Buthelezi comes clean on Bt cotton (12/6/2007)

1.Buthelezi comes clean on Bt cotton - GM Watch
2.TJ Buthelezi - a GM watch profile

1.Buthelezi comes clean on Bt cotton

In her recent review of a remarkable film about the experience of farmers with Monsanto's Bt cotton in developing countries, Claire Robinson drew attention to some striking comments made by the South African farmer TJ Buthelezi and his wife.

Claire wrote:

"Mrs Buthelezi... states on camera that her family makes no profit from the crop. Even Mr. Buthelezi seems low-key, saying that Bt cotton is only suitable for large holdings and that farmers need other options." (A Disaster in Search of Success)

What makes these comments so remarkable is the way in which they contrast with the way in which the Buthelezis supposed experience as "small farmers" with Bt cotton has been promoted via Monsanto as part of the corporation's declared strategy of "gaining global acceptance of biotechnology".

An article by the Monsanto-backed Council for Biotechnology Information, for instance, about the experience of small farmers with Bt cotton, shows how Buthelezi's experience has been projected and how far removed it is from what he and his wife say on camera in the new film. Buthelezi's comments are drawn from a variety of sources including remarks he made at a U.S. congressional luncheon.

[extracted from Small Farmer in Africa Gets Big Gains From Bt Cotton]

"T.J. Buthelezi says Bt cotton improves yields and earns more money for his family."

"'For the first time, I'm making money," Buthelezi says. 'I can pay my debts.'"

"By selling his surplus crop on the open market, Buthelezi was able to double the size of his farm and purchase new equipment to till it."

"Buthelezi, who recently built a concrete brick home to replace the mud-and-thatch hut his family had lived in for years, is one of several farmers in the region who are generating higher yields and larger incomes with the new technology."

"Buthelezi says he knows the benefits are real."

"'Normally, at the end of the year, I would ask my wife how we are going to pay our bills,' he says. 'Now I ask her, how are we gonna spend this money?'"

And yet anyone who watches the DDS film will see Buthelezi's wife state unequivocally that her family makes no profit from Bt cotton.

Interestingly, the problems that Buthelezi and his wife own up to in the film, regarding profitability and the unsuitability of Bt cotton for small farmers, tie in exactly with the findings of a whole series of recent studies, including research on Bt cotton cultivation in Buthelezi's Makhathini Flats.


2.TJ Buthelezi - a GM watch profile

South African farmer, Thembitshe Joseph Buthelezi, has a long established relationship with Monsanto and the biotech industry. With their assistance he has been brought to Washington, Brussels, Pretoria, St Louis, London, Johannesburg, and Philadelphia to help promote GM foods.

On one occasion Monsanto paid for him to travel several hundred miles to have lunch with US Trade Secretary Robert Zoellick at the company's office near Pretoria, South Africa, and a year later in May 2003, Buthelezi was by Zoellick's side at the press conference at which the Trade Secretary formally announced a US WTO case against EU restrictions on GM imports.

In August 2002 Buthelezi turned up at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. He gave interviews and attended at a pro-GM 'farmers' rally covertly organised by Monsanto and a network of pro-GM lobbyists

Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies in his report, Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence, describes Buthelezi as 'a clean-shaven, middle-aged black farmer from Makhathini'. He notes how Buthelezi's accounts of his positive experiences with Monsanto's Bt cotton are suspiciously similar to Monsanto press releases

Aaron deGrassi also challenges the way in which Buthelezi is being displayed as a 'representative' of the African smallholding community of farmers. He notes, 'the Council for Biotechnology Information calls him a "small farmer," and others describe his life as "hand-to-mouth existence."' Andrew Natsios, the head of USAID, has described him to US congressmen as as a 'small farmer struggling just at the subsistence level.' However, says deGrassi, 'independent reporters have revealed that, with two wives and more than 66 acres, he is one of the largest farmers in Makhathini and chairs the area's farmers' federation encompassing 48 farmers' associations.'

Buthelezi is one of several farmers used by Monsanto and other lobbyists to represent an area 'where most farmers cultivate just a few hectares, and only half the population can read'. Yet Monsanto's 'representative' farmers, deGrassi says, are school administrators and agricultural college graduates, owning dozens of hectares of land.

Critics have coined the nickname 'Bt Buthelezi' to illustrate his 'unconditional support to Bt cotton: during a trip to Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis, Buthelezi was quoted as saying, "I wouldn't care if it were from the devil himself."'

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