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Farmers Praise GM Crops in EU Study



Future of Bt Cotton in Asia
The Nation, 21 May 2007

Fast pace in cash crops production is a dream for any agrarian economy; many ancient civilisations rose by diverting rivers and irrigating arid lands to grow crops like wheat, maize, rice, and cotton. Asian countries especially Indian subcontinent and China are those About Usll known for its cotton made fibre for centuries.

Cotton is a powerful engine for our economy growth; the cotton lint, cloth, yarn and garments are a big source of foreign exchange and accounts for around six percent of our GDP; cotton made ups and textile exports embrace more than $7.3 billion to the national economy which is around two thirds of the country's export earnings. Cotton is grown over eighty countries primarily for fibre, but seeds render an important source of food for livestock and humans. Life of millions of small farmers, daily wage workers and many small medium business are on the fortune of this single crop, therefore, the success or failure of cotton crop has influence not only on exports but also on socio-economic
sectors of various stakeholders - fine quality of cotton production is the inherent comparative advantage of our textile sector; so have to take into account the present challenges faced in its production and value-added fields and preparing for the future changes in its technologies.

Pakistan's cotton growing sector has made a long and difficult journey; its performance is marked by a mixed trend; there have been some years of dismal growth and some years of cruising growth; which has direct impact on annual economy growth rate. An all time record cotton crop of 14.5 million bales achieved in 2004-05 on the other hand the production remained less than 10 million bales during 1993-1995, and 1998-1999 due to out break of cotton leaf curl virus and high temperature. Moreover, humid climatic conditions has contributed to the eruption of different Bollworms like Pink, Spotted and American, which severely damaged the cotton crop in Sindh and Punjab provinces; it has been observed that during these periods poverty and unemployment increased significantly especially in the rural areas as economy slowed down. According to one evaluation an increment of one million bales in cotton production in turn translates into half a percent increase in GDP. Although Pakistan is the world's fourth largest producer of cotton after China, USA and India but its yield in acres ranks 10th in the world. As a result, Pakistan annually imports around 1.5 - 2.00 million bales of cotton to meet growing demand from local textile mills; while other challenges include high price of inputs, higher intensity of insects and pests, shortage of water, adulterations in pesticides, fertilizers and seeds furthermore poor infrastructure of marketing. According to our recent Economic Survey 2005-06, the performance of agriculture has been weak - due to poor performance of cotton production i.e. 12.4 million bales as against targeted 14.3 million bales. Pakistan is among the three countries where cotton consumption has substantially increased during past few years; it is projected that by 2010 we will need over 15.50 millions balls that's why Government of Pakistan has set a target to achieve 20.13 millions bales by 2015 under a program "Cotton Vision 2015". In view of cotton production potential we are already utilising our land under the cultivation of cotton at its optimum level; however, area in Balochistan and D I Khan district and in NWFP can be further considered though there is severe shortage of water; which needs heavy investment and requires long-term strategies, planning and sustained commitment. The International Cotton Advisory Committee has projected the world cotton production by 2010 to be 153 million bales (weighing 170 kgs each), while the demand would be much higher from countries like India and China. So, one of the primary concerns is to meet the requirement of local textile industries. Insects, diseases, heat stress and drought present the greatest
impediments to accomplish desired yields and quality in cotton.

