Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





June 5, 2009


Learn From India; Yield Keeps Growing?; Vatican's Blessing; Africa Must Be Decisive; Global Hunger Calls for Ag Technology


* Kenya Told to Learn From India About GM Cotton
* Agriculture: Will The Yield Keep Growing?
* Genetically Modified Crops Get The Vatican's Blessing
* Holy Crops! Pope Backs Genetically Modified Foods
* FAO Meet: Ag biotech in developing countries
* EU to adopt GM crops
* India’s Biggest Annual Biotech Show Ignores Agricultural Biotechnology
* How Many Pesticide Poisonings Really Occur Every Year?
* Shameful Shiva
* NPR Story on Organic Farming in India
* Biotechnology: Africa Must Take Decisive Action
* Global Hunger Calls for Ag Technology


Kenya Told to Learn From India About GM Cotton

- Isaiah Esipisu, Daily Nation,, June 3 2009 http://www.nation.co.ke/magazines/artandculture/-/1222/606238/-/7p4yetz/-/index.html

Kenya is set to join several countries like India, South Africa, Burkina Faso and China in growing and commercialising genetically modified cotton following the recent enactment of biosafety legislation. Contained field trials of the Bt cotton have been going on under the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) since 2004 and are now nearing completion.

Bt means Bacillus Thuringiensis, a scientific name for a naturally occurring soil bacterium that produces a protein used in crop protection through biotechnology. “It became necessary to introduce Bt cotton to revive production in Kenya, which had declined from an all time high of 70,000 bales in 1985 to just about 20,000 bales currently,” says Dr Charles Waturu, Kari Thika Center director, and Bt cotton lead researcher.

The significant production decline has been attributed to various factors, including poor quality seeds, delayed payments to farmers and high cost of production due to pest problems. Many Kenyan farmers abandoned cotton growing mainly due to uncontrollable invasion of pests.

Introduction of the insect resistant cotton variety is therefore part of the government strategy to revive the sector as it would reduce the cost of production. Currently, Waturu says, over 30 per cent of the total cotton production costs goes to pest control, especially bollworm.

This figure is likely to fall significantly with the introduction of Bt cotton. He says other advantages of growing Bt cotton include higher yields leading to better incomes for farmers, less labour input requirements, low exposure to dangerous chemicals thus better health for farmers and the environment.

However, commercialisation of Bt cotton in Kenya is facing stiff opposition from people opposed to modern biotechnology in general. They claim that planting of the insect resistant cotton by Indian farmers had led many of them to commit suicide. But a scientific study conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) titled: Bt cotton and farmer suicides in india: reviewing the evidence, found no evidence linking Bt cotton farming to suicide.

On the contrary, the research revealed that adoption of Bt cotton variety had tremendously improved cotton production from 263 kg per hectares to 582 kg per hectares in India. After thorough analysis of available evidence the IFPRI researchers: Guillaume Gruere, Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, and Debdatta Segunpta concluded that “Bt cotton is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for occurrence of farmer suicides.”

One of the authors of the peer-reviewed report Mehta-Bhatt, who is currently with the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, says Bt cotton has played a key role in improving India’s overall cotton production. India is currently the world’s leading producer of Bt cotton.

Over 60 million people depend on the industry. Last year, five million Indian smallholder farmers planted 7.6 million hectares of Bt cotton, according to the Global Status of Commercialised Biotech/GM crops: 2008 report.

Mehta-Bhatt, who is from India and has worked closely with small-scale farmers there, says Indian farmers who are growing certified transgenic cotton are much better off than those who grow conventional varieties.


Agriculture: Will The Yield Keep Growing?

- Matt McKinney, Star Tribune (Minnesota), June 3, 2009

Corn yields seem to rise every year, along with demand. But the question is whether, even with genetic tinkering, the yields will continue to increase. As farmers put the state's 2009 corn crop into the ground this month, they expect to grow more corn per acre than last year. And if history is any guide, they will.

Farmers today harvest more corn than their parents did a generation ago from the same fields, a fact made evident in historical charts that show corn yield over the past several decades as a steadily rising line. So reliable is corn's growth of about 2 extra bushels per acre per year that government analysts folded it into their forecasts for this year's 12.1 billion bushel crop. It's just expected.

And yet it's still not enough. The state's ubiquitous crop that's become a staple for feed, fuel, sugar and everything from drywall to shoe polish is in more demand than ever, with a third of the crop going to ethanol.

Some say farmers will rise to the challenge, that corn yields will grow even faster in years to come.

"We are projected to double corn yields in this nation in the next 20 years," said Jeff Broin, CEO of ethanol refiner Poet, a South Dakota-based company that produces 1 billion gallons of ethanol a year.

The reason for at least some of his optimism came last year when scientists cracked the corn genome, a string of 2.5 billion pairs of DNA bases, ushering in the promise of yet more genetic modification of a plant that since 1996 has become one of the world's largest transgenic crops. Seed companies are among those who, like Broin, predict a doubling of corn yields within a few decades.

