Genetically modified crops boost yields more in developing countries

Critics of genetically modified (GM) crops claim they are not useful in the developing world because they only reduce pesticide use rather than improve yields. Yet Matin Qaim, of the University of Bonn, led a new study involving field trials in India. His results suggest GM crops have far greater benefits in developing countries than in the developed countries for which they were designed.

This is because pest pressures are greater in the tropics, where many developing countries are located. Growers of the non-GM varieties in developed countries often use large quantities of pesticides. But subsistence farmers in developing countries often cannot afford pesticides. Thus they can increase their yields more dramatically than farmers in developed countries by switching to pest-resistant GM crops.

  • In farm trials of cotton genetically modified to produce a bacterial toxin, yields increased up to 80 percent compared with non-GM counterparts.

  • This is much greater than the improvement seen in developed countries where yields are boosted by less than 10 percent.

    The moral case for introducing GM technology to developing countries is to help tackle poverty and hunger. However, environmentalists argue that any short-term improvements in yield will be lost because the pests will develop resistance.

    Acting on this concern, the Indian government requires 20 percent of GM cotton fields to be set aside for non-GM strains. The idea is to create "refuges" of non-GM crops so that pests do not evolve resistance. However, many farmers own fields as small as a hectare so they will not be willing to give up the extra yield.

    Source: Shaoni Bhattacharya, GM Crops Boost Yields More in Poor Countries, news service, February 06, 2003; and Qaim and Zilberman, Yield Effects of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries, Science, February 7, 2003.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin /11 February 2003 / 01 December 2009

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