bt Cotton - Hope for India's Farmers
* One Hand Clapping: Organic Farming in India
e Major Beneficiaries
- The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications, December 11, 2002 http://www.isaaa.org
Cornell, NY - A new study by Dr. Clive James, Chairman of ISAAA, confirms
that in 2001, global area of transgenic or GM crops was 52.6 million
hectares (m has.) or 130 million acres, representing an increase of 8.4
million hectares, or 20 million acres over 2000. The principal GM crops
were soybean (33 million hectares), corn (10m has.), cotton (7m has.) and
canola (3m has.). These GM crops were grown in 13 countries by about 5
million farmers, over 75% of whom were small resource-poor farmers growing
Bt cotton in developing countries. The study presents a global overview of
the cotton crop, an assessment of the performance of Bt cotton to-date,
and its future global potential. The focus on developing countries is
consistent with ISAAA's mission to assist developing countries in
assessing the potential of new technologies.
Overview of The Global Cotton Crop
-- Of the global 33.5 million hectares (83 million acres) of cotton worth
$20 billion, approximately 70% are grown in developing countries. Asia has
up to 60% of world cotton, Africa up to 15% with <5% in Latin America.
There are approximately 20 million cotton farmers globally, 97% of whom
farm in developing countries -- most are small resource-poor farmers
growing 2 hectares or less of cotton.
-- Insect pests are a major problem in cotton and yield losses and
insecticides cost cotton farmers $5 billion annually -- 20% of global
insecticides are used on cotton. Cotton farmers used $1.7 billion worth of
insecticides in 2001. A novel and very effective method of controlling the
major insect pests of cotton is through genetically modified cotton with
"Bt genes" from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
-- Since 1996, 13 million has. of Bt cotton have been successfully
deployed in nine countries, 7 developing and 2 industrial; these include
USA, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia (pre-commercial) in the Americas,
China, India, Indonesia and Australia in Asia, and South Africa on the
"Countries that have introduced Bt cotton have derived significant and
multiple benefits -- these include increased yield, decreased production
costs, a reduction of at least 50% in insecticide applications, resulting
in substantial environmental benefits to small producers, and significant
economic and social benefits," said Dr. James.
Significant Economic, Environmental And Social Benefits Associated With Bt
Productivity Benefits. Yield increases for Bt cotton range from 5 to 10%
in China, 10% or more in the US and Mexico, 25% in South Africa. In the US
in 2001, Bt cotton increased lint production on 2 million has. by over
84,000 metric tons (MT) valued at $115 million. In China, seed cotton
production on 1.5 million has. of Bt cotton increased by 514,000 MT.
Environmental Benefits. The major benefit has been a decrease of 50% in
the number of insecticide sprays/season, which in turn reduced insecticide
residues that could potentially runoff into watersheds and aquifers: a
decrease of 14 sprays in China (from 28 to 14 sprays), 7 in S. Africa, and
2 in the USA. Global insecticide savings attributed to Bt cotton in 2001
were 10,500 MT of insecticide (active ingredient, a.i.), equivalent to 13%
of the 81,200 MT (a.i) of all cotton insecticides used globally in 2001.
From a health perspective, cotton farmers in China and South Africa
applying insecticides by hand with knapsacks, have significantly less
potential exposure to insecticides when using Bt cotton.
Economic benefits. The economic advantage of Bt cotton versus conventional
cotton results from Bt cotton's superior control of insect pests which
results in higher yields, cost savings of 50% on insecticide and labor,
which are partially offset by the higher price of Bt cotton seed. In the
US in 2001 economic gain for Bt cotton was $50/ha and > $100 million
nationally. In China, economic gain from Bt cotton was $500/ha with a
national benefit of $750 million. In China in 2001 over 4 million
resource-poor cotton farmers as well as several thousand in the Makhathini
Flats in South Africa derived significant economic benefits from Bt
cotton, supporting the 2001 UNDP Human Development Report thesis that
biotechnology can contribute to the alleviation of poverty.
Social benefits. Bt cotton significantly increases income and saves time,
which is particularly valuable for small resource-poor Bt cotton farmers
in developing countries. In China, the increased income allows poor farm
families to spend more on food and increase nutritional standards. In
South Africa, where 50% of the cotton farmers are women, Bt cotton gives
them more time to care for children, the sick, and/or generate additional
income from other activities.
