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Sent: 20 June 2009 17:59
Subject: 52: Re: Biotech developments in Argentina in the past
I am Wayne Parrott, professor of Crop and Soil Sciences at the University of Georgia, United States.
I would like to follow up on Viviana Echenique's suggestion that GMOs should be subject to socio-economic analysis (message 41).
Dear Viviana, Please allow me a few comments based on my observations over the past few years of your beautiful country. As I was reflecting on your observations, it strikes me that technology does not exist in a vacuum; therefore its impact is heavily dependent on each country's policies. Everyone recognizes that soybean helped save Argentina from its financial crisis and continues to make substantial contributions to its economic development. Thus, it is not surprising that many policies - some more overt than others - still favor soybean production.
For example, if I was a maize farmer in Argentina, I would have to buy seed (it is hybrid, so saving my own seed is not an alternative), buy nitrogen fertilizer, and then, I still could not be sure if I will be able to get an export permit and thus be able to sell my crop well. The latter two issues apply to wheat as well. In contrast, if I plant soybean, I can save my seed, I don't have to buy nitrogen fertilizer, and I don't pay royalties, which serves to make seeds even cheaper relative to maize if I did buy seed for whatever reason.
So, Argentina's royalty and brown bag and export policies all provide very strong incentives to grow soybean instead of maize. But then, the soybean farmer must still pay a 35% export tax on his product, thus providing an incentive to cut production costs, even if it means using non-sustainable practices.
In the end, it is important to separate impacts due to a technology, and those that result from policies and regulations. Thus, the social and environmental impacts in Argentina would be totally different if the incentives were different, which is why I am not in favor of such studies up-front. Furthermore, I do not understand why GM crops are singled out for such analyses, while other technologies (eg, cell phones, plant breeding, etc) seldom if ever are.
In the end, we all recognize, as you point out, that the use of transgenics does not negate the need for sound agronomic practices. There is a strong group in Argentina that recognizes that even if the incentives are to plant continuous soybean, that such practices are not sustainable. Thus, there is now a movement to implement more sound agronomic practices through several outreach efforts. For example, there is AAPRESID's 'manual on good agronomic practices' which emphasizes things like crop rotation. There is now a program to certify farmers on conservation agriculture. I hope all Argentinians work hard to teach and implement these practices. [The Asociacion Argentina de Productores en Siembra Directa (AAPRESID) is the Argentin no-till farmers association, http://www.aapresid.org.ar/english/institutional_network.asp ...Moderator].
Soybean consumption continues to increase at a rapid rate, so soybean will continue to be planted regardless of whether it is GM or not. It is critical that increased soybean production be accomplished with the lowest agricultural footprint possible. To the extent that biotech helps increase productivity and use less resources, it should be used.
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences,
University of Georgia,
Athens, GA 30602
wparrott (at) uga.edu