But the history and hype surrounding corn yields has one staggering asterisk: The very best farms, blessed with the best weather and land, have posted the same yields for at least 20 years -- suggesting they have reached the limit of what the corn plant can produce.

"The odds, if we keep the status quo, of those yield trends slowing down is very high," said Roger Elmore, an Iowa State University professor of agronomy.

Ethanol producers aren't the only ones banking on more corn. U.S. corn exports will rise 9 percent this year to help feed the world's growing population. Beyond food and fuel, corn also provides building blocks for a wide array of industrial products -- from plastics and foams engineered by Cargill to drywall, shoe polish and firecrackers. For all those reasons, the United States will consume 3 percent more corn this year than it did last year, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

How long farmers can continue to produce more corn on the same amount of land remains an ongoing experiment, but each year farmers eager to compare notes compete in a contest sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association.

Last year's winner, a farmer in Texas, grew 368 bushels of corn per acre. (In Minnesota, a farmer in St. Cloud grew 272 bushels per acre to win the state competition. The state's late spring makes it less likely that a Minnesota farmer would ever win the national contest.)

The Texas farmer's crop was more than double this year's forecast national average of 155 bushels per acre, but it's roughly the same amount that contest winners have grown since the mid-1980s. That's why scientists such as Elmore remain skeptical. "The guys that are making 350 to 380 [bushels per acre], why aren't they making 450 to 480?" he said. "That's the frontier we need to work on."

A history of tinkering
From its earliest beginnings as one of a family of tall grasses grown in Mexico and Central America, corn has held up to human tinkering. Patient cross-breeding over thousands of years turned teosinte, a species of tall grass, into today's maize, as early farmers sought to grow plants with larger ears and more kernels.

As the genetic understanding of corn developed in the 1930s and 1940s, scientist Barbara McClintock produced the first genetic map for corn. That work laid the foundation for modern DNA analysis which, beginning in 1996, produced the first genetically modified corn seed, one that produced a toxin fatal to the corn borer worm, an age-old pest.

Today, the business of selling genetically modified corn seeds is booming as companies unveil new seeds that fight insects, survive on less water and in poorer soils and withstand stronger herbicides. Yet for all of the defenses the transgenic seeds create, none has dramatically increased yields.

"Despite a lot of efforts, there have been no genes of any kind that have increased the yield potential of these crops," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and author of a report out last month that doubts the pro-genetically-modified claims of seed companies.

The problem with gene research has been that introduction of a new gene often creates unintended consequences, said Gurian-Sherman, pointing to an example where a gene that looked promising for drought tolerance turned out to make the plant more susceptible to disease. "We shouldn't really hold our breath that the technology is going to do a lot," he said.

Yet hopes have run high since, as a result of ongoing work unveiled last year at Washington University in St. Louis, where scientists said they were close to mapping the corn genome -- a string of 2.5 billion characters that represent the genome's double helix. The work took three years and about $30 million in federal funding. It's only the second cereal crop sequenced; rice, in 2005, was the first.

True believers such as Gerald Tumbleson, a Martin County farmer and former president of the National Corn Growers Association, say research on the corn genome will make the plant a key piece of a new economy to replace petroleum. "We're just beginning to exploit the carbohydrate economy," he said.

Working the land
Scientific controversies aside, farmers say they'll get more corn from something much simpler: precise farming. "We are farming the land better," said Randall Thalmann, a corn farmer who farms west of Eden Prairie.

Even the seed companies resist the idea that a seed alone can boost yields. It's about the management of the land, said Roy Luedtke, research director at the Marshall, Minn., office of Pioneer Hi-Bred. The company creates a GPS map of farmer's land and then helps match the best seeds to each acre.

And the traditional factors in corn yield -- rainfall, temperature, planting date and frost -- still play a major role. "A big driver for corn is planting date, and that's determined by weather more than anything," said Jeff Coulter, an extension agronomist with the University of Minnesota.

Earlier planting dates have accounted for as much as 53 percent of the yield gains found in the northern Corn Belt, a study found last year. New seeds that can withstand cooler, wetter conditions allow farmers to plant earlier, adding about two weeks to the Iowa corn growing season since the late 1970s, for example.

The search for a 'yield gene'
Still, it's early in the history of genome mapping. The corn genome contains 55,000 to 60,000 genes. A "yield gene," if such a thing exists, could add 25 percent to farmer's harvests, said Iowa State professor Elmore.

"Yield is a very complex trait," he said. "A single gene is probably not the answer. We've learned that over time, if you look at the yield increases we have seen, it's been from a multiple of things."

His forecast says farmers are more likely to slowly add more corn to their harvests, climbing toward a national average of 280 to 300 bushels per acre by the middle of the 21st century.