"It is important that a human face is put on the benefits of Bt cotton,"
said Dr. James. "For the average cotton holding of 1.7 hectares in the
Makhathini Flats in South Africa, in a typical season, a woman farmer is
relieved of 12 days of arduous spraying, saves over 1,000 liters of water
(over 250 US gallons), walks 100 km less, has less potential exposure to
insecticides, and increases her income by approximately $85 per season,
through using Bt cotton, rather than conventional cotton."
Global Potential Of Bt Cotton
-- Bt cotton occupies 4 million hectares today but has the potential to
deliver significant benefits on at least half of the world's 33.5 million
has. of cotton with medium to high insect pest levels. With optimal
deployment of Bt cotton the projected annual insecticide saving is
estimated at 33,000 MT (a.i), equivalent to 37% of the 81,200 MT (a.i) of
cotton insecticides used globally in 2001.
-- To-date, nine countries have adopted Bt cotton and are benefiting, but
what about the fifty key countries that grow cotton throughout the world.
The challenge is to provide the same opportunity for the potential
beneficiary countries, with small to modest areas of cotton, in the
developing world. There are 30 such developing countries, 21 in Africa,
five in Asia and four in Latin America that grow small to modest areas of
cotton. Experience to-date in several developing countries has clearly
demonstrated that Bt cotton can deliver significant economic,
environmental, and social benefits to millions of resource-poor farmers
that are assigned high priority by the donor community.
-- It is important that these smaller cotton-growing countries with
resource-poor cotton farmers are offered the option of commercial access
to Bt cotton so that they are not disadvantaged by being denied the
significant benefits that accrue to adopters of the technology. The case
for providing more developing countries the option of sharing in the
substantial environmental, economic and social benefits delivered by Bt
cotton to millions of resource-poor cotton farmers in developing countries
on millions of hectares over the last six years, represents a challenge
for both the donor community and the developing countries which are the
ISAAA -- The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
-- A not-for-profit public charity working to alleviate poverty in
developing countries, by facilitating the transfer and sharing of crop
biotechnology applications to increase crop productivity and income
generation, particularly for resource-poor farmers, and to bring about a
safer environment and more sustainable agricultural development. An
International Network with a global hub in the Philippines and centers in
Nairobi, Kenya, and at Cornell University Ithaca, New York.
-- The study by Dr. Clive James is entitled "Global Review of
Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2001. Feature Bt cotton", ISAAA Briefs
26. The publication and further information can be obtained from ISAAA's
Center in SouthEast Asia: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Cost of the
publication is $US 25 including postage. The publication is available free
of charge for nationals of developing countries. /CONTACT: media
inquiries, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications, +1-345-947-1839, 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, EST, USA, until 17 Dec,
or R.Hautea@isaaa.org /
Food Crisis Requires Political Solution - WFP Boss
- Abimbola Akosile, This Day, December 11, 2002
Lagos - The current food crisis in Africa, and the accompanying widespread
hunger has been described as a creation of politics which demands
political solutions. According to agency report, Mr. James T Morris,
Executive Director of the World Food Programme's (WFP) stated this while
briefing the UN Security Council last week Tuesday in Johannesburg, South
Some 38 million Africans are at risk from an unprecedented food crisis,
but "mass starvation in Africa is not inevitable," Morris told the
council. "Political decisions by some African governments - and by the
governments of the developed world - have made it hard for the continent
to feed itself."
In the short term, an infusion of funds was urgently needed, while
long-term goals must include greater investment in agriculture and changes
in international trade regimes. Examining the causes for the "explosion in
food emergencies," Morris cited collapsing economic systems, political and
ethnic violence, HIV/AIDS and weather conditions. All of those factors
have combined to exacerbate Africa's critical situation, while in Southern
Africa WFP has received pledges of only 56 percent of the US $511 million
needed to help meet needs.
The WFP chief urged major changes, including a shift from reliance on the
United States for food aid. "Last year, the US provided 62 percent of all
food aid worldwide," he said. "This is simply not sustainable." He added
that the recent controversy over genetically modified (GM) food in
Southern Africa demonstrated the dangers of relying too heavily on a
single donor. "Requirements by some of the Southern African [countries]
that GM maize from the US be milled have created a logistical nightmare
and we have been left scrambling, trying to raise more cash contributions
from other donors while confronting the complexities of milling the maize
to ensure there is no break in the food pipeline."
