Monday, February 02, 2009
CORPORATE POLITICS & GM COTTON PRODUCTION IN AFRICA
GLOBAL AGRICULTURE AND GENETICALLY MODIFIED (GM) COTTON IN AFRICA
By Stephen Greenberg
for the African Centre for Biosafety
There is a strong push to spread the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM or
transgenic) cotton into Africa’s core cotton growing regions. Yet the language of poverty
reduction and humanitarianism that is used to justify this is a thinly veiled disguise for the global expansion of transnational corporate interests.
There are many reasons to be wary of the introduction of genetically modified organisms into agriculture. These include environmental and health concerns, lack of certainty about economic benefits, ethical and even spiritual concerns, and issues related to the use of technology for sectional interests. This paper will focus on the socio-economic and political implications of the introduction of this technology.
Africa is on the threshold of the introduction of transgenic cotton. In order to fully understand the possible implications of this development, it is useful to have an understanding of the structure of power in the global cotton industry.
This paper offers an analytical overview of the economic, social and political forces driving the introduction of genetically modified cotton in Africa. Africa as a whole is the third largest cotton exporting region in the world behind the US and
Uzbekistan. Four West African countries (Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin and Burkina Faso) dominate exports, followed by Zimbabwe. Cotton has also historically been produced in East Africa, and these are targets for the introduction of GM cotton.
The rapid growth in the adoption of GM cotton across the world is used to argue that Africa will miss out on this ‘second Green Revolution’ if it does not immediately adopt the technology.
Globally, the claimed successes of GM cotton are contested. The apparent benefit of Bt cotton is that farmers save money by spraying less insecticide because the insecticide is built in to the genetic structure of the seed. An additional spin-off is the reduction in environmental damage.
The claimed benefit of Bt cotton rests more in the reduction in the use of insecticides than in higher yields. However, as with the yields, the relationship between Bt cotton and reductions in pesticide use is also not well established.
The reliance on a single gene to eradicate pests is flawed because insects develop resistance to pesticides over time. So far, evidence does not point to a definitive rise in yields as the result of the use of transgenic cotton varieties. On the other hand a number of studies show that yields have not improved or that transgenic cotton crops have failed outright (see Hitavada 2002; RFSTE 2002; Shah and Banerji 2002; Deccan Development Society 2003; Khan and Chaodhry 2003; NGIN 2003 for India and Pakistan and GRAIN 2001; ISIS 2001 for Indonesia). Questions have also been raised regarding the quality of fibres from transgenic cotton varieties, including by William Duvanant, CEO of Duvanant Enterprises, one of the largest cotton merchants in the world (GRAIN 2004c:20).
The introduction of transgenic crops cannot be separated from the perceived role of agriculture as a driver of market and private sector-led development in Africa..
.The USAID Initiative to End Hunger in Africa approaches the reduction of poverty “primarily through efforts to increase productivity and incomes in the agricultural sector” (Abt Associates Inc. 2003:3). Productivity enhancements in cash crops may raise incomes for some and thereby alleviate poverty. Yet rising cotton productivity in current conditions merely results in further depressed prices. In West Africa in particular, productivity is good by international standards and costs are low. Yields in West Africa are second only to Australia (Elbehri & MacDonald, forthcoming:29). Primary producers are also not in a position to capture a greater share of value in the context of an uneven distribution of power in the commodity chain
As with the GM debate today, local needs are reinterpreted by dominant powers to
align with dominant global interests i.e. higher incomes through greater productivity. This binds African producers into a social and economic model in which they will forever be producers of primary goods and consumers of processed goods.
Importantly, amongst the reasons for success of cotton in the region are the application of appropriate soil nutrient replenishment, and pest management and seed varieties that are well suited to local conditions (Gillson et al. 2004:45-6). Uniform seed varieties genetically altered for conditions in another country and parachuted in are not likely to solve the problems of poverty, even amongst West African cotton growers. Rising commodity prices where producers receive the benefits of those increases is a more effective short-term measure for reducing poverty.
The types of institutional, social and economic changes that are required to increase cotton productivity through transgenic seed have far greater negative effects on living conditions. In particular, poverty is exacerbated by trade liberalisation in the context of deep global inequality. With trade liberalisation, African farmers have to compete directly with the heavily subsidized and marketed agricultural products from the North (Makanya 2004). The focus on productivity has been interpreted as diverting attention from the issue of cotton subsidies that would by all accounts have a far greater impact on incomes amongst African cotton producers.
