Impacts

Although there have been arguments that the first generation of GM crops concentrated on input and simple traits designed for industrial agriculture in developed countries, which may not benefit small farmers in developing countries, there is increasing evidence to the contrary. The cultivation of GM crops in some developing countries with high research and extension capacity in biotechnology demonstrates that GM is already making an impact through reduced pesticide costs, reduced risks of poisoning, environmental benefits, and productivity gains. The number of farmers that benefited from GM crops increased from 3.5 million farmers in 2000 to 5.5 million in 2001 to 7 million in 2003. More than 85% of the farmers that benefited from GM crops in 2003 were resource-poor farmers planting Bt cotton, mainly in China and also in South Africa (James, 2003).

In China, Pray et al. (2001) presented evidence of higher economic returns to small farmers who planted Bt cotton, who also required less hospitalization due to pesticide poisoning, than those cultivating non-Bt cotton. The use of Bt cotton has reduced pesticide use by 80% in Hebei Province in China. Since pesticide use in cotton accounts for 25% of global pesticide consumption in crops, this has great potential environmental and health benefits. South Africa's experience has shown that small farmers can also benefit from Bt cotton. The number of small farmers participating in the cultivation of Bt cotton in KwaZulu Natal province increased from four in 1997, to 400 in 2000, and 644 in 2001 (Thompson, 2001; Webster, 2000), i.e., from only 0.1% of farmers in 1997/98 to over 90% of farmers by 2001/02 (Bhattacharya, 2003). The farmers, 60% of whom are women, typically farm between 1 and 3 hectares. The GM cotton boosted the yields between 50% and 89% compared to its conventional counterpart (Bhattacharya, 2003). Besides increasing yields, the GM cotton also reduced the need for pesticide spraying, which had the additional benefit of saving labor, important in a region ravaged by HIV/AIDS. This indicates that small farmers are realizing the benefits in growing GM crops. In Kenya, it has been projected that two sweet potato biotechnologies, GM virus and weevil resistance, will generate annual gross benefit of US$5.4 million and US$ 9.9 million, respectively (Qaim, 2000). Due to the semi-subsistence nature of sweet potato, the producing households will be the main beneficiaries. The high efficiency of the research projects is confirmed by significantly positive returns on their investments (Qaim, 2000). In Kenya, disease-free banana plantlets derived from plant tissue culture have greatly increased yields from 8-10 to 30-40 t/h (Africa News Service, 2000; Thompson, 2001).

In Argentina, the high adoption rate of GM crops shows that they have already had an impact there. The illegal smuggling of GM seeds from Argentina to Brazil for cultivation indicates that Brazilian farmers, largely commercial growers, appreciate the benefits of GM crops over conventional ones (Smith, 2003) In Mexico, cultivation of Bt cotton for two years has resulted in an estimated US$5.5 million in economic surplus, of which about 84% accrued to farmers and 16% to seed suppliers (Traxler et al., 2001). In Cuba, the country's biotechnology strategy is already giving high payoffs in terms of royalties from proprietary technologies, particularly in biomedicine. For agriculture, Cuba is developing toolkits for plant disease diagnosis. Cuba's GE vaccines against cattle ticks and against an enterotoxic Escherichia coli, has already been sold on international markets (Borroto, 2000). The use of recombinant vaccine against cattle tick has reduced Cuba's pesticide imports from US$2.5 million to only US$0.5 million annually (Borroto, 2000). Its production of a patented bionematicide will allow the reduction of toxic nematicides used in banana plantation (Lehman, 2000).

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