"It's just mathematical, and that will take another 40 to 50 years to happen at current trends," he said.


Genetically Modified Crops Get The Vatican's Blessing

- New Scientist, June 4, 2009

'Pope Benedict XVI's scientists have given their blessing to genetically modified crops as a possible solution to world hunger and poverty"

THE Vatican seldom approves of scientists meddling with God's creation. So the decision of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to back oft-demonised genetically modified crops as an answer to world hunger and poverty may come as a surprise.

GM crops were heartily endorsed at a week-long seminar held by the academy in mid-May. Participants agreed that the crops offer food safety and security, better health and environmental sustainability. That verdict is not shared by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, a global UN-backed think tank that last year rejected GM as a solution to hunger.

Some say the seminar excluded dissenters within the church who fear that GM technology allows multinationals to control agriculture at the expense of the poor. But participants deny bias: they also concluded that regulations are too strict, so only big companies can afford to get GM crops approved, whereas non-profit organisations that want to help the poor cannot.

Read and leave comments at end



Holy Crops! Pope Backs Genetically Modified Foods


Have you ever held a genetically modified tomato and wondered, “Would the Pope eat this?” Well, here’s your answer: The Vatican has announced that it endorses the growth of genetically modified crops as a possible way to alleviate world hunger.

Given the papacy’s generally-hands-off approach to God’s creations, the decision to back genetically altered crops might seem surprising. In fact, because the environmental and health consequences of genetically modified foods remain largely unknown, they remain controversial in many circles, not just among Catholics.

On the other hand, these foods may just have the potential to grow heartier crops, or plants with added vitamins—such as rice with Vitamin A and iron—that could help feed the millions of starving people worldwide.

The Pope’s scientists admit that today’s regulations of genetically modified crops mean that only multinational corporations can control the market, making it impossible for non-profit organizations to get approval to produce plants to feed the poor. Which is too bad, because getting food to those who need it could be one scenario where the pros of genetically modified foods outweigh the cons.


Agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries: Options and opportunities in crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries and agro-industry to face the challenges of food insecurity and climate change (ABDC-09)

- November  2-5, 2009; Guadalajara, Mexico on. The FAO international technical conference, ABDC-09 is co-organized by FAO and the Government of Mexico http://www.fao.org/biotech/abdc/conference-home/en/

Impetus for the conference comes from the need for concrete steps to be taken to move beyond the “business-as-usual” approach and to respond to the growing food insecurity in developing countries, particularly in light of climate change that will worsen the living conditions of farmers, fishers and forest-dependent people who are already vulnerable and food insecure. The recent increases in food prices have had dramatic consequences globally. FAO’s recent major report on "The State of Food Insecurity in the World" indicates that in 2007, mainly because of rising food prices, the number of hungry people in the world increased by 75 million. Although international prices have now declined somewhat, the problems of food insecurity and hunger remain and the challenges they pose are particularly difficult for the rural poor, who make up an estimated 75 percent of the world's 963 million hungry people.

Agriculture, which includes the production of crops, livestock, fish and forestry products, has a direct impact on the rural economy and therefore investment in agriculture is vital and must be at the heart of any strategy for the alleviation of hunger and poverty. While the measures needed extend well beyond the issue of producing more food and agricultural products, boosting productivity of smallholders’ farms through appropriate application of good practices and improved technologies must be a key ingredient of developing countries’ development policies. It is in this context that FAO is organizing this international conference that encompasses the crop, forestry, livestock, fishery and agro-industry sectors, as well as the entire range of agricultural biotechnologies currently available.

Participation at the conference is by invitation only. Participants at the conference will be from delegations of Member States of FAO; from the United Nations and its specialized agencies; other intergovernmental organizations; international non-governmental organizations and international civil society organizations; the conference Steering Committee as well as invited speakers and panelists at the conference.


EU to adopt GM crops

- AllAboutFeed.net; Via Checkbiotech.org, June 3, 2009

At the IEC London Conference, Peter van Horne, IEC’s Economic Analyst, presented the results of a report from the LEI research Institute in the Netherlands, assessing the economic impact, now and in the future, of the current requirements for the EU to approve the use of GM crops.

He focussed on soybeans and maize, as these form the main ingredients of layer feed for hens.

Van Horne began by discussing the worldwide increase in using GM crops, and used the US, Argentina and Brazil as examples; all 3 have been increasing their use of GM crops during recent years. In 2000, just over 50% of soybean plantings in the US were GM crops. By 2007, this had risen to over 90%. In 2000, less than 10% of Brazil’s soybean planting was GM, but this has been increasing rapidly, and by 2010 it is forecast to account for 80%. In comparison, Argentina has had a high level of GM crops since 2000, when over 80% of its soybean planting was GM, and figures had reached 100% by as early as 2006.