Pakistan during the last two decades has also been trying to meet the standard of fibre traits desired by our textile industry. So far one immediate solution to improve cotton production can be solved by the adoption of Genetically Modified (GM) cotton - known as Bt Cotton, which has been grown successfully in many parts of world like USA, Australia, China, India; although the technology has great potential, there are genuine concerns about this technology related to environment, health and socio-economic. That's why in March an international workshop "Regional Consultation on Genetically Modified Cotton for Risk Assessment and Opportunities for Small-scale Cotton Growers" was conducted at National
Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) Faisalabad, in collaboration with International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) and Common Funds for Commodity (CFC); During the inauguration
session Dr Ansar Pervaz Member Science, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission ( PAEC) highlighted the important role of GM cotton for socio-economic development of the country. Fifty-three foreigner
delegates from all over the globe participated in the program. The main theme of the project was to share information on benefits and possiblerisks to small-scale farmers in the regions from the use of biotech insect resistant cotton; and bring together government, private officials related to decision making on the issue and share with them the experiences in other countries. The event focused on identifying the opportunities and challenges to adoption of biotech cotton in key cotton growing countries in Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa. Furthermore, impact on the environment, risks to consumers and genetic diversity was also discussed as well as biotech claims that insect resistant GM varieties save the environment from injurious chemicals by halving the use of insecticides, and reduce the chemical exposure of farmers, with documented benefits to human health was also on agenda. Dr Anwar Nasim, Chairman National Commission on Biotechnology, Dr Zafar M Khalid
Director, NIBGE, Siestse van Der Verff and other eminent scientists were also present on the occasion. Dr Rafiq Chaudhry, Technical Director, International Cotton Advisory Committee said he will support any research which helps to improve in cotton production. He added funds are available with the support of CFC for the both GM cotton and non GM cotton projects; so to get grant come up with solid proposals.

According to one estimate, in Pakistan farmers are using Rs.10 billion worth of pesticides annually; out of which more than 75% is used on cotton alone especially to control Bollworm known as "sundies". The indiscriminate use of pesticides by farmers on one hand has build up pest resistance against most of pesticides on the other are causing health hazards to rural community and jeopardizing our environment. Bt cotton has been manoeuvred by means of modern biotechnology - one or more foreign genes derived from the soil dwelling bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to produce built-in toxins to kill some of the most injurious pests of cotton; however few spray would be required occasionally to keep secondary pests under control. It's certainly not correct to say that at this stage genetically modified cotton are the total answers to the questions; but they do reduce the risks that farmers face like the certain insect, pests and weed, and so on. GM cotton can give the farmer more certainty in knowing what he will produce better at the end of the season. It is highly specific to the target organisms alone, and numerous scientific studies have indicated that Bt has no adverse effects on human health and the environment, making it an ideal biological pest control tool in integrated pest management practices.

Global adoption of Bt cotton has risen dramatically from 1.90 million acres in its introductory period in 1996 to 19.40 millions acres in 2006. Area planted to biotech varieties increased to over one-fourth of
the world total in 2005/06, and it is estimated that biotech varieties account for 38 % of 86.5 million acres planted to cotton in 2006-07. The world average yield in 1995-96 was 229 kg/acre, and the average yield in 2006-07 is estimated to be 294 kg/acre. Much of the increase in the world yield during the last ten years was related to the use of biotech cotton. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and USA have commercialised biotech cotton so far. It is remarkable that in the last cotton growing season 54% of cotton crops grown in USA, 70% in China and 80% in Australia were with single or multiple Bt genes. In the Eastern and Southern African region, South Africa has commercialised biotech cotton. Only Delta-pine varieties have been
engineered and these varieties were planted on over 90% of the cotton area in South Africa in 2005/06; recently the Government of Uganda has allowed field trials on biotech cotton. Trials have also been conducted in Zimbabwe in the past but biotech cotton is still not approved. Many countries in Asia including Pakistan and Uzbekistan have invested a significant amount of human and financial resources for the development of local genetically modified cotton; in Pakistan during 2005-06 season pre-commercial plantings of Bt cotton have been carried out in Punjab and Sindh with indigenously developed Bt cotton varieties - "IR-NIBGE-2","IR-FH-901","IR-CIM-448" and "IR-CIM-443".
So far in Asia three countries - China, India and Pakistan claimed that they have successfully developed genetically modified cotton with their own genes against bollworms.