The US, EU and Chinese governments pay producers massive subsidies to continue production, even though these cost the state more than the total value of production. In the US and the EU, large-scale agribusinesses are the primary beneficiaries of state subsidies. These subsidies permit producers to adopt more expensive technology such as GM cotton and its associated chemicals and still sell their cotton on the world market cheaper than unsubsidised producers in other parts of the world including in Africa.
The subsidies can only be understood in conjunction with trade liberalisation because the World Trade Organisation (WTO) determines the legality of subsidies.
Although the WTO recently ruled against US cotton subsidies, the 2004 ‘July framework’ that aims to restart global negotiations around trade in agriculture permits the Us and EU to continue to manipulate the various categories of support. Both the US and the EU have indicated their intentions to reorganise their subsidy systems to comply with WTO regulations while not substantively reducing the subsidies.
USAID together with the largest TNCs in the seed-biotech-chemical sector are setting the research agenda by providing funding in the context of withdrawal of national state support for agricultural research. Their express intention is to produce commercially viable biotechnology products under the ownership of the TNCs. The US in particular assists biotechnology and seed companies to undermine or water down multilateral environmental agreements that seek to limit their spheres of operation. The dominant states help to construct regulatory and legal systems that protect corporate property rights and favour their insertion into new areas of operation. In the case of cotton, this is both to introduce their products (including seed) and to access commercially untapped genetic resources for future product development.
Given this multi-pronged attack on African cotton systems, it is recommended that African producers and governments reject the introduction of GM cotton, and the utilisation of existing agricultural infrastructure and institutions for the insertion of GM cotton into their systems. Far more sustainable alternatives to GM cotton exist. Pest management techniques that rely on increasing producers’ knowledge and integrating farmers’ own knowledge with environmentally sustainable best practices from elsewhere are preferable to the introduction of technology that draws pest management away from control of the direct producer. Poverty reduction is more feasible if based on the redistribution of existing resources, including secure access to land, water and locally available genetic material than if based on a single technology reliant on a vast array of external inputs only made available on the basis of payment.
Instead of privatising agricultural institutions and focusing on biotechnology that places control in the hands of distant experts, research and development could become more participatory, allowing producers to determine their own needs whether for the global market or not. In particular, dedicated support for the production of food and fibre for local need first and only then for exchange should be encouraged. At the end of the day, primary producers, farm workers and the landless need to organise themselves to press for their own demands. A rejection of the imposition of GM crops and the associated restructuring is imperative in this regard.
There is a strong push to spread the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM or transgenic) cotton into Africa’s core cotton growing regions. Yet the language of poverty reduction and humanitarianism that is used to justify this is a thinly veiled disguise for the global expansion of transnational corporate interests. There are many reasons to be wary of the introduction of genetically modified organisms into agriculture. These include environmental and health concerns, lack of certainty about economic benefits, ethical and even spiritual concerns, and issues related to the use of technology for sectional interests.
Smallholder African cotton producers, generally resource poor and lacking in adequate support, are now the targets for profit making. Building on the social devastation left by colonialism and still all too apparent across Africa, the introduction of GM crops seeks to restructure political, social and economic systems yet further to the primary benefit of corporate activity.
Nation states play an important role in facilitating these processes of technology-driven development and economic concentration by maintaining and restructuring regulatory frameworks as required. The challenge for Africa is not only how to resist this imposition, but also how the African populace can reassert control over political and economic processes that unfold in its name but seldom to its benefit.
Conditions in West Africa are not favourable for converting fibre into textiles in the face of subsidised dumping and the importing of used clothes because weaving has a high capital/labour ratio and it relies heavily on electricity, which is expensive in the region (Goreux 2004:21). A strategy of adopting targeted tariffs to limit dumping and encourage domestic industry, coupled with a focus on small scale production to meet domestic textile demand would require a shift from an export orientation in cotton production. Such a strategy would also have important implications for the introduction of transgenic cotton varieties into West Africa. Rather than requiring the adoption of transgenic technology, it would encourage the adoption of local varieties better adapted to local conditions that could provide for uniqueness in local textile production (Devlin Kuyek, pers comm., 5 Oct
In the case of transgenic cotton, African farmers are to be the recipients of technologies that will increase productivity and reduce input costs for farmers. Northern governments and private companies are presented as altruistic agents with the best interests of resource poor African farmers at heart.