In 2007, over 70% of the USA’s maize crop was GM, compared to over 60% of Argentina’s and just 50% in Canada. Brazil is not yet using GM technology for its maize. The LEI study shows that Europe is currently self-sufficient regarding maize; however, it imports soybean products from countries such as US, Argentina and Brazil. If the EU approval on new GMO varieties continues to be as slow and strict as it currently is, the future production chain for livestock farming, in particular the feed chain, will see a growing dependence on imports with higher feed costs. It is predicted that there will be an increase in imports of ready-to-go products, outside of the EU.

Van Horne discussed with the IEC delegates a study supported by the EU DG-AGRI, assessing the impact of GMOs in Europe. With no change in the EU policy, it predicts a growing deficit of soybean, and a rise in feed prices which, in turn, will lead to an increased price for pork and poultry.

As there is an increasing worldwide acceptance of GM crops, it will become increasingly difficult for the EU to continue to adopt a zero tolerance attitude towards non-approved GMO varieties.

Van Horne’s study concludes that one solution to this ongoing problem is that the EU needs to adopt an acceptable tolerance to allow non-improved varieties to be in shipments. On the other hand, the EU should decrease the time period to approve new GMO varieties.


India’s Biggest Annual Biotech Show Ignores Agricultural Biotechnology

C Kameswara Rao, AgBioView, www.agbioworld.org, June 5, 2009 (Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India; btkrao@gmail.com

Bangalore Bio (BB), an annual event since 2001, organized by the Karnataka Vision Group on Biotechnology, supported by the Government of Karnataka, is styled by the organizers as ‘India’s biggest biotech show’. The Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE), which in its own words a ‘collective face of Indian biotech industry’ is a powerful supporter of BB.

The pharmaceutical sector has an overbearing presence in ABLE and BB’s annual conferences but BB did have some conspicuous component of agricultural biotechnology on its programme during all the previous years. There were well received Public Lectures on agribiotech, which were inexplicably discontinued after 2006. Even at the BB 2008 meetings there was an ‘Agribiotech Day’ focusing on four areas.

The BB’s 2009 brochure proclaims ‘Biotechnology beyond boundaries--the promise of India’. Yet, disturbingly, agribiotech is totally missing from the BB 2009 programme. BB’s 2009 brochure lists some 55 speakers with none from agribotech.

In contrast, at the recent conference of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in Atlanta, USA (May 18-21, 2009) with about 14,500 participants on the theme ‘Heal, Fuel, Feed the World’, there were over a dozen diverse sessions on biotechnology in food and agriculture. Even so, a number of participants felt that agribiotech did not get its fair share.

The 6th Biospectrum-ABLE Biotech Industry Survey listed 282 biotech companies in India (Biospectrum July 2008). There are 30 agribiotech and 53 plant biotech (whatever this means) companies. There is only one nanobiotechnology company, but stem cell research companies were not identified. Thirty eight companies are involved in bioinformatics, which is not exactly biotech. Some one should explain how 53 listed companies that do only clinical research and trials qualify to be classified as biotech companies, unless the terms ‘biotech’ and ‘life sciences’ are deliberately mixed up. How many of the remaining 107 companies are truly biotech, meaning modern biotechnological concepts, protocols, tools and products? The majority of the pharmaceutical and industrial biotech companies operates on the basis of age old technologies but jumped on the bandwagon of biotechnology to garner prestige, publicity and benefits. Dr Krishna Ella (Bharath Biotech International) said that ‘by strict definition of biotech, which is recombinant, the Indian vaccine market is only about Rs. 1,000 to 1,600 crore, including the sales of the MNCs’ (Biospectrum July 2008).

Against this background, one wonders why AMUL and United Breweries find no place among biotech companies, when they are rooted in fermentation technology with impressive turnovers.

Of the top 10 Indian biotech companies three are agribiotech. During 2007-08, vaccines contributed to about 47 per cent of the total biopharma revenue of Rs. 6,900 crore, while therapeutics (36 per cent) and diagnostics (17 per cent) constituted the rest of pharma market and all this was not from legitimate or modern biotechnology. In comparison, the market share of agribioetch was a respectable Rs. 1,200 crore. The vast majority of the agribiotech companies are sub-licensees of the gene constructs and only very few are actually involved in R & D.

It is a serious lapse on the part of BB 2009 to ignore agribiotech, an important component of the Indian biotech enterprise. Pharmaceuticals are needed by the sick, healthy people need vaccines to prevent disease, but agriculture is essential for everyone.

The agribiotech industry has not been projecting itself adequately and has to blame itself if it is shortchanged. The All India Crop Biotechnology Association comprised of agribiotech companies is comatose and never did anything effective in support of the agribiotech sector. The handling of antitech activism by the agribiotech industry has been very sloppy. They should have strengthened the hands of the Government of India in opposing the two Writ Petitions seeking a moratorium on GE crops in India filed in the Supreme Court. As the companies were not made a party in the WPs, they did not bother.

