Monday, August 12, 2002

Nature IV
Huang et al. discuss agricultural technology in developing areas. This article is Trewavas's only source for the claim that GM crops save poor farmers money, and this is the only paragraph that addresses that claim:
GM technologies have benefited the farmers who have adopted them, mainly through time-saving gains, increased yields and reduced chemical pesticide inputs. Herbicide-resistant soya beans in Argentina have reduced costs of production per hectare through a reduction in herbicide applications[33]. The average Bt cotton farmer in China has reduced pesticide sprayings for the Asian boll worm from 20 to 6 times per year and produces a kilogram of cotton for 28% less cost than the farmer using non-Bt varieties[34]. Mexican and South African Bt cotton farmers increased the yields at the same time that they reduced their costs[35, 36]. The reduction in pesticide use not only saves farmers the financial outlay for insecticides, but also reduced the incidence of insecticide poisonings[37].
[Jikun�Huang, Carl Pray and Scott�Rozelle, "Enhancing the crops to feed the poor " Nature 418, 678-684 (2002).]

Note 33: Qaim, M. & Traxler, G. S. "Roundup-Ready soybeans in Argentina: farm level, environmental, and welfare effects." International Conference on Agricultural Biotechnology Research, Ravello, Italy, 11-14 July 2002. The abstract says that Roundup-ready soybeans increased gross margins by 10% in Argentina. That's a lot for a farmer. Here's the caveat:

Argentine farmers only have to pay a small price markup when they buy RR soybeans, and, under the national seed law, they are allowed to use farm-saved seeds. Thus, it is not surprising that the technology was adopted very fast. In 2001, around 95 percent of the Argentine soybean area were cultivated with RR seeds.
Note 34: Huang, J., Rozelle, S. D, Pray, C. E. & Wang, Q. "Plant biotechnology in China." Science 295, 674-677 (2002). Here are the relevant passages (none of the other cited papers are available online).
Response by China's poor farmers to the introduction of Bt cotton eliminates any doubt that GM crops can play a role in poor countries. From only 2000�hectares in 1997,�Bt cotton's sown area grew to around 700,000�hectares in 2000�(12). By 2000, farmers planted Bt varieties on 20% of China's cotton acreage. The average farm size of the typical cotton farmer in the survey sample was less than 1�hectare (of which the cotton area was less than 0.5�hectare). Currently, Bt cotton in China is the world's most widespread transgenic crop program for small farmers.

Farmers are receiving the greatest benefit from Bt cotton's reduced pesticide need. Bt cotton farmers reduced pesticide use by an average of 13�sprayings (49.9�kg) per hectare per season (Table 4). This reduced costs by $762 per hectare per season. Farmers also significantly reduced labor for pest control. After holding the incidence of pests, pesticide price, and farmer's age and education constant, regression analysis finds that Bt cotton adopters use significantly less pesticides when pesticide use is measured by the number of sprayings, the quantity of pesticide used, or total cost (13).

China's experience with Bt cotton demonstrates the direct and indirect benefits of its investment in plant biotechnology research and product development. According to our research, the total benefits from the adoption of Bt cotton in 1999�were $334 million (15, 16). Ignoring the benefits created by foreign life-science firms, the benefits from the main variety created and extended by one of China's publicly funded research institutes were $197 million. Farmers captured most of the benefits, because government procurement prevented cotton prices from declining (which would have shifted some of the benefits to consumers). Hence, the social benefits from research on one crop, cotton, in only the second year of its adoption were enough to fund all of the government's crop biotechnology research in 1999.�As Bt cotton spreads, the social benefits from this crop will easily pay for all China's past biotech expenditures on all crops.

The survey also showed that farmers reduced use of toxic pesticides, organophosphates and organochlorines, by more than 80% and that this reduction appears to have improved farmer health. The survey asked farmers if they had suffered from headaches, nausea, skin pain, or digestive problems after applying pesticides. If the answer was "yes," it was registered as an incidence of "poisoning." Only 4.7% of Bt cotton growers reported poisonings; 11% of the farmers using both Bt and unaltered varieties reported poisonings; whereas 22% of those using only non-Bt varieties reported poisonings.


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