Field trials of transgenic cotton in Africa are proliferating and it is only a matter of time before other countries join South Africa in commercial production. Burkina Faso
has field-tested Bt cotton since July 2003 even before biosafety laws were in place (GRAIN
2004b). In mid-2003 the Burkina Faso Fibre and Textile Company (SOFITEX) announced its plan to embark on transgenic cotton production in partnership with Monsanto and Syngenta (Agencies 2003). Reports in September 2004 indicate the country has approved the commercial planting of Bt cotton (Kalibwani et al. 2004:9). In Mali, The national agricultural research institute (IER) has been negotiating with Monsanto and Syngenta for field trials of Bt cotton (GRAIN 2004a). Despite this apparently slow take-up, there is a lot of activity around biotechnology and the introduction of transgenic cotton in West Africa, as detailed in the section on introducing transgenic cotton in Africa below.
South Africa has played a key role in bringing GM crops into Africa through research and
development, legislation permitting the planting of GM crops, approval for the commercial
planting of GM maize, cotton and soya, and the export of its biotechnology thrust into Africa using NEPAD (see Biowatch 2003). Elsewhere in Southern and East Africa, field trails of GM cotton are under way. The Ugandan government’s acceptance of Bt cotton trials was adopted despite strong domestic opposition, including from the state-run Cotton Development Organisation (Ojambo 2002).
De Grassi (2003:i) outlines five criteria that should determine the introduction of new
technologies into African agriculture. First, agricultural research must generate site-specific
varieties to accommodate different conditions of production. Second, research should be led by the self-expressed needs of poor farmers. Third, there is a need to prioritise and choose the most cost-effective technologies. Fourth, environmental sustainability requires consideration not only of the second-generation effects of the Green Revolution (for example, damage caused by pesticide use) but also soil fertility. Finally, there is a need for institutional sustainability. In a detailed study of South Africa’s smallholder cotton farmers, de Grassi found that the introduction of Bt cotton failed all of the criteria. The technology is uniform and imposed from outside without full information being provided (partly because information about long-term effects on environment and social organisation is unknown).
GM crops favor producers with large farms based on monocropping and uniformity, with a high reliance on external inputs (Makanya 2004). Yet contrary to these characteristics, most African farmers are resource-poor and small-scale farmers who will be unable to afford the ongoing costs associated with technology fees, higher seed prices, increasingly privatised water costs and chemical inputs.
Producer subsidies in the US (52% of global subsidies in 2002/03) and to a lesser extent the EU (27%) and China (20%) serve to depress international prices while shielding subsidised producers from these lower prices. Being major players in the market, subsidies in these countries have a direct influence on the price of cotton Thus while African farmers are amongst the world’s lowest cost producers, prices received are still often below costs of production.
The US cotton export industry has been globally dominant for centuries, since 1800 when it
overtook the West Indies as the prime exporter of cotton to the engine of the textile industry, the UK (Roberts 1996:48). This history has allowed the powerful agribusiness lobby, the National Cotton Council, to draw substantial state subsidies towards the cotton industry, with cotton farmers receiving more per capita and per acre than any other group of US agricultural producers (Watkins 2003:5). In 2000 the cost of subsidies to the cotton industry was equivalent to the value added to the US economy by cotton production (Watkins 2003:4). In 2001, the value of subsidies exceeded the market value of output by around 30% (Watkins & Su 2002:2).
The floor price was maintained under the 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act where cotton producers are guaranteed a floor price of around 52c/lb, regardless of world market prices (Watkins & Su 2002:12). Over and above the guaranteed floor price, US producers receive additional payments to top up their income to a target price, set at 72.4c/lb (Watkins & Su 2002:12). This should be compared to the A-Index price of US$1.04 in 2002 (Baffes 2004:66).
An important aspect of the US subsidy is the significant export component. So-called ‘Step 2’ subsidies (the middle in a set of three) were introduced in the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990 to keep US cotton competitive (Baffes 2004:69). Step 2 payments are government subsidies to US companies that export or mill cotton sourced from inside the US.
Since 1995, the US government has made Step 2 payments to the value of US$1.68 billion to
cotton companies (see EWG 2004a). The subsidy offers exporters additional payments when
quoted prices for US cotton traded internationally are high relative to other cotton traded
internationally (Roberts & Jotzo 2001:28). The Step 2 subsidies are also offered to domestic mills using US cotton to eliminate any difference between US internal prices and the international price (Watkins & Su 2002:15). A cursory look at the list of subsidy beneficiaries reveals the dominance of millers, ginners, and apparel and textile manufacturers (EWG 2004a).