“Miss it! If you don’t belong to Biotech sector”, the organizers of BB 2009 proclaim. Agribiotech misses it. Is it because agribiotech does not belong to the biotech sector in BB’s reckoning?

Why did not the agribiotech companies stand up against this insult or do they see only diminishing returns from their investment in BB and kept out, if the decision was theirs?

This is unfortunate, at a time when the agribiotech sector faces many problems, such as severe antitech activism, which the pharma and industrial sectors do not. This is the time for the unity of all biotech sectors. Together they should address several important issues such as getting the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority on the book, counter the persistent and vehement antitech campaign based in junk science, defend the technology and the country’s robust regulatory regime in the Supreme Court, and enhancing awareness to prevent public opinion from being hijacked by the activists.


How Many Pesticide Poisonings Really Occur Every Year?

- From: Douglas A. Johnson Department of Biology, University of Ottawa http://www.careg.uottawa.ca/bio_doug_johnson.htm

Dear Prakash:

In reading this issue I looked at the WEB pages for National Geographic given in the article.

How we did it before? http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/06/cheap-food/green-revolution-illustration

This WEB page has on its right hand side a claim within “Chemical Pesticides” that “Overuse may result in 39 million poisonings a year”.

This is more poisoning a year than my country, Canada, has inhabitants. Has this assertion been validated? Does the use of “may” allow such a claim? It strikes me more as propaganda than fact and I would like your opinion.


Prakash Response:

Like most statistics, I am sure this one would have started as a 'guestimate' from some one with a vested interest (like Pesticide Action Network) and gets perpetuated for eternity like so many other myths.

I tried to dig on this a bit, and came across this statement from "Jeyaratnam J. Acute pesticide poisoning: a major global health problem. World Health Statistics Quarterly. 1990;43(3):139-44." http://www.communityipm.org/toxictrail/Documents/Jeryaratnam-WHO1990.pdf

"Most estimates concerning the extent of acute pesticide poisoning have been based on data from hospital admissions which would include only the more serious cases. The latest estimate by a WHO task group indicates that there may be 1 million serious unintentional poisonings each year and in addition 2 million people hospitalized for suicide attempts with pesticides. This necessarily reflects only a fraction of the real problem. On the basis of a survey of self-reported minor poisoning carried out in the Asian region, it is estimated that there could be as many as 25 million agricultural workers in the developing world suffering an episode of poisoning each year."

He goes on to say that "maybe on average 3% of agricultural workers in developing countries suffer an episode of pesticide poisoning a year (6), it would mean that for the 830 million agricultural workers in the developing world (12), there are about 25 million cases of occupational pesticide poisoning."

Further he concludes :"The latest estimate by a WHO task group indicates that there maybe 1 million serious unintentional poisonings each year and in addition 2 million people hospitalized for suicide attempts with pesticides"

This paper has been cited more than 200 times and is the original culprit but as you can lot of it is still a guesswork.

This may be an estimate of simple exposure with minimal problems such as wheezing which is common amongst ag workers.

On the other hand, when you consider that there are nearly at least a billion people invovled in farming, the 29 million is not all the big but the big question still is what exactly is a poisoning?

There seems to be an excellent review on this that cautions against the faulty data - see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16499408

Another review by Garcia (1: Rev Panam Salud Publica. 1998 Dec;4(6):383-7.Click here to read ) says "According to studies performed in the 1980s and 1990s, every year about half a million to one and a half million cases of acute pesticide poisoning are notified, together with 3,000 to 28,000 deaths."

Response from Prof. Tom DeGregori (Professor of Economics, Univ of Houston; trdegreg@uh.edu):

Less than 60 million people (circa 57 million last time that I checked) die each year of all causes. Thirty-nine million pesticide deaths would mean that 2/3's of all people who die each year die of pesticide poisoning which to say the least is preposterous. That does not seem to deter the castastrophists.

Over the years I have seen such figures as 500 million people dying of starvation in the Sahel in 1974-1975 which was five or ten times the number who died depending on whether the figures were for each year or for the two years combined. That also meant that the each of the circa 100 million people living in the Sahel region of Africa would have had to die five times. I found these figures in an article that allegedly was a peer reviewed publication of a paper that won a $30,000 prize for the best essay on the future at a late 1970s or earlier 1980s Woodlands conference. I could cite others but the lesson is when one sees figures on deaths which are part of an ideological agenda check them out although in many case, they are so preposterous that one merely needs a few basic fact that are readily available. (incidently, Paul Ehrlich won the previous Woodlands best essay contest for an essay which was submitted ten years after an article of his predicted that the oceans would run out of fish in ten years).

There are a lot of so-called estimates of infant and child deaths per minute etc. which end up totaling more per year than deaths of all age groups. Unfortunately, these wild numbers detract from real problems such as the 8 million children who die each year of preventable causes even though 2008 was the first year since such figures were officially gathered in which fewer that 10 million children died of all causes, In other words even the good news carries some bad news along with it.