At the same time, Morris urged the creation of a new global trade
environment, stressing that developing countries "simply cannot compete
with developed country subsidies that now amount to US $1 billion a day
and allow food to flow into poorer countries, making investments in
agriculture unprofitable." "People are hungry because their governments
have made the wrong political decisions," he said. "In the end, hunger is
a political creation and we must use political means to end it."
More GM Crops to be Grown in Asia
- Manila Bulletin, Dec 9, 2002 http://www.mb.com.ph
The Philippines recently approved the domestic propagation of a popular
high-yielding environment-friendly and pest-resistant maize variety
(Bt-corn), the final step towards its commercialisation in the country. It
is now the first commercially available GM food crop in Asia.. China,
India and Indonesia are extensively growing GM cotton.
Field test results showed that Bt-corn could yield up to 40% more than
conventional corn varieties during the wet season and up to 35% during the
dry season. This translates into additional earnings of approximately ú65
to ú130 per hectare for the farmers. Bt-corn is naturally resistant to the
Asiatic Corn Borer, the most prevalent scourge of local corn crops known
to destroy entire crops in many localities. In addition to increased
harvest, its use will generate savings from the drastic reduction or total
elimination of chemical pesticides.
The decision to commercialise came after nearly five years of rigid
scientific and technical scrutiny by various government regulatory
agencies, all recommending going ahead. The review took place amid intense
debate on the government's policy of adopting biotechnology as the anchor
of the country's food security and sufficiency programme. Scientific
community and farmer groups were pitted against the efforts international
pressure groups and NGOs to block further progress.
Important organisations and individuals recognising the value of
commercialising agricultural biotechnology for the Philippine population
and economy were the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Business Council
and several local Catholic Church leaders. Opposition was spearheaded by
Europe-based activist groups, one of which apparently repeatedly cautioned
the Philippine government that "millions of dead bodies and sick children,
cancer cluster and deformities" would arise from the use of the technology
in agriculture. Several NGOs also warned farmers in some regions that
biotech food crops can cause homosexuality and mental retardation.
With this decision, the Philippines joins other major planters of GM
crops, including the United States, Canada, Argentina, China, South
Africa, Mexico, India, Australia and Uruguay. According to the Financial
Times, the global adoption of agricultural biotechnology increased by 19
percent over the past year.
Cancer Risk From GM Crops?
From: "Bob MacGregor" Re: Ewen
I am surprised that Stanley Ewen failed to recommend that people stop
eating cole crops since CMV infection in these crops is common. While
many people advocate crops like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and
cauliflower as "health" foods, providing essential vitamins and minerals
and helping to prevent cancer, Dr. Ewen's testimony would seem to
contradict this conventional wisdom. Sadly, there is still a major element
of illogic and unreality to these fanciful, anti-GM hypotheses. - BOB
>> GM Expert Warns of Cancer Risk From Crops
>> Rob Edwards, Sunday Herald (UK), http://www.sundayherald.com/29821
> EATING genetically modified (GM) food could give you cancer. That is
the stark warning today
Analysis of Biosafety of GM Food Crops: An Industry Perspective
- Bert Uijtewaal and Peter Metz, December 2002 AgBiotechNet Vol 4 Dec,
ABN 103 http://www.agbiotechnet.com (From Agnet. archived at
Abstract : raditional breeding has a long history of delivering plants
with improved characteristics. Recently, modern biotechnology has proved
to be an additional tool to improve the applicability and quality of
crops. The safety history of traditional breeding methods is used to
demonstrate that biotech plants are as safe as traditional products
through the concept of 'substantial equivalence'. The safety of biotech
products is assessed following a 'step-by-step' and 'case-by-case'
approach and involves many safety analyses. The safety assessment is
reviewed by regulatory authorities before approval for release. During the
different phases of development, product safety is analysed in a step-wise
approach. During the 'concept phase', the new gene, the protein and the
donor organism are evaluated. Field trials are essential to assess the
agronomic characteristics of the biotech plants and provide additional
information to the competent authorities. Safety assessments can be
roughly divided in environmental safety assessments andassessments
focussing on food and feed safety. The OECD concepts of 'familiarity' and
'substantial equivalence' are key factors in such assessments. In the end,
all assessments and studies combined lead to a safety data package. After
commercial release, stewardship and post-marketing monitoring are tools to
assure the continued safe use of biotech products.
Biosafety of Genetically Modified Crops - An African Perspective
- Jane Morris and Muffy Koch, Dec 2002 AgBiotechNet, Vol 4 December, ABN
102 E. www.AgBioTechNet.com
Abstract: This paper outlines the current status of biosafety in Africa.
