GM crops cause "breakdown" in Indian farming systems (25/3/2007)

1.GM crops cause 'breakdown' in Indian farming systems
2.GM crops and a herd mentality

EXTRACT: 'In the US, sales of the GM crops to farmers have gone wild, and farmers all want them - whether they need them or not. This is a classic case of what has been described in the literature as a situation where commercial development and marketing is way ahead of the science.' - Dr Charles Hagedorn, Professor of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, of Virginia Tech University (item 2)


1.GM crops cause 'breakdown' in Indian farming systems
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor The Independent on Sunday (London), 25 March 2007

Genetically modified crops have helped cause a "complete breakdown" in farming systems in India, an authoritative new study suggests.

The study threatens to deal a fatal blow to probably the most powerful argument left in the biotech industry's armoury, that it can help to bring prosperity to the Third World.

Professor Glenn Davis Stone, professor of anthropology and environmental studies at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, has spent more than 40 weeks on the ground in the biotech industry's prime Developing World showcase, the Warangal district of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

The industry claims that local farmers have adopted GM cotton faster than any other agriculture technology in history. It argued at the prestigious Biovision conference in Lyon this month that the rapid spread proves that the technology is working for farmers.

Professor Stone's study, published in the February issue of the journal Current Anthropology, demolishes this argument. Extensive interviews with the farmers proved that they are plumping for the GM seeds because they are new, hyped and locally fashionable, without having time to see if they produce better crops.

"There is a rapidity of change that farmers just can't keep up with," he says. "They aren't able to digest new technologies as they come along."

He adds that the rapid uptake "reflects the complete breakdown in the cotton cultivation system".


2.GM crops and a herd mentality

GM WATCH comment (originally posted 26 Feb 2007; comments of Dr Charles Hagedorn, Professor of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, of Virginia Tech University added here):

Here's another interesting piece about the Washington University researcher Glenn Stone's multiyear study of the behaviour of cotton farmers in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, which found that seed fads underlay the rapid spread of Bt cotton there.

It's been suggested the study may have more general relevance to GM crop adoption in the developing world, but could there be still wider lessons?

Stone's study suggests that it's wrong to see the number of farmers growing Bt cotton as an automatic endorsement of the effectiveness of the technology. This is because he found 'social learning' was taking place rather than careful assessment ('environmental learning') - 'everyone is copying everyone else, which results in fads, not testing'.

This is totally at odds with the endlessly repeated claims by Monsanto and others that the increase in Bt cotton acres in India 'bear testimony to the success of this technology and the benefit that farmers derive from it.' (Ranjana Smetacek, Director of Corporate Affairs for India, Monsanto)

But, however extreme the seed fads Stone found in Warangal, should we assume that it's only developing world farmers who are vulnerable to hype and fashion. After all, Donald White, a University of Illinois plant pathologist, has described some US GM crop adoption as the product of  'a herd mentality'. 'Everyone has to have a biotech program', he says, and this chimes in with a University of Iowa study on why farmers are growing GM soya. That study found that while increasing yields was cited by the majority of farmers in the study as the reason for planting GM soya, the research showed they were actually getting lower yields.

And this isn't peculiar to Iowa. An ISAAA annual review of the uptake of GM crops for 1998 reported yield improvements of 12% for farmers in the US growing GM soya, based on their own estimates. But a review of over 8,000 university-based controlled varietal trials involving GM soya in the US for that same year showed almost exactly the opposite - yield reductions averaging 7%. This suggests a serious gap between perception and reality.

It's interesting in this context that with biotech traits, the industry has abandoned its previous practice of making its new seeds available to extension ag. scientists first to run controlled trials on and then recommend to farmers according to the results. Instead, the companies have gone direct to the farmers with their PR machines at full throttle.

Dr Charles Hagedorn, Professor of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, of Virginia Tech University and an Extension Specialist within the Virginia Co-operative Extension Service operated in conjunction with Virginia State University and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has commented:

'Traditionally, companies in the US introduce a new variety, and our Extension crop specialists (in each state where the crop is grown) then field test the new variety for at least 3 to 5 years. During this field testing process the Extension crop specialists introduce the new variety to farmers in their region and give them unbiased information (the good points and bad points) about growing the new variety. The Ag companies get good information about the performance of their new varieties from this 'traditional' crop evaluation process as well.

'With the GM crops, this traditional proces

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