Monsanto builds a market among South Africa's poor (11/9/2006)

This is a great PR piece about how Monsanto's working to alleviate poverty in rural Africa by weening poor farmers onto its products, including GM seeds. It should perhaps be balanced, though, by Monsanto's actual track record in the developing world.

In India more than 18,000 farmers may kill themselves this year, the most ever recorded. A large number are cotton farmers and the majority of those Bt cotton farmers. And that's no coincidence.

Expensive GM seeds - hyped to the hills by Monsanto and its Indian joint venture, Mahyco-Monsanto - have pushed costs way beyond many farmers' means. The result? Farmers have been drinking pesticides, hanging themselves or even burning themselves to death in unprecedented numbers.

Has this changed Monsanto's behaviour? Hardly. Monsanto's still busy hyping GM seeds to poor farmers and even when directed by India's Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) to charge "reasonable prices", Mahyco-Monsanto has only marginally reduced its "technology fee" for seeds with its Bt trait (from 900 to 880 rupees!), while taking to the courts to try and overturn the directive.

Note also the involvement in the PR for the South African project of the "free-market think tanks the Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa and the Institute of Economic Affair." Their previous PR work for Monsanto includes both the infamous Fake Parade in Johanesburg and a recent conference there:

More Bullsh*t over Africa

The Fake Parade


They contain hybrid or genetically modified seeds, herbicide and fertilizer
By Rachel Melcer St Louis Post-Dispatch, 9 September 2006

In remote villages of South Africa, Monsanto Co. of Creve Coeur is showing that building a market can be one of the most effective ways to help the poor, said a study made public Friday.

The agribusiness giant, which makes more than $7 billion a year in sales mainly to large landholders in the developed world, is helping small-scale South African farmers with innovative packaging of its core products, the study said.

Monsanto is producing Combi-Packs -- small amounts of hybrid or genetically modified seed, herbicide and fertilizer boxed with pictograph instructions suited to growers with a half acre to 12 acres of land, many of whom are illiterate.

"While multinational corporations are often chided (or worse) for ignoring the needs of the poor, Monsanto recognizes those needs and is producing materials for a very low-income market segment. This product holds substantial potential for helping to alleviate poverty in rural Africa," said the report by Karol Boudreaux, senior fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University in Arlington, Va.

The report is the latest in a series dubbed "Enterprise Africa!" co-sponsored by nonprofit, free-market think tanks the Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa and the Institute of Economic Affairs, based in London. The series shows successful, Africa-based business approaches to alleviating poverty.

The Combi-Packs, known among South African users as Xoshindlala, a Zulu word meaning "chase away hunger," help farmers boost corn yield. They are promoted along with no-till farming techniques that reduce the need for back-breaking weeding and tilling while cutting down on soil erosion and water runoff, the report said.

The combination ensures growers an adequate food supply, often with surplus to sell if they can access a market. With less time needed in the field, farm families are free to pursue othe0r money-making enterprises, the report said.

Because the Combi-Packs include small quantities of supplies, it is affordable to subsistence farmers who typically lack cash and cannot access loans, it said.

Monsanto said it views products like the Combi-Packs as an important way to develop new markets. If growers succeed, they can move up from buying high-yielding hybrid seeds to Monsanto's Roundup Ready or YieldGard varieties, genetically modified to withstand over-the-top herbicide applications and harmful pests, respectively.

With more money, growers also are likely to increase the amount of land they cultivate as well as the quantity of supplies they'll purchase, said Rob Horsch, Monsanto's vice president for international development partnerships.

The Combi-Packs "fit in a larger, long-term strategy that covers everything from corporate social responsibility to increasing sales for the company. And they're integrated together," he said.

In a global business survey two years ago, Monsanto found it had about 25 million small landholder customers in the developing world.

While these account for a small amount of total sales volume, "it's a large number of our total customers and it represents an important portion of our commercial future," Horsch said.


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