Various constraints impacting on the successful introduction of modern
agricultural biotechnology are discussed, as well as potential benefits
for Africa. Functioning biosafety systems are required to ensure the safe
application of genetically modified (GM) organisms and equitable access to
benefits by all sectors of African communities. Thorough risk assessment
and effective risk management require case-by-case review of GM activities
in the context of the release environment. Capacity to administer and
review GM applications in Africa is generally lacking. Several programmes
are underway to build biosafety capacity and develop national biosafety
regulations. In many ways, biosafety in Africa reflects practices in other
countries. Major differences are the consideration of benefits,
socio-economic impact and public input in decision-making. The paper
identifies where biosafety differs from Western practices and suggests
mechanisms to ensure efficient implementation of African biosafety
Decision Support Toolbox for Biosafety Implementation
This is Version 2.0 of the toolbox. The toolbox has been developed by
ISNAR and FAO, in consultation with UNEP/GEF. This toolbox is designed to
assist policy makers, biosafety managers and other stakeholders in
understanding and applying a biosafety framework for capacity- building
and regulatory decision making.
Report on Talk to The United Nations
- Jennifer Thomson, ISB News Report, Dec 2002
On November 6, 2002, Dr. Thomson participated in the second lecture in a
series arranged at the request of Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the
United Nations. The title of Dr. Thomson's lecture was Genetically
Modified Crops for Developing Countries. There were two speakers, Dr.
Daphne Preuss of the University of Chicago and Dr. Thomson. The audience
consisted of UN delegates, UN staff members, and various NGOs. Read how
Zambia, a country that has refused maize food aid from the USA as it might
contain GM maize, in the face of major starvation among poor Zambians,
Complete article: web:
Engineering Fruit Quality via Novel Genetic Intervention
- Autar K. Mattoo, ISB News Report, Dec 2002
Both the increasing awareness and the demand for high quality produce
requires that scientists/agriculturists find the ways and means to enrich
vegetables and fruits with value-added and health-beneficial compounds.
Many factors can negatively affect nutritive composition of a commodity,
two of which are short shelf life and microbial infestation. The genetic
and biochemical bases of most of these processes remain to be explored.
Losses during post-harvest storage are an economic drain and represent one
of the greatest threats to a grower. Read what one group is doing to solve
some of the mysteries.
Complete article: web:
Bt Cotton - Hope for India's Farmers
- O. Rautenberg, Bio-Scope, November 27, 2002 http://www.bio-scope.org/
After China, India is the second-most populated country on earth, with
roughly a billion inhabitants. Economically, the 50-year-old Indian
democracy finds itself split between past and present. India is a global
leader in aerospace, nuclear and software technology, but simultaneously
one-third of the gross national product comes from the agricultural
sector, in which approximately 60% of Indian wage earners make their
living. Major crops include rice, wheat, legumes, oil seeds and cotton.
Extreme seasonal climatic changes characterized by rain and drought lead
to extremely varied annual yields, such as are virtually unknown in Europe
and North America.
With 9 million hectares, India's cotton acreage is the largest in the
world and makes India the third largest producer in the world after the US
and China. 60 million Indians are either directly or indirectly dependent
on cotton processing or related textile industries. Characteristic of the
conditions of Indian cotton cultivation is the disproportion between the
amount of cultivated land and the yield, especially when compared to the
US, Australia and China, where pest-resistant Bt cotton makes up an
increasing share. According to estimates by the ISAAA, India loses roughly
300 million ─ per year to the boll worm alone. Annual pesticide
application in cotton fields costs an additional 350 million ─.
In March 2002, after a three-year test phase with more than 100 field
tests, the Indian approval authorities allowed the cultivation of
Monsanto's Bt cotton in some regions of central India for the first time.
The seeds were distributed by a joint venture between Monsanto and the
Indian seed company Mahyco. The current area of cultivation is estimated
to be roughly 150,000 hectares. 80% of the transgenic seeds are sold to
farmers who had seen the test fields firsthand in their neighborhood. Only
20% went to regions located farther away.
Farmers would be happy if Bt cotton "only" cut the pesticide costs in
half. The cost of conventional cotton seed is about 950 Rupees per
hectare, whereas for the same amount of Bt cotton, seeds cost roughly
4,000 Rupees. Bt cotton is only worth the expense if it outweighs the cost
of pesticides and increases yield. Depending on the intensity and
frequency of boll worm infestations, a conventional field must be treated
with insecticides between 10 and 20 times per season, costing 600 - 700
Rupees per hectare and per treatment. In contrast, a Bt cotton field needs
only between 4 and 5 sprayings per season according to information from P.