National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering - Faisalabad, and National Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (NCEMB) University of the Punjab Lahore, have come forward and submitted applications to the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) - a directorate
being established in the Ministry of Environment for commercialisation and field trial approvals of their versions of Bt Cotton respectively. Recently, NCEMB has been granted permission to conduct field trials only of two Bt cotton varieties "MNH-93" and "CIM 482" with the collaboration of a local and a multinational company; however application for commercialisation of Bt Cotton variety "IR-FH-901 of NIBGE is still under process. According to our eminent scientist Dr Kauser Abdullah Malik, Member
Planning Commission on Agriculture more than 500,000 acres are presently under Bt cotton last season, which has not been approved by authorities. Because of remarkable results of Bt cotton crops grown especially in China and India since 1997 and 2002 respectively have intensified the
thirst among Pakistani farmers and commercial seed firms to bring GM technologies into the country.
It is mind boggling that from where such large quantity of seeds has been sourced in order to cultivate 0.5 million acres of Bt Cotton. It could not have been possible with out years of organised activity, and with help from people with technical expertise, it was certainly not a work of an ordinary farmer. This situation must be seen in the background where countries are required to abide by their national biosafety laws for risk assessment and management prior to commercial release of transgenic varieties. Pakistan approved Biosafety Rules in year 2005 that require clearance from NBC (National Biosafety Committee).

Dr Yusuf Zafar, Director Agriculture and Biotechnology, PAEC and organiser of the meeting said that genetically engineered cotton was spreading at a brisk pace despite reluctance of some countries to adopt this technology; he added we believe cotton production have to increase over the next 15 years as demand is robust but unfortunately commercial realise of GM cotton has caught up in Pakistan. In year 2005, China the largest producer of cotton in the world has grown more than 8 million acres of Bt cotton, whereas, India cultivated around 3.2 million acres of Bt cotton crops but in 2006/07 India has tripled acreage for insect-resistant Bt cotton to 9.4 million acres with support of 2.3 million farmers, surpassing 8.6 million acres in China. In India, 14% of the total area was under biotech hybrids that benefited growers through increased yields by providing better protection against bollworms. Dr C D Mayee Chair - GEAC, India said "cultivation of transgenic Bt cotton has led to significant reduction in pest-attacks and 62 Bt-hybrids have been commercialised so far, he further said at present 28 seed companies are pursuing Bt-cotton in India and more companies are expected to hit the market in the next year. Dr K B Khadi Director the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur, said
since the technology is in "seed", it does not have the chances of differentiating between large and small farmers; he claimed that Bt cotton cultivation has helped both farmers raise their income and the very fact that area under Bt cotton is increasing shows the growing acceptability among farmers. Some argued that increase in the cotton yield in the last 5 years by 46 % only because of the adoption of Bt cotton while few disagreed that other factors also contributed like four Mini TMC program.

However one of the limitations is the transfer of Bt genes into local germplasm; high cost of technology is another issue but misinformation on benefits as well as risks is hindering governments to make decisions. Dr Randay A Hautea Global Coordinator, ISAAA said biotechnology provides
large benefits to all stakeholders, farmers, consumers, and even the government while protecting the environment at the same time. It is an alternative that is accurate, predictable, faster, scientific and safe. Dr Iftikhar A Khan, Dean Agriculture University Faisalabad said agricultural biotechnology has the potential towards poverty alleviation, rural development, strengthening trade and economic competitiveness, provide agricultural sustainability even while delivering direct benefits to the farmers and consumers. Prof James McD Stewart USA argued that the prices of seeds for growing
GM cotton would definitely fall when more varieties would be available for sale; he added the future of crop biotechnology would depend upon it being perceived as environmentally friendly. Dr Jingyuan Xia - Director General NATESC, Ministry of Agriculture said Chinese scientists have developed 55 new GM cotton strains, bringing economic returns of 2.1 billion US dollars, he further said the domestic market share of China-made insect-resistant GM cotton increased from 5 percent in 1998 to more than 70 percent in 2005; he added Bt cotton increased income of some 6.8 million farmers as it cut the number of spray from 8 to 3, while raising yields by 15 percent compared with conventional varieties.

According to some reports in countries that adopted Bt cotton, average yield increased from 10 to 45 percent while pesticide cost declined by 65 percent in China, 58 percent in South Africa, and over 45 percent in India.