Yes, pesticide poisoning is a problem in poor countries where workers do not wear protective clothing and are not given proper instructions in its safe use. If time permitted, I could give dozens of stories of unhealthy pesticide applications that i have observed in the field. It is a problem but so is protecting the crop against failure which also can cause deaths. Many of the deaths from pesticide poisoning are suicides for other reasons for which pesticide happen to be the most available poison. And let us not forget that Greenpeace and other activist have been vigorously opposing GM rice in China for which peer reviewed (Science magazine and elsewhere) and published reports show a dramatic reduction in pesticide illnesses and deaths. Reduction in pesticide deaths don't count when lives and health are saved by GM crops.


Shameful Shiva


Every time I read something Vandana Shiva has written, I become more convinced that she is either 1) willfully ignorant on the subject of farming or 2) willfully ignoring a whole swath of problems in order to focus on a pet peeve. She is another sad example of a self-styled celebrity who plays games with people’s lives because she is unwilling to move from her ideology. One would think she would at least adapt her diatribes to fit peer-reviewed research or the numerous surveys of the people she claims to protect. Unfortunately, she’s still using the same old talking points and flat out lies that have accomplished nothing.

Case in point: Shiva writes about the plight of Indian farmers in the Huffington Post article From Seeds of Suicide to Seeds of Hope: Why Are Indian Farmers Committing Suicide and How Can We Stop This Tragedy? in April of 2009. Instead of focusing on real solutions or the real source of the problems, she points a lazy finger at the boogeyman Monsanto. I don’t have any particular love for big M (or for capitalism in agriculture in general), but it’s wreckless to ignore all of the other issues, as she does in this article (and many others).

Read on >>>> http://www.geneticmaize.com/2009/06/shameful-shiv/

Also this http://aguanomics.com/2009/05/slandering-your-competition.html


NPR Story on Organic Farming in India

- Prof. Tom DeGregori (Professor of Economics, Univ of Houston; trdegreg@uh.edu)

Given that the reporter was
<https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4173096>Daniel Zwerdling, it is understandable that he got so much wrong. He has been doing that for decades as he appears to be a romantic mouthpiece for the Greens. In the so called Battle for Seattle for the WTO meeting there he had everything exactly backwards. One could almost imagine a tear running down his cheeks as he related environmentalists concerns about WTO causing them to lose hard won gains on the environment. The cases that were being cited were the exact opposite in that they recognized a right for a country to include environmental protecting in its importation practices. This was a right that was not in any of the WTO agreements but was accepted by all parties. The decisions against U.S. restrictions on imports (shrimp from Thailand and petroleum products from Venezuela) were based on discrimination and not on the right to protect the environment which to repeat was affirmed in the WTO decisions (See the excerpt from my piece "Nonsense in Seattle! Why we should care" below) . In other words, our battles on GM and agriculture are part of a much larger battle against 19th century romanticisms and its opposition to modern science, technology and economy.

One of the most egregious errors in the piece was concerning soil erosion - Indian geological services studies consistently throughout the 1st 60 years of last century (under colonial and independent government rule) found the farmers were taking more nutrient out of the soil than they were returning. They were mining the soil as is being done today throughout Africa (as Robert Paarlberg very well knows). It was only with the Green Revolution and synthetic fertilizer that farmers were replenishing soil nutrients in India and throughout Asia. It is preposterous to believe that "organic agriculture" is processed of some magic that allows them to grow it in one place and eat it elsewhere and still be able to recycle the nutrient or obtain the yield necessary to feed India.

"But consider this: India has about three times the population of the U.S., but 30 times more organic farmers than the U.S." This statement borders on the idiotic typical of Zwerdling - India's farmers number in the hundreds of millions giving them at least 100 times the number of farms in the U.S. My reference point is Indonesia (where I worked) which has 30 million farmers and half the population of the United Stares.

Enough said - it is too easy picking apart any piece by Zwerdling - he is a true believer!


On Zwerdling and the reporting on WTO see the exerpts from my piece - http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg/nis.htm,


Biotechnology: Africa Must Take Decisive Action

- H.E Tumusiime Rhoda, The African Executive, June 4, 2009 http://www.africanexecutive.com/modules/magazine/articles.php?article=4406&magazine=232

Agriculture is the mainstay of the majority of our countries. Most of our people live in the rural areas and depend on land for their livelihoods. As the population of the African continent increases, agricultural production and the ability to feed the ever-increasing populations are not only challenged by local conditions on the African continent, but globally by the economic recession, high food and fuel prices, climate change and related disasters.