Chengal Reddy, President of the Federation of Farmers Associations. Thus,
a farmer can save up to 10,000 Rupees per season and per hectare - in
addition to the reduced labor costs. The additional 3,000 Rupees for the
seed are quickly recovered. In addition, Bt cotton stabilizes the yield,
as the seeds are continuously protected from boll worms. In the journal
Indian "Businessline", small-scale farmer Vittal Asaram Shelke is quoted
as saying that he "would be happy if Bt cotton would cut his pesticide
costs in half and would stabilize his harvest by about 2500 - 3000 hundred
kilograms per hectare". Currently, it fluctuates "between seven hundred
and 3700 kilograms".
Bt cotton is a complete failure - says outspoken biotechnology critic
Vandana Shiva. The field experiments and the officially sanctioned
deliberate release programs in India were accompanied by vehement
criticism from national and international environmental groups that see
them as a deviation from traditional agricultural economics and as a
striving for power by multinational concerns in green biotechnology. The
farmers, they say, carry the burden. The most prominent of Indian critics
is Vandana Shiva, Executive Director of RFSTE (Research Foundation for
Science, Technology and Ecology). In a press release from October 26, 2002
the Institute describes the initial crop of Bt cotton as a complete
disaster for India's farmers. Criticisms, in detail, are as follows:
* New pests and diseases infest Bt cotton * Bt cotton is more susceptible
to boll worms than conventional * Bt cotton was a complete failure in
Madhya Pradesch * The farmers are financially ruined because the costly Bt
seeds did not pay off * Bt cotton is infested with the leaf curl virus.
Farmers demand millions in damages * Bt cotton is affected by root-rot
disease as a result of a bad selection of genes * Seed quality is
miserable. Only 50% of the seeds germinated * Monsanto attempts to get
farmers to commit to its products "in part through misleading and false
statements" * Promised yield increases are not accurate
The RFSTE considers the biosafety research weak and considers that the
permission to carry out the field trials was not justified; therefore
RFSTE demands a general moratorium on the release of genetically
engineered crops in India. RFSTE flatly rejects monoculture cultivation
and the corresponding economic perspective. In monoculture, everything
that is not a crop is considered a weed, whereas Indian farmers are
traditionally accustomed to growing more than one crop at a time and using
"weeds" as medicine for animals and plants, and as animal fodder.
Emotional criticism poured into scientific molds. Valid studies regarding
the successes and failures after six months of commercial cultivation are
not available. Therefore, the RFSTE criticisms can not be based on
scientific facts, but rather reflect personal impressions at best. In the
past, several RFSTE petitions against the Indian government were thrown
out because the presented arguments did not withstand intense scientific
scrutiny. It is also well known that Vandana Shiva argues positions
against agribiotechnology from a fundamentalist and anti-American
background. Vandana Shiva's technique appears to be to force emotionally
motivated criticisms into scientific molds in order to get the public and
farmers on her side through seemingly solid arguments. In doing so, she
has lost all respect in the scientific community. Due to her focus on
genetic engineering, she is seen by western environmental organizations
such as Greenpeace as a successful campaigner worthy of support.
C. Kameswara Rao visited Bt cotton fields in India in September 2002, in
order to catch a glimpse with his own eyes. Kameswara Rao is professor of
Applied Botany at SSMRV College in Bangalore and manages a web-site about
traditional medicinal plants in India. His gives a well-balanced report
and is pulled neither by pro- nor con- idealisms. A farmer reported to him
with enthusiasm about the success of his first harvest, which was more
productive than the conventional cotton he was used to. Professor Rao can
not judge whether the farmer's estimation, an increase of 40%, is
accurate. However, the farmer appeared to be satisfied with the
genetically engineered seeds, which due to the improved growth allowed for
a harvest two weeks earlier than any other first harvest. A conventional
farmer, who had already had to spray pesticides five times this season,
eyed his neighbor with jealousy, who had only sprayed one time for boll
worm, thanks to the Bt cotton. He now says that he would also like to grow
Bt cotton next season. Kameswara Rao finds the different levels of
technology of cultivation to be most problematic. Cotton grows better in
irrigated fields than in those that receive their water from irregular and
often heavy rains. After his visit, Kameswara Rao ultimately gets the
"overall impression that Bt cotton is doing fine". (C. Kameswara Rao: Bt
cotton in India - post introduction scenario, Bio-Scope, Bio-Scope).