Simply this means the government is paying mainly large-scale agribusinesses – including multinationals – to continue supporting cotton production in the US regardless of its economic cost. The subsidies are biased towards large-scale producers and processors, with the top 10 percent of recipients accounting for over 75% of the subsidy (Watkins 2003:5). According to EWG (2004a) the top twelve recipients (4% of all recipients) accounted for half the total payments, worth US$843.9 million between 1995 and 2002. The top five, who account for over a quarter of all Step 2 subsidies are Allenburg Cotton Co (owned by Louis Dreyfus), Duvanant Enterprises, Parkdale Mills Inc, Cargill and Calcot Ltd (California Cotton) (EWG 2004a).
Cotton prices are historically low and declining. According to the Cotlook A-Index international cotton prices have been declining especially since the early 1980s in the face of growing competition from chemical fibres, rising productivity and government subsidies that encourage production regardless of cost. Real prices dropped 60% between 1980 and 2002 (Baffes2004:66). Subsidies further depress the price, with world cotton prices calculated to rise by up to 20% if subsidies were withdrawn (Goreux 2004:16). Nevertheless, one needs to ask who will benefit from higher cotton prices? It is not possible to separate the issue of subsidies from the global expansion of input supply, crucially including seed, and concentration at the trading node.
It is apparent, as will be indicated below, that transnational corporations supported by dominant states are positioning themselves to retain profits in an environment where subsidies are curtailed (even if not outright eliminated).
Politics & cotton production
The continuation of the subsidy system reveals where the interests of the US government and US agribusinesses really lie. It is just one manifestation of a close relationship between states and corporate agricultural interests, especially in the advanced capitalist economies. In the US there is a revolving door between some of the largest biotech corporations and the USDA. Ann Veneman, current Secretary of Agriculture served on the board of Calgene, a biotech company later taken over by Monsanto. A number of other top officials also have direct links to biotech
companies (Mattera 2004:26, 28). Federal funds have been used to finance the terminator
technology that helps seed companies protect their intellectual property by rendering seeds
sterile (ibid.:27). As shown above, the USDA provides massive subsidies to the cotton industry that outweigh the value of production.
In China, the government sets a reference price for cotton, usually above the world market price, and maintains import tariffs to bridge the gap between domestic and world prices.
In the EU, although the subsidy to Greek and Spanish producers is a smaller percentage of
global subsidies than the US subsidy, it is more concentrated. At more than 60c/lb (Riboux
2002:3) the subsidy is consistently more than the international price of cotton, rising as high as 253% of international prices for Spanish recipients in 2001/02 (Baffes 2004:70). Reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 1999 imposed a ‘penalty’ of reduced subsidies once cotton production reached a predetermined maximum. However, this operated at the aggregate level rather than for individual enterprises, and has failed as a surplus containment mechanism (Baffes 2004:14).
The EU also has a general policy of support to large agribusinesses. In the mid-1980s, 60% of the EU budget was going to agriculture. Of this 80% was going to larger farmers (Brassley
1997:130). In 1999, just 2.2 per cent of the 4.5 million farms in Europe received 40 per cent of the total payments, and will continue to do so under CAP reforms proposed in 2003 and to be implemented from 2005 (Sharma 2004).
There are two sides to trade liberalisation. On the one hand, large-scale producers need access to new markets in order to remove domestic surpluses. On the other hand, processing and value-added industries are constantly looking for new, cheaper sources of raw materials. The former encourage the reduction of barriers to market access in other countries, while the latter seek conditions that facilitate global sourcing.
The result of the Uruguay Round in agriculture was that the US and EU continued to provide massive subsidies to their agricultural sectors. Total support provided by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) governments in 1999 stood at US$361 billion. After a slight decline in the 1990s, support to agricultural producers had returned to the same level as the historical peak of 1986-88 (OECD 2000:23). On the other hand, developing countries that were not organised and were railroaded into the agreement were forced to open their agricultural markets to the subsidised surpluses from these big economies.
Negotiations for a new agreement failed in Seattle in 1999 and Cancun in 2003 when developing countries resisted US and EU attempts to steamroll another agreement on their own terms. After a long effort to restart negotiations, a framework was constructed to formulate a new trade pact.
