China has made a foray into Paksitan's cotton arena. A joint venture for the cultivation of coloured and white cotton in Pakistan's Punjab and Sind regions was launched in May between Pakistan Agricultural Research Council and the Xinjiang Production and Corporation of China.
It is planned to cultivate 800 acres with Bt cotton in Punjab and Sind provinces. China has promised to provide Pakistan with its 'double gene technology'. Unfortunately, China's own track record with Bt cotton has been disappointing. After the initial 'success', attributed more to the biased analysis that appeared in international science journals, cotton growers in China have been repeatedly incurring losses. Pesticides use has also gone up thereby adding to farmers cost.
You would recall a study done by Cornell University along with a Chinese Institute that clearly established that Bt cotton farmers were incurring losses. What was earlier projected as a silver-bullet for small and marginal farmers, had finally busted. The biotech industry hasn't given up. After the single-gene Bt cotton withered, they are now ready with the 'double-gene' Bt cotton. This is what I call as a chakravyuah, a vicious trap in which farmers become the victim of a technology.
It will now be turn of cotton farmers in Pakistan. They will now face the same chakravyuah that farmers in China and India are already in.
And no wonder, while no official agreement is signed with the Government of India, yet Bt cotton seed is being smuggled from across the border into Punjab and Sind regions, forming the cotton belt of Pakistan. According to news reports, more than 60 per cent cotton farmers in Punjab and another 40 per cent are engaged in Bt cotton cultivation, with the seed being smuggled from India. The varieties smuggled from India are ofcourse officially unapproved but find favour with farmers.
Illegal introduction is the first step the companies encourage. This had happened in Latin America, India and now it is happening in Pakistan. Once illegal cultivation becomes widespread, the arguement of the companies is that what can be done now except legalising the cultivation. I wonder why Monsanto refuses to use the provisions of seed laws to stop the sale of unapproved varieties. The reason is simple. It benefits them to look the other way.
Moreover, like in India, Pakistan too faced the problem of a very high royalty being charged by Monsanto on its Bt cotton seed. According to reports, Monsanto had demanded US $ 16 (Indian Rs 768) as royalty per acre. This is considered to be very high, and Pakistan is willing to scrap the deal with Monsanto if it refuses to reduce the royalty. My friend and colleague Najma Sadeque from Karachi tells me that there has been no further information about the Monsanto deal. It was anticipated that the deal would be scrapped after Pakistan enters into a joint collaboration with China. I shall be grateful if anyone from Pakistan can update us on the latest position.
Royalty (also called 'technology fee') was also a big issue in India. Monsanto and its subsidiaries were initially charging Rs 1200 per acre as royalty fee. This was exceptionally high considering that in China, Monsanto used to charge a royalty of Rs 38 and in the US approximately Rs 108. But in India where the seed laws are silent on seed pricing, Monsanto extracted its pound of flesh from the cotton growers. It was only after the Andhra Pradesh government intervened and after a prolonged litigation, royalty has been brought down to Rs 300 or so.
Interestingly, Business Reporter says that Pakistan laws has made it mandatory for the owners of transgenic seeds to 'guarantee that the crop variety will have no harmful and disastrous impact on the environment as wellas human beings' (Read the full report at http://www.yarnsandfibers.com/news/index_fullstory.php3?id=18029).