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Experts Agree on Need for Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries

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In a new online video and podcast released this week, eight globally recognized and distinguished experts discuss how GM crops are able to deliver significant benefits to small-scale, subsistence farming operations in developing countries and emphasize the need to expand the availability of this farming technology in these areas of the world.

“Here is a technology that is not only scale neutral, but delivers more benefits to the poor,” says Dr. Clive James, chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). “For example, in the U.S., you would expect, on average, to increase productivity by five percent. If you use Bt maize … in the Philippines, that increase is 40 percent.”

Economic research to date does not support the widely held perception that agricultural biotechnology benefits only large farms. A 2006 review of peer-reviewed research by Dr. Terri Raney, senior economist of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), summarizes that the technology may be “pro-poor,” and concludes that economic results to-date suggest that farmers in developing countries can benefit from transgenic crops.

“What they typically require is a kind of an empowering tool, which allows them to reduce uncertainties, get greater incomes, and also to be able to invest more in their own households, as well as on the farm. What biotechnology enables them is precisely this,” says Dr. Laveesh Bhandari, economist and director of Indicus Analytics in India, who recently studied the impact of this new technology in farming on households and communities in India.

Since the technology is delivered in the seed and often requires less labor and fewer inputs, GM crops have a superior fit in subsistence farming operations.

“You know, a 24-row combine harvester requires a big farm. But, the transgenic seed doesn't … The technological advantages of transgenic crops are contained in the seed,” says Dr. C. Ford Runge, economist, professor and director of the Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy who has conducted research on the economic aspects of agricultural biotechnology.

Of the 10.3 million farmers who planted biotech crops in 22 countries in 2006, 90 percent were small, resource-poor farmers from 11 developing countries including Argentina, Brazil, China, Columbia, Honduras, India, Mexico, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa and Uruguay. These farmers are benefiting from increased yields, reduced production costs, or both in some instances to create significantly improved net economic returns.

“It is incumbent on our government and on our scientists … to bring a technology, which can address a small-scale farmer,” says Dr. Ruth Oniang’o, a member of the Parliament of Kenya, professor at Jomo Kenyatta University, and founder of Rural Outreach Program – a not-for-profit organization that undertakes development activities aimed at improving livelihoods of the rural poor in Kenya, more than 55 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

“If we don't apply science to solve poor people's problems, we're going to end up with scientific apartheid – meaning science is for us, the non-poor. And, for the poor, science is too complicated, too sophisticated. That is not true. But to a considerable extent, that is what's happening today,” says Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, an economist and professor of food, nutrition and public policy at Cornell University. Dr. Pinstrup-Andersen was a 2001 World Food Prize Laureate and is a vocal advocate for increased research to support food production and policy surrounding it.

“Getting those technologies to the poorest farmers is absolutely one of the keys to making the breakthrough out of extreme poverty,” agrees Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute and United Nations Millennium Project, who for more than 20 years has been involved in identifying challenges to, and solutions for, poverty and hunger alleviation in developing countries.

This new video about the need for, and benefits of, using biotech crops in small-scale, subsistence farming operations can be viewed, downloaded or embedded into another Web site from the Conversations about Plant Biotechnology Web site. The transcript and additional comments from many of these experts are also available.