This so-called ‘July framework’ has been hailed as a victory for developing countries, with some commentators even referring to a ‘post-subsidy’ era after ‘countries agreed for the first time to abolish all forms of export subsidies’ (Lourens 2004; Njobeni 2004). However, such talk appears to be premature. French Agriculture Minister, Herve Gaymard informed the media that it would not be before 2015 or 2017 when export subsidies are completely eliminated (Sharma 2004a; Kwa 2004).
As with the Uruguay Round, the amount of the subsidy will not change but the terminology used to define its legal status will. chief US agriculture negotiator, Allen Johnson, told reporters: “The United States succeeded in shifting farm subsidies to a new WTO category (read ‘blue box’) to avoid actual reductions” (both quotes in Sharma 2004a).
Cotton received media attention during the July negotiations. Brazil took advantage of the
lapsing of the Uruguay Round peace clause to launch a complaint against US cotton subsidies. The WTO ruled that the US was in contravention of its commitments under the Agreement on Agriculture and ordered the US to take appropriate steps to remove the adverse effects or to withdraw the subsidies “without delay” (WTO 2004a:350-51). The US has announced its intention to appeal parts of the ruling (Sapa-AFP 2004).
Under the West African Cotton Initiative, four West African cotton-producing countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali) also placed pressure on the US at the WTO negotiations to the eliminate production subsidies of any sort in the cotton sector, and the payment of compensation for as long as the subsidies remained in place. But given the July framework text it appears that US counter-cyclical payments approved in the 2002 Farm Bill, including cotton subsidies, will be shuffled around to fit into the new blue box and then reduced, but not eliminated, over time (Kwa 2004; Raghavan 2004).
Of importance to the African cotton sector is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in the US, concentrating as it does on providing access to the US market for textiles produced in Africa.
The Act has a two-phase approach to the liberalisation of the textile sector in Africa. The
Act allows for exports to the US of garments made from fabric produced anywhere in the world until 30 September 2004 (Clean Clothes Campaign 2002:9). Trade preferences under the Act are conditional on African governments liberalising agricultural markets, including the cotton sector (Watkins & Sul 2002:3). The Act is only open to African governments that take concrete steps towards the elimination of barriers to US trade and investment (AGOA, cited in Clean ClothesCampaign 2002:9). This first phase of liberalisation therefore serves to stimulate the African textile sector and encourages investment especially from US companies. It also provides a short-term
boost to local producers able to take advantage of growth in the export textile industry.
It goes without saying that producers with resources available with be best placed to occupy this space.
The second phase of AGOA after September 2004 provides for limitless duty-free and quota-free access to the US market for garments that are made in eligible sub-Saharan countries from US, or AGOA-eligible country, fabric, yarn and thread (Clean Clothes Campaign 2002:9). This explicitly serves the interests of US cotton producers and processors since their subsidized cotton can arrive in Africa and still be cheaper than locally produced cotton.
As shown in the section on African cotton production above, a number of US producer-processors already have ginning operations in place in Africa. The provisions of AGOA will favour those that can bring subsidised cotton from the US, process it in Africa using infrastructure owned by them, and export it back to the US for further value adding or for sale. AGOA excludes the import of raw cotton to the US from Africa (Gillson et al. 2004:8). Sanctions against Zimbabwe mean that products derived from Zimbabwean cotton will not be eligible for export to the US under
AGOA. This denies the Southern African region in particular the ability to draw on a key cotton producer in one of the region’s most competitive supply pipelines (Coughlin, Rubin & Darga 2001:xiii)
PRIVATISATION AND DEREGULATION
In order to take advantage of the trade regime, multinationals require reforms to give them
access to the cotton sector in African countries. Historically these sectors have been
monopolised by state institutions, and these monopolies have to be broken down to permit the profitable entry of multinationals. African cotton production already has a well-established infrastructure that TNCs can take advantage of (GRAIN 2004b).
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS AND PATENTS
“Our vision is for a regulatory system that favours investment and innovation.
We will stifle innovation if our framework fails to provide sufficient financial
rewards to justify continued investment”
(Michael Pragnell, President, CropLife International and CEO of Syngenta, 3 June 2004,
quoted in CropLife International 2004)
The introduction of genetically modified crops into Africa is based on the ability of corporations to control the technology and generate a profit from it. Since these corporations have legal ownership of much of the technology, they will determine how and when it is used.
