Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, February 17, 2009
GM maize starts to flood the market; local seeds each time more strategic
The mainstream Brazilian press has enthusiastically reported that transgenic maize, released by the CTNBio (National Technical Biosafety Committee / Ministry of Science and Technology) in 2008, is due to arrive big time in this year's crop. Specialized supplements in the major newspapers have been announcing repeatedly that more and more 'options' of GM maize varieties are starting to become available to farmers on the market.
AS-PTA analyzed the list of varieties registered at the Ministry of Agriculture in 2008 and 2009 and observed that the stage is set for a flood of transgenic maize seeds into the country.
Of the 261 new varieties registered since 2008, 146 are transgenic - in other words, already in the first year since the release of GM technology for maize, 56% of the seeds set to enter the market are transgenic!
In fact, the cause of this phenomenon is that the commercial seed market in Brazil has undergone an incredible process of concentration and transnationalization over the last decade. Today a small group of multinational companies -- most of which also work in the agrochemical sector -- dominate the market.
The analysis of the varieties indicated by the Climate Risk Agricultural Zoning gives an idea of the concentration of this market. The Zoning is a technological package for climate risk management, developed and published by the Ministry of Agriculture, which each year indicates the varieties adapted to the various regions of the country and that possess certified seeds. It provides guidelines for official agricultural loans and for private and public rural insurance policies.
In the Agricultural Zoning for the 2007/08 harvest, the Ministry of Agriculture included the indication of 310 maize varieties. Of these, 181 came from just 5 multinational companies. In other words, in the Agricultural Zoning alone, 58% of maize seeds belonged to large multinationals.
It should be emphasized, however, that the real market concentration must be significantly higher than that depicted by the Zoning. For example, although Monsanto owned 20% of the maize cultigens indicated in the Zoning for the 2007/08 harvest, company press releases in July 2008 indicated that its share of the market had risen to 40% following its purchase of the Brazilian company Agroeste. On the other hand, it is estimated that the maize cultigens developed by Embrapa and commercialized by a group of small national companies (Unimilho) amounts to no more than 5% of the national market, although the institution accounted for 14% of the maize cultigens in the 2007/08 Zoning.
The consequences of this scenario are also fairly obvious. If the aggressive attempts by these companies to flood the market with transgenic varieties of maize seeds continue unabated, in a short time Brazilian farmers will have an extremely limited range of non-GM seeds from which to select. This has been the pattern in other countries. Indeed this is the way in which this disastrous technology has spread across the world.
The companies boast that GM crops are a success with farmers and that their widespread adoption in the countries in which they have been authorized attests to their advantages. But this omits the fact that this adoption has been forced through and that farmers disappointed with the poor performance of the crops and the unfulfilled promises of the companies find it difficult to return to the conventional planting system due to the lack of alternative seeds on the market.
Another expected result of this phenomenon is the rise in prices of seeds and other inputs associated with their cultivation. Since the release of GM soybeans in Brazil, the price of glyphosate (the main active component of the Roundup herbicide, used with the Roundup Ready transgenic crops) has increased by almost 100%.
Farmers are doubly trapped: not only forced to buy GM seeds due to the lack of other options on the market, but also required to pay increasingly higher prices for inputs, lowering their profit margins.
There is a solution, though. This depends on the resistance and organization of the people who live from agriculture. Concentrated and collective action is needed to preserve the traditional seeds of local farmers, which have been cultivated, improved and conserved over many generations, adapted to the systems of cultivation and soil and climate regions of the country's different regions.
Collective action is needed to prevent the local varieties from becoming contaminated by the transgenes, including the promotion of exchange networks and the multiplication and diffusion of these seeds.
Brazilian farmers will only be autonomous if they can produce their own quality seeds, and this autonomy depends on the food security and sovereignty of the country's people.
GM-FREE BRAZIL - Published by AS-PTA Assessoria e Serviços a Projetos em Agricultura Alternativa. The GM-Free Brazil Campaign is a collective of Brazilian NGOs, social movements and individuals.
AS-PTA an independent, not-for-profit Brazilian organisation dedicated to promoting the sustainable rural development. Head office: Rua da Candelária, 9/6º andar/ CEP: 20.091-020, Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Phone: 0055-21-2253-8317 Fax: 0055-21-2233-363
This article can be found on the AS-PTA website at http://www.aspta.org.br/por-um-brasil-livre-de-transgenicos/updates