Against this background, Vandana Shiva's claims appear to be
insubstantial. The "leaf curl virus" mentioned by Shiva is transmitted by
a fly that sucks the plants. This disease is easily combated, or even
prevented, by means of a specific insecticide that targets sucking
insects. Obviously, under these circumstances, Bt cotton must be treated
the same way as conventional cotton. The "reduced germination" of the
transgenic seeds claimed by Shiva does not coincide with agricultural
experience. Germination capacity is determined by various parameters and
is never 100%. Normally, farmers sow 3-4 seeds in each plant hole. Should
more than one seed germinate, then the strongest sprout survives and the
rest die. The farmer is therefore happy if one seed sprouts. Regardless,
the germination capacity is not related to the genetic modification, but
rather to seed production.
Bt cotton is a global success. There have already been positive
experiences with Bt cotton in countries such as the US, China and
Australia. Harvests were stabilized and pesticide expenditures were
drastically reduced. Australia recently announced that it will use Bt
cotton increasingly in future. In China, the land area cultivated with Bt
cotton between 1997 and 2001 increased from 2,000 hectares to 1.5 million
hectares, reaching a share of over 40%. In Australia, it already
represents 50%. In South Africa, Bt cotton has been grown since 1998 and
initial studies show that these also bring economic and practical
advantages for small-scale farmers as well (see box).
The next few years will determine how the cultivation of Bt cotton
develops in India. Detailed information regarding reductions of pesticides
and increased yields will be available a few months after the end of the
first season, at the earliest. Until then, there can be no valid
statements. It seems that Vandana Shiva is not really concerned about the
income and quality of life of the farmers; otherwise she would be more
open to the implementation of Bt cotton. It seems she is only interested
in publicizing her radical-traditional attitude by any means. This is
unfortunate most of all for the Indian farmers, from whom she, for
egotistical motives, wishes to deny opportunity.
One Hand Clapping: Organic Farming in India
- Dave Wood, AgBioView, December 12, 2002 http://www.agbioworld.org
Vandana Shiva now consistently recommends agricultural policies that will
damage Indian farm productivity and national competitiveness in global
agricultural trade. Will Shiva's bad advice wreck Indian farming?
She now pushes for organic agriculture. In her 'rejection' speech for her
award for sustaining poverty'
http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2002-11/12shiva.cfm (posted on
AgBioView 25 November) she praises an early promoter of organic
agriculture in India, Sir 'Alfred' Howard.
Her multiple errors start with the name. He was Albert Howard, not Alfred.
He was born half way through Victoria's reign in 1873 and probably named
after her consort, Prince Albert.
Howard's 1940 book 'An Agricultural Testament' promoting organic
agriculture is just that ˝ a testament to pseudo-religious belief, rather
than farming fact. At the time it was criticized as 'muck and magic'.
Shiva concentrates only on the muck ˝ the cow dung. But she is wrong
again: very simply, there are not enough cows in the India or the world to
provide enough nutrients for today's food crops.
A real agricultural scientist, E.J. Russell, in his 'History of
Agricultural Science in Great Britain' (p. 467), was highly critical of
Howard, claiming that farmers could never make the hundreds of tons of
compost annually required to give even moderate crop increases.
This is also true for India: a 'History of Agriculture in India'
(Randhawa, M.S., 1983, Vol. 3, p. 314, written by an Indian who wished to
promote, rather than destroy, Indian agriculture) was yet more critical:
"Howard, apart from being a scientist, was also a crusader. He spread his
gospel of organic manuring in the English-speaking countries through his
books. There were some faddists among his followers who regarded chemical
fertilizers as an anathema and strongly opposed the setting up of
fertilizer factories in India. This shows how dangerous it is to entrust
policy matters to people with single track minds." Of the 8 million tons
of nutrients removed at harvest in India, it was only possible to return
4.2m t through organics. The negative balance was tremendous: "the main
reason for low crop yields in India".
While Howard was stationed in India, the 1928 Royal Commission on
Agriculture in India reported that the soil 'reached state of maximum
impoverishment many years ago' and identified a general lack of nitrogen.
Note that this was under organic farming as espoused by Shiva.