We need to meet the food demands of the region’s increasing population. We also need to accelerate food production achieving annual growth rate of 6% as stipulated under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). This will be consistent with the pursuit of attainment of the Millennium Development Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

The regional approach to biotechnology and biosafety policy in Africa is fragmented. The pressure is still on for or against gene technology for food security and agriculture. Our people are not to blame; it is the policy makers and the scientists at large who have to take the blame for the inconclusive debates on this subject. Considering the emerging development in modern biotechnology and the rapid rate at which GMOs are diffusing in Africa, harmonization of biotechnology and biosafety policies is critical to mitigate potential impacts on food security in Africa.

In Nairobi, Kenya, and within the framework of the 1st African Congress on Biotechnology in Africa (jointly organized by the African Union Commission and the African Biotechnology Stakeholder Forum and supported by several partners) over 400 participants recommended that a bio-safety roadmap be developed to support harmonization of biotechnology and bio-safety policies in Africa.

At the African Union level, three milestones have been achieved in this direction; namely: Africa’s Consolidated Plan of Action on Science and Technology (AUC-DHRST); AU-NEPAD Panel Report on Modern Biotechnology:Freedom to Innovate; and African Position on Genetically Modified Organisms for Food and Agriculture that wishes to engage African countries in a 20 Year Strategy on Biotechnology consistent with national priorities of each member state.

We are sharing these three strategic policy positions with the Regional Economic Communities to raise awareness and to invite public participation and opinion in decision making. The first workshop held for ECCAS countries was hosted by the Government of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in Tripoli, Libya in November 2008; the second one in May 2009 brought together COMESA, SADC and EAC countries in Arusha, Tanzania. The next workshop will be hosted by Nigeria in Abuja for the ECOWAS and ECCAS countries in June 2009.

For some time now, the rising cost of food all over the world has taken households, governments and the media by storm. The world food crisis is hurting a lot of people, particularly resource poor farmers in Africa. There is need to increase productivity and diversify food crop varieties among farmers in Africa, in order to meet food security needs, increase agricultural productivity and meet the MDGs.

We are aware of the different levels of biotechnology research and application in Africa, notably: Commercial releases of LMOs into the Environment (RSA); Field Trials of various crops/ plants (in Egypt, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Zimbabwe); GM Research Laboratory and greenhouse levels (in NARO,Uganda) and Specialized Molecular Biology labs under establishment in Mali.

We are also aware of the progress made by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in building bridges for resource-poor farmers to access biotechnology developed elsewhere in the world with a potential to increase production and yields in Africa. The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) has concerted efforts to promote research and technology for agricultural development. The Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is engaged in ensuring high yielding seeds, fertilizers and other related technologies to increase agricultural outputs in Africa. The African Biotechnology Stakeholder Forum is embarking on ambitious programs for building capacities to handle all aspects of Biotechnology in Africa. We are also aware of the tremendous support to member states throught the UNEP/GEF NBF Projects, UNEP/GEF BCH Project, the GTZ - AU Project (2005/2006, which has been extended till 2010), the USAID - PBS Project, the BIO-EARN (SIDA) Eastern Africa and the several Bilateral and sub-regional bio-safety programs initiated with support from IFFPRI.

With the exception and care in Bio-pharming technologies that may compete with the priorities for increasing food production and food security; the rejection of the patenting of all life forms, and positive engagement at national and regional levels with stakeholders and partners, AU Member States have been called upon by the African Union Commission to make a 20-year Vision for Biotechnology consistent with their national priorities; among which is the need to employ all national measures, including the domestication of the African Model Law on safety in biotechnology, to strengthen the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol. It is our collective responsibility to provide support as required to ensure that all is done to support African Member states for in developing these strategies.

By H.E Tumusiime Rhoda, AU Peace Commissioner for Department of Agriculture


Global Hunger Calls For Ag Technology

- Rod Smith. FeedStuffs, June 2, 2009 http://www.feedstuffs.com/ via checkbiotech.org

ONE billion people - almost 20 per cent of the world's population - are hungry, and it's more than that they miss a meal a day, but that they are chronically malnourished.

At the same time, the greatest growth period in the history of the world is underway, and 3 billion more people will be born in the next 40 years, increasing the world's population to 9 billion people. Most of them will be born in the hungry parts of the world.

Accordingly, the pressure on the world's economic and natural resources for food will become intense, and the private and public sectors must provide the leadership required to develop modern agricultural production systems for farmers in those parts of the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

That's the view of the United States-based Humboldt Forum for Food & Agriculture, as explained by Dr. Philip Pardey, an agricultural economist at the University of Minnesota and a member of the forum.

It's critical for private/public partnerships to create opportunities for commercial farming in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia and to provide farmers there with modern technologies to jump-start productivity, he said during an interview with Feedstuffs at his office in St. Paul, Minn.

The consequences of not doing so "are unacceptable", he said.Pardey was asked to join the Humboldt Forum for his work as co-director of HarvestChoice, a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop frameworks to make farming more productive and profitable primarily in Africa but also in Southeast Asia. The project is oriented toward grain production, but the Gates Foundation has indicated that phase two should also focus on livestock production, he said.