USAID has indicated its intention to play its part to “integrate biotechnology into local food systems and spread the technology through regions in Africa” (US Dept of State 2002). This is to be on a commercial basis. Once transgenic crops are in the ground and a regulatory system is in place, the threat of states outlawing their use is eliminated.
Capacity building to carry out biotechnological research is closely linked to the research agendas of private companies. Generally, USAID supported programmes to extend biotechnology into Africa are partnered by the large biotech and seed companies. Monsanto and other biotech corporations sponsor USAID (Greenpeace 2002:6). In turn, USAID has paid US biotech corporations to run GM research programmes with local research institutes in African countries.
The USAID sponsored Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) assists in biosafety research, policy and capacity, including in East and West Africa. African partner organisations include African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF; Kenya), Association
for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA; Uganda), East African Regional Programme and Research Network for Biotechnology, Biosafety, and Biotechnology Policy Development (BIO-EARN; Uganda), Le Conseil Ouest et Centre Africain pour la Recherche et le Developpement Agricoles (CORAF; Senegal) and national agricultural research organisations.
Not only USAID and the biotech companies, but also the international agricultural research
centres organised under the Collaborative Group on International Agricultural Research
(CGIAR) are party to the biotech agenda.
In 1998 African governments adopted a model law on the ‘Protection of the rights of local
communities, farmers, breeders and regulation of access to biological resources’. Amongst its core principles are the right and responsibility to keep seed free; prior informed consent to use biological resources; local community access to gene pools; and no patents on life forms (Kalibwani et al. 2004:41).
Despite all this activity, the International Cotton Advisory Committee (n.d.) recognises that
“because of the diversity of cotton growing problems throughout the world, there is no simple approach for transfer and implementation of biotechnical knowledge. Thus, many of the cotton growing problems of the world will not receive required attention”…by biotechnological responses, it should be added. Other fields of knowledge also have a role to play in responding to the problems of cotton growing.
The US is trying to head-off African criticism of its cotton subsidies by talking about helping to improve productivity, through Bt cotton. In the meantime, it is reorganising its domestic subsidy regime to comply with the WTO while attempting to limit the actual reductions it will make.
Nevertheless, in preparation for the future reduction of cotton subsidies, the industry is the process of globalising its operations, especially through the consolidation of corporate trading interests and firming its grip over input supply. The dominant states are fully behind this agenda through using their power to force open markets in developing countries, either through the WTO or through imposing conditionalities for bilateral trade preference. The World Bank is playing a crucial role in justifying the dismantling of state-run and single channel cotton export systems, regardless of how well they are functioning.
Dominant states are also providing support for the maintenance of the corporate stranglehold over input supply, especially seed, by assisting in establishing mechanisms for the protection of intellectual property rights and by funding research agendas that favour the interests of transnational seed and biotechnology companies.
Contamination is not just a risk, it is THE mechanism, combined with patents, through which the industry will impose its agenda. This accounts for the push for the early introduction of the commercial planting of GM crops, knowing full well that once they are in the ground it will be impossible for states to reject them.
Bt cotton is on top of the list because of the greatest likelihood of commercial success in the shortest time. Once the cotton is in the ground, the floodgates for future GM varieties are opened.
Given this multi-pronged attack on African cotton systems, it is recommended that African producers and governments reject the introduction of GM cotton, and the accompanying utilisation of existing agricultural infrastructure and institutions for the insertion of GM cotton into their systems.
More sustainable alternatives to GM cotton exist. Poverty is multifaceted, cutting across economic, social and political systems and cannot be eliminated or reduced through the imposition of a single technological fix that itself is encoded within a system of increasing inequality.
Poverty reduction is more feasible if based on the redistribution of existing resources, including secure access to land, water and locally available genetic material than if based on a single technology reliant on a vast array of external inputs only made available on the basis of payment.
Pest management techniques that rely on increasing producers’ knowledge and integrating farmers’ own knowledge with environmentally sustainable best practices from elsewhere are preferable to the introduction of technology that draws pest management away from direct control by the producer.
Instead of privatising agricultural institutions and focusing on biotechnology that places control in the hands of distant experts working for giant corporations, research and development could become more participatory, allowing producers to determine their own needs whether for the global market or not. In particular, dedicated support for the production of food and fibre for local need first and only then for exchange should be encouraged.
Primary producers, farm workers and the landless ultimately need to organise themselves to press for their own demands. A rejection of the imposition of GM crops and the associated political and institutional restructuring is imperative in this regard.