There is no way whatever that cows in India can produce enough organic
fertilizer to grow enough food for India's present population: Shiva must
know this. And cow dung in India is needed not just for fertilizer ˝ it is
needed for fuel and as the bonding agent for plaster and mud-brick needed
for housing. Shiva's recommendations for organic farming in Indian is the
repetition of foreign dogma, a 'one hand clapping' approach.
In contrast, the current national and state extension recommendation for
many Indian crops is the application of many cartloads of farmyard manure
plus ˝ always plus ˝ high levels of synthetic fertilizer. The
recommendation of Indian extension scientists thus goes beyond the dogma
of only adding organic matter to the soil. It is the 'two hands clapping'
approach that combines the nutrient retention of soil biomass with
essential nutrients of plant food added as synthetic fertilizer. Each is
needed. This complementarity is banned under the ultra-organic dogma
peddled by Shiva and the Soil Association. As a bonus of the dual
approach, the synthetic nutrients promote higher biomass production by the
crop, and, in turn, yet more organic residues in the soil in a cycle of
Bio-contamination by cow DNA?
With the blinkered thinking of a dogmatic 'one-hand clapper' Shiva then
ignores the other message in Howard's book - 'neovitalism'. This is the
'magic' part of the 'muck and magic' package.
Howard believed that soil receives a 'vital principle' from animal manure
that moves to food plants and then to humans: this contributes to human
health. What is this 'vital principle'? If vital, it can be none other
than genetic. If food plants incorporate cow DNA from manure, such plants
are at the same time genetically modified and also strictly banned as food
for Hindus. If Shiva wishes to be a full disciple of Howard she has to
believe in 'vitalism'. If so, she will be unable eat any plant food
manured with cow dung. For a Brahmin believer in Howard's doctrines there
is little else left to eat ˝ perhaps hydroponic vegetables or seaweed?
There is another fundamental error in Howard's book, specifically endorsed
by Shiva. Howard (Agricultural Testament p.13) believed that Indian
farmers followed 'Nature's method as seen in the primeval forest'. Shiva
argues that ''The method of mixed cropping is part of the adaptation of
nature's ways in which cereal crops like millet, wheat, barley and maize
are mixed with pulses, providing nutrition to give better results than
monocultures''. Howard and Shiva are badly misreading the ecology of real
Shiva is exactly wrong on this [exactly wrong is when, from a wide range
of wrong positions, the one exactly opposite to the truth is chosen].
There is no way whatever that key cereals such as rice, wheat, sorghum,
millet and barley have anything to do with primeval forest. No farmer
anywhere would ever try to grow wind-pollinated cereals in forest ˝ there
would be no pollination, no seed, no food for us, and billions would
starve. The forest as the sole ecological model for fields is the
mega-bunk of foreign NGOs aimed at damaging Indian national crop
The reality of monocultures is the exact opposite: all our important Old
World cereals have immediate wild relatives growing in vast monodominant
natural grasslands throughout Asia and Africa. These natural monocultures
were a key source of gathered food before farming; seem to have been
maintained and toughened by seasonal fire or flood disturbance (reducing
functionally-surplus biodiversity); are the ecological antithesis of
'primeval forest'; and provide exact monoculture models to early farmers
for tree-free cereal fields.
Thus there is sound applied ecology underpinning our cereal monocultures.
The historical and robust ecological benefits of cereal monocultures
directly derived from 'primeval grassland' continue to this day, providing
most of our food [see the peer-reviewed Wood, D. and Lenn╚, J. 2001
Nature's Fields: a neglected model for increasing food production. Outlook
on Agriculture 30, 165-174].
Anti-monoculturalists such as Shiva will continue to ignore these
ecological facts and dismiss the practical genius of early farmers who
chose productive and simple grassland ecosystems as stable models for our
Imperial role models
It is curious that an Indian bio-feminist like V. Shiva should praise the
imperialist male Howard, who was Imperial Economic Botanist at the
Imperial Agricultural Institute at Pusa in Bihar (and before that Imperial
Mycologist in the British West Indian colonies). If Shiva needs to
identify Imperial agricultural heroes, there are better and more original
models than Albert Howard, whose cranky ideas could still damage Indian
Fifty years before Howard the agricultural chemist Voelcker gave detailed
descriptions of traditional mixed and rotational cropping in India
(Voelcker, J.A. 1894 Report of the Improvement of Indian Agriculture.
Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, pp. xxxiii, 460). For example, p. 233,
mixed cropping - "has the advantage of providing against the fluctuations
of season, for, should one crop from any reason fail, the other will
probably stand and cover the ground. This is a matter of no small moment,
seeing that the raiyat's entire holding is only a few acres in extent, and
that it has to feed, him, his family, and his cattle..." p. 234 ''...
alternating rows may themselves be made up of mixtures of different crops,
some of them quick growing and reaped early, others of slower growth and
requiring both sun and air, and thus being reaped after the former have
been cleared off. Again, some are deep-rooted plants, others are surface
feeders, some require the shelter of other plants, and some will thrive
alone". Note that Voelcker gives several reasons here for mixed cropping
that have no relation whatever to the anti-fertilizer dogmas of the Soil
Howard seems to have plagiarized Voelcker's observations (and Howard's
disciples have ignored the insights of the agricultural chemist Voelcker).
And if a bio-feminist like Shiva wants a female role-model, she should
recognize the scientific contribution of Howard's first wife, Gabrielle.
Mrs Howard was an accomplished professional wheat breeder, working with
excellent Indian scientists on the early high-yielding and rust-resistant
'Pusa' varieties. By 1927 12% of Indian wheat production was from such
'modern' varieties. Gabrielle died in 1930 in the service of Indian
agriculture. Her work has proved to be of far more lasting importance to
Indian food supply than her husband's dogmas (and the understandable
promotion of Albert Howard, rather than Gabrielle, by Howard's second
This early spread of improved wheat varieties and the professional success
of Gabrielle are of course ignored by the international activist NGOs
intent on blaming the Indian Green Revolution for the loss of farmers'
varieties. But feeding people through indigenous scientific research on
wheat in India took place half a century before the Green Revolution.
Shiva's generic and repeated claim of 2-300% production increase under
organic cropping is fanciful. Where is the data? What is the ecological
footprint? How can the high labour cost be sustained in face of massive
global subsidies for mechanized staple crop production in developed
Shiva should trip along to the Pusa Institute library (now in New Delhi)
and read about some real farm-based agricultural science in India rather
than repeat Soil Association foreign propaganda about Sir Albert.
Who is damaging Indian agriculture?
It is not 'irresponsible corporations' that are damaging Indian
agriculture, as claimed by Shiva. Such corporations can only survive if
they meet, and continue to meet, the needs of Indian farmers for greater
productivity. Farmers must decide this, not Shiva.
But Third World agriculture is certainly being damaged by the highly
irresponsible agricultural subsidies in developed countries, now
approaching $1 billion a day. The result is a glut of staple cereals,
export dumping in developing countries, and the destruction of poor
farmers, who cannot compete with the subsidies in rich countries. As
small farms are abandoned, the loss of biodiversity in the form of local
crop genetic resources is enormous.
Northern export interests are now enhanced by interference in the
agricultural policy of the South. European and North American
multi-billion dollar crop export interests would obviously benefit from
reduced production and increased imports in developing countries.
Expanding wheat and cotton production in India is a threat to Northern
Northern NGOs try to counter this threat to their own farmers. One
mechanism is 'trans-national Luddism' ('Luddism' damages your own national
production; 'trans-national Luddism' damages the production of other
countries). It is now the multi-million dollar business of NGOs in the
North to recommend 'traditional', 'organic', 'biodiversity-friendly', or
'sustainable' crop production in the South. All are synonyms for lower
agricultural production, all increase the already-massive trade in
heavily-subsidized crops from the North. All bring in funding for Northern
NGOs like RAFI in Canada and Food First in California and ITDG in England
and many more.
The promise of biotech is a threat to the funding base of these NGOs. They
lobby hard to protect their financial interests. They are prepared to see
people in the South die of pesticide poisoning or starvation rather than
allow local productivity increases based on science and skilled farming.
It's decision time for Shiva. She must now choose between being a
patriotic supporter of Indian food and fibre production, or being a future
tool of foreign agricultural export interests (interests cloaked in
anti-GMO, pro-organic rhetoric, and a complex web of NGO funding). She
must ask herself if her success on the international lecture circuit is in
India's interest. She should calculate the cost to India's farmers of all
her foreign 'free lunches', and ask who really picks up the tab.
Indian cannot yet afford the luxury of organic farming. Faced with
intense global competition to dominate trade in staple crops, India also
cannot afford the luxury of having foreign activists trying to damage
national crop production. For cotton alone, this is a billion dollar
Dr. Dave Wood is a geneticist from UK who has lived in India for the past
few years, and can be contacted at <email@example.com>