Titel: Think Tank Report Challenges U.N. on Genetic Engineering
10 juli 2001
Bron: NRC
Via: GEN-TECH list - wdl@xminy.nl

Think Tank Report Challenges U.N. on Genetic Engineering

FULL REPORT ON-LINE: "Genetic Engineering of Food Crops for
the Third World: An Appropriate Response to Poverty, Hunger and Lagging
Productivity?" by Dr. Peter Rosset

[contact info at end]

OAKLAND, CA: Comments about genetically engineered (GE)
crops expressed in the just-released "Human Development Report 2001",
the flagship publication of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP),
reveal a shocking lack of understanding of the production problems that
must be confronted by poor farmers in marginal environments in the third
world, according to a crop science expert at a U.S.-based think tank.

The authors of the U.N. report urged rich countries to put aside their
fears of genetically modified organisms and help developing nations
unlock the potential of biotechnology. "Biotechnology offers the only
or the best 'tool of choice' for marginal ecological zones, left
behind by the green revolution but home to more than half the
world's poorest people," they said.

The reality of farming in these regions, however, is such that GE
crops are likely to do more harm than good, according to a report from
a leading food policy think tank, the Institute for Food and
Development Policy (Food First), based in in Oakland, California, USA.

In this report, "Genetic Engineering of Food Crops for the Third
World: An Appropriate Response to Poverty, Hunger and Lagging
Productivity?," the Institute's co-director and author of the report,
Dr. Peter Rosset, argues the approach of genetic engineering, which is
to produce single, genetically uniform varieties, ignores the needs of
farmers in complex habitats for multiple varieties fine-tuned to local
soil and climatic conditions. "Genetically engineering is just not
capable of producing what poor farmers need," said Dr. Rosset, an
agricultural scientist himself. "Hands-on participatory plant
breeding, where farmers themselves take the lead, has been shown to be
far more effective in producing the crop varieties needed by poor
farmers in marginal environments. Furthermore," he added,"the risks
associated with GE crops are likely to impact poor farmers more than
rich farmers."

According the Dr. Rosset's report, small and peasant farmers, despite
their disadvantaged position in society, are the primary producers of
staple foods, accounting for very high percentages of national
production in most third world countries.

Their agriculture is complex, diverse and risk prone. This is because
they have historically been displaced into marginal zones
characterized by broken terrain, slopes, irregular rainfall, little
irrigation, and/or low soil fertility; and because they are poor and
are victimized by pervasive anti-poor and anti-small farmer biases in
national and global economic policies.

In order to survive under such circumstances, and to improve their
standard of living, they must be able to tailor agricultural
technologies to their variable but unique circumstances, in terms of
local climate, topography, soils, biodiversity, cropping systems,
market insertion, resources, etc. For this reason such farmers have
over millennia evolved complex farming and livelihood systems which
balance risks -- of drought, of market failure, of pests, etc. --
with factors such as labor needs versus availability, investment
needed, nutritional needs, seasonal variability, etc. Typically their
cropping systems involve multiple annual and perennial crops, animals,
fodder, even fish, and a variety of foraged wild products. Under such
highly varied circumstances, uniform varieties, such as those put
forth under the green revolution, or newer GE or 'transgenic' crop
varieties, are unlikely to be widely adopted or found useful by many
such farmers.

When GE crop varieties, carrying the Bt insecticide gene, for example,
are "forced" into such cropping systems, the risks are much greater
than in large, wealthy farmer systems, or farming systems in Northern
countries. For example, in the Third World there will typically be
more sexually compatible wild relatives of crops present, making
pollen transfer to weed populations of insecticidal properties, virus
resistance, and other genetically engineered traits more likely, with
possible food chain and super-weed consequences. Such farmers are
unlikely to plant refuges, making resistance evolution by insects more
likely. Horizontal transfer of genetic material is also highly risky
in such circumstances. The associated risks of super-weeds, new crop
varieties, among others, are likely to put the poor in a more
precarious position.

Furthermore, the widespread crop failures reported for GE varieties
(i.e., stem splitting, boll drop, etc.) pose economic risks which can
affect poor farmers much more severely than wealthy farmers. If
consumers reject their products, economic risks are equally high.
Also, the high costs of GE crops introduce an anti-poor bias.

The risks seem to outweigh the potential benefits for such farmers,
especially when we consider the factors that currently limit their
ability to improve their livelihoods, and the proven agroecological,
participatory and empowering alternatives available to them.

It is not a lack of technology which holds such farmers back, but
rather pervasive injustices and inequities in access to resources,
including land, credit, market access, etc., and other anti-poor
policy biases. Two approaches make the most sense under such
conditions: 1) technologies which have pro-poor diseconomies of
scale, like agroecological or organic farming practices, and 2)
building social movements capable of exerting sufficient political
pressure to reverse policy biases. There is little useful role that
genetic engineering can play, the report concludes.



"Genetic Engineering of Food Crops for the Third World: An Appropriate
Response to Poverty, Hunger and Lagging Productivity?"

by Dr. Peter Rosset


Nick Parker
Media Coordinator
Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First
398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618 USA
Phone: (510) 654-4400 (ext. 229) Fax: (510) 654-4551

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