Pardey noted that he has "a long-running concern" in international agricultural development, having spent 20 years with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which has 15 international research centers around the world involved in food policy and production.

At the University of Minnesota's applied economics department, he is a professor of science and technology and director of the International Science & Technology Practice & Policy Institute.nThe Humboldt Forum is housed at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany.

Best skills
HarvestChoice has demonstrated that African farmers are determined and entrepreneurial, Pardey said, noting that a farmer will ride a bicycle for miles to buy a bag of seed that he believes will give him a good crop.

However, farmers lack the expertise and technology to be productive, he said. "We need to get technology into their hands ... to help them become commercial producers," he said. The Humboldt Forum, which initially met in Davos, Switzerland, in February and launched in Berlin in April, intends "to pull together the best science" to make this happen, he said.

Pardey acknowledged that there have been other African "work groups" that have tried, but he said he senses that the Humboldt Forum is different as it has brought together diverse interests with like views - people he said can bring together "the best economics, the best research, the best science, the best commercial application" and can target decision-makers in government and industry.

These are interests "who have never gotten around the table before" and "have senior status" that will give them access to decision-makers, he said. "I think they will get attention."

They have to, Pardey said, pointing to the hunger crisis now and the potential for it to worsen over the next 40 years. It can be done and has been done, Pardey said. He recalled the extent to which CGIAR responded to the great increase in India's population in the 1960s and '70s to turn its primitive agricultural sector into a thriving industry that not only produces abundant and affordable food for Indians but even exports wheat and other agricultural products.

The boon also stimulated the development of a significant economy and, therefore, a significant market, he said, and the same scenario is playing out in China.

This experience is repeatable in Africa and Southeast Asia, he said.

Pardey explained that as food production increases, people spend less of their money on food and invest more in other parts of the economy, creating additional income, including income to buy goods and services from other countries.

"As a country ramps up food production, this does not crowd out food producers in North America or elsewhere from exporting to that country but, instead, opens up a large market for them," he said.

"Everything says getting technology in the hands of farmers jump-starts productivity," the benefits of which spread across a country and across countries, Pardey said.

Best technology

Pardey also acknowledged the corruption and war that are rampant in many African countries, but he said companies and institutions are learning to work with non-governmental organisations to build infrastructures that can succeed and realise long-term growth.

One area of focus for such a partnership is productivity research, Pardey said, and while Africa and the U.S. have nearly the same amount of arable land, research spending in Africa is far less in terms of expenditure and in terms of effectiveness than in the U.S. (Table).

For instance, he said Africa actually has more scientists working in agriculture than the U.S., but few of them have doctorate-level skills, so their efforts are less effective. Furthermore, scientists lack basic needs - money to keep lights on or refrigerators running or to buy gasoline for trucks to drive into the field to collect data, he said.

In any country, including developed nations, "there are long productivity lags from development (of technology) to commercial use," Pardey said. "It can take decades," and the situation is even more complicated in countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, he said.

"So, if we need to increase food production as much as we do to feed 3 billion more people, and we know we won't have more land on which to do that, then we are going to have to increase productivity and do so substantially," he said.

Best choices
Pardey said increasing productivity will require that the world develop and use technology, which will require a better understanding of and support for technology, including bioscience and life science. "I'm a technology optimist," he said, "but I also know that every technology carries some risk, no matter how benign. The way we use technology carries risk."

Science should be used to assess the benefits of technology and quantify risks so that "we can manage technology" in a responsible and safe way, he said.

However, there are groups and people who disregard the benefits of technology and see it as all risk, Pardey said. "If that's to be our threshold, then we wouldn't be using electricity," which is invisible and, if managed wrongly, can kill, he said.

The debate over genetically modified seeds, for instance, that "we're tinkering with nature goes back 50 years and is the same argument that surrounded the adoption of hybrid seeds", he said.

If cereal crop yields had not increased through hybrid vigor, achieving the cereal crop production that was produced in 2000 would have required the world to plough up an area the size of Western Europe, Pardey said. That would have had "a devastating impact" on global biodiversity and natural resources, he noted. "We need to make real-world choices" that are driven by science rather than emotions, he said.

Some interests oppose technology because of their perception that technology is what's driving population growth and, in doing so, pressuring the Earth's sustainability, Pardey said, but that's not true. "If we stop improving yields, it's not going to turn off population growth. It's going to do the opposite. Population grows fastest in those areas of the world where people are hungry and poor," he said, and couples produce children so there will be a better chance that some of their kids will survive and be able to take care of them.

If food increases and people can spend less money on food and more on other needs or wants, the quality of their lives improves and their thinking turns away from needing children to survive, he explained. Genetic selection in seeds has been occurring since the beginning of time, and tens of thousands of genes have been bred into or out of plants, Pardey said.

"By definition, agriculture is man affecting the natural order" to produce better and more food, and "the bucolic view" people have of farming is not in sync with reality, he said.