For anyone following the promotion of GM crops in developing countries, the following e-mail exchange may hold interest.

It kicks off with a reference to a Rockefeller Foundation study published in 2004: "The Distribution of Benefits from Bt Cotton Adoption in South Africa" by Marnus Gouse, Carl Pray, and David Schimmelpfennig (University of Pretoria, South Africa; Rutgers University; USDA Economic Research Service)

This is a study that paints a glowing picture of the impact of Bt cotton adoption. It implies Bt cotton adoption can create benefits for more or less everyone in South Africa (and by inference throughout the developing world) - large and small-scale producers, input suppliers and consumers.

The authors are keen to emphasise that it's not just a foreign multinational corporation (Monsanto) that is benefitting from the introduction of GM cotton into S Africa. Even small scale farmers, they claim, "are benefiting more than the technology developer."

As the exchange shows, the glowing picture painted by the researchers bears no relation to the long-term reality (some 80% of farmers have now abandoned growing Bt cotton).

From: Asger Erikse
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject: GM cotton

I am a keen follower of the GM debate but am struggling to reconcile the article published below with the views expressed on your website.

Can you enlighten?


GM WATCH wrote:

hi asger

i'm not surprised [you’re having a struggle]!

if you have a look at 'Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa; an assessment of current evidence,' you'll see the extraordinary range of claims made for gm cotton in s. africa (and for other showcase projects in africa) and how mutually inconsistent and open to question these are.

that paper was published in 2003 before the paper you link to [above] but what has emerged subsequently has tended to bear out its analysis - see BT COTTON IN MAKHATHINI, SOUTH AFRICA: THE SUCCESS STORY THAT NEVER WAS.

that was published this year and i understand even some of the agbioforum authors may have subsequently accepted that there are significant problems which have led many farmers to abandon gm cotton. however, they're blaming the problems on micro-economic factors rather than the technology.. though you have to wonder how practical a technology is that can only be successfully introduced with all kinds of special support, which is what they now seem to be suggesting.

if you're interested in following this up, i suggest contacting Elfrieda Pschorn Strauss who authored the makhatini report above.

hope it helps

jonathan matthews

From: Asger Eriksen
Copies to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Many thanks for the response.

Just a thought - the Makhathini report you refer to shows a table with annual rainfall figures for 2002/3 being well below average and generally abnormal rainfall between 2000-2004. This must have some impact on dryland farming of all varieties of cotton. Has this been factored in to the conclusions reached based on a sample of 36 farmers between 2000-2003? Is Bt cotton entirely responsible for the $3mill debt quoted on page 20?

I would suggest that the Agbioforum paper and the one above are useful contributors to the debate but would like to see a more in-depth economics appraisal based on at least a 5 year period which accounts for factors such as environmental variability, availability of credit etc..

Appreciate your input and your time


From: Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss

Dear Asger

The report states clearly that it is a combination of factors that contributed to farmers' woes, including environmental conditions, low cotton prices - not Bt cotton alone. Creditors that have been available to these farmers for a number of years now withdrew.

What has changed? Farmers always had debt, but now their inability to pay back has caused these creditors to withdraw just 4 years after Bt cotton was introduced. Environmental conditions have played a role, but fluctuating environmental conditions is part of the normal cycle for farmers in Africa.

What the report concludes is that in contrast to what other short term studies and industry propaganda says, Bt cotton did not better farmers' circumstances, instead they are now exposed to even more risk because Bt cotton seed is double the price of normal cotton seed. Also, a technology that is so dependent on outside institutional support as the authors of the Reading report states in their latest article, is not sustainable for African farmers as it creates a very high level of dependency and risk.

It is not possible to do a comparative study between Bt and non Bt cotton as farmers have little choice but to plant Bt cotton.

Hope this somewhat answers your questions.


From: Asger Eriksen

Many thanks Elfrieda.


actually, could i ask a question? you say that farmers have little choice but to plant Bt cotton. why is that?

many thanks, j

From: Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss

Hi Jonathan

In a survey we did 4 years ago, there were 12 cotton varieties available in South Africa. In a 2003 survey these whittled down to 4 of which three were GM cotton. In Makhathini, GM cotton is heavily promoted and is the only seed provided by Delta & Pineland (licensed by Monsanto) at the outlet at the Makhathini Cotton Company - who now is the only credit facility available to farmers as well as the only ginnery on the Flats. Before both Clark Cotton and Vunisa provided seed, but they have left the area, leaving a one channel-system for the whole cotton planting cycle: Makhathini Cotton Company. They collect debt for the LandBank as well as license fees for Monsanto. There seems to be one outlet of a company called Venchem that also sells non-GM cotton, but certainly this will be marginal. So, farmers are not really provided with much choice - all over South Africa.