Pakistan has addressed Intellectual Property Rights by forming an independent body, the Intellectual Property Organization Pakistan (IPOP); recently the Cabinet has passed "Plant Breeders Rights" bill to
provide a way to the international seed-breed companies and enhance the private sector's investment in the seed breeding. It is worth mentioning that a few Pakistani institutes have applied for patents of some novel Bt genes; however big multinational companies in the developed countries own patents of many Bt - genes, its sequences, expression, vectors etc so any violation of the agreement and commitment with lenders or owners may attract patent problems under the new intellectual property rights (IPRs) regulatory regimes and infringement of IPRs law under the WTO, Paris Club and ultimately can attract legal action against member countries Mr Derek Eaton - Researcher from ECART and LEI Wageningen said although range of studies of agronomic performance and economic impact of GM crops have been carried our between 1996-2006 while 56 on Bt cotton of which 42 in only three countries China, India, and South Africa; most of it indicate that number of insecticides sprays have declined in Bt cotton fields against bollworms. He added GM Cotton is one example of crop where IP protection affects investment opportunities and decisions; however effective IPRs cannot be created quickly...and is also a concern for many stakeholders.

There are numerous reports of failing GM crops, for example Bt cotton in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh- the reason for the failure of the Bt cotton there had nothing to do with the GM crop. Rather the variety that was sold to the farmers was not suited to that particular area. Unfortunately, because of the high profile in the controversy associated with GM crops, the critics were very keen to say the failure was the GM's fault. But it has been analysed that the very same variety without the Bt gene would also have failed in that area. The unpredictable performance in cotton is attributed to few more reasons like
caterpillars must eat enough treated plant tissue to get a lethal dose of the toxin, since the toxin has no contact effect; the Bt toxin rapidly degraded by heat stress, high leaf pH, or desiccation; If someone backcrossed Bt varieties with other conventional cotton varieties there is most likely that the optimal level of required Bt event or toxin may not transfer as in pure Bt cotton seed. Moreover, usually it is hard to know the lifecycle of such products as all cotton seed varieties segregate after growing it over number of years; so such Bt cotton varieties would be very dangerous to adopt both for the cotton
growing farmers environment and economy.

Dr Willy De Greef - Director, International Biotechnology Regulatory Services said that today, the regulatory environment is far more complex and hostile; it is not certain that technology developers would be able to find the regulators as open and willing to help us analyse the issues and create a high quality and science based approach to risk assessment for the new classes of GM cotton traits. He added more intractable issue is the cost of regulatory release and compliance in many cases; which is higher than cost of actual product development moreover in many countries the duplication of data for biosafety assessments for regulatory submissions has become a sizable industry as it provides more jobs.

The Cartagena Protocol should in principle lead to a significant reduction of that burden, because it allows importing countries to accept new GM products without additional requirements - Pakistan is only signatory to Cartagena Protocol of the biosafety under Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) unfortunately we have not yet ratified it; that's why losing financial and technical assistance offered by the UNEP-GEF programs. It is worth mentioning here that virologist Dr Rob Briddon said that the situation with cotton leaf curl (CLCV) disease in Pakistan is very serious especially Burewala virus; so far most of cotton varieties including Bt cotton varieties are highly susceptible to CLCV Burewala

Bt crops can help reduce poverty, promote rural development, strengthen trade and economic competitiveness, and encourage agricultural sustainability, even while delivering direct benefits to farmers and consumers while the environmental benefits of Bt crops which were insecticide reduction, soil conservation and enhanced productivity, and an enhanced sustainability.
Although Biotechnology is by all means the most controversial agricultural technology innovation due to the uncertainty and concerns raised by its biosafety and environmental impacts; but the rise of modern biotechnologies and life science bring many surprises, change the paradigms of the society and revolutionise our daily lives. Against the many exciting successful examples of biotechnology, it is important that all technologies, bio and non-bio, are to serve the ultimate objective of improving the overall welfare of human beings and the nature. Thus crop biotechnology is no exception. It is the foundation of people's livelihood. Small farmers certainly wouldn't be purchasing and sowing GM cottonseeds if they weren't reaping benefits out of it. However, questions will remain in farmers minds like 'Will pests develop resistance to Bt-cotton?' and 'How long will it take to develop resistance?' and so on.

Hence, the very high adoption rate of Bt cotton especially in Asian countries by farmers reflects the fact that biotech crops have consistently performed well and delivered significant economic,
environmental, health and social benefits to both small and large farmers.

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