High seed costs and pests prove problems for farmers

A study in Burkina Faso found that due to high seed costs, the risks of GM Bt cotton production were "disproportionately high" (item 1 below).

And a guest editorial (item 2) co-authored by the same researcher and published in the same journal, Geoforum, recommends that discussions about GM crops and the future of food production in the Global South abandon generalised rhetoric about "feeding the world", since food production is "inescapably local".

1. Engineering yields and inequality? How institutions and agro-ecology shape Bt cotton outcomes in Burkina Faso
2. Editorial: Seeds and places: The geographies of transgenic crops in the global south

1. Engineering yields and inequality? How institutions and agro-ecology shape Bt cotton outcomes in Burkina Faso

Brian Dowd-Uribe

Volume 53, May 2014, pp. 161–171


The research presented in this paper assesses how four social and agro-ecological factors – credit, governance, seed price and pest dynamics – mediate Bt cotton outcomes for producers in Burkina Faso. It finds that the cotton sector’s integrated credit provisioning scheme provides a mechanism for all socio-economic groups to adopt Bt cotton. High seed prices, however, are likely to dissuade resource-poor farmers from Bt cotton adoption, despite the presence of secure credit institutions. Governance issues, including corruption and late payments, demand greater attention since they are driving large numbers of producers to abandon all forms of cotton production. Bt cotton will control target pests, but secondary pests are likely to emerge shortening the benefits of the technology. These findings suggest that many issues with Bt cotton adoption in Burkina Faso lie in the social and agro-ecological context of adoption, which traditionally is not examined in farm-gate analyses of transgenic crop outcomes. An examination of relevant social and agro-ecological factors improves assessments of the likely outcomes of transgenic crops for producers, and allows for greater understanding of their differential impacts.


* This research assesses how institutions and agro-ecology mediate the performance of Bt cotton in Burkina Faso.
* Unique seed pricing arrangements and secure credit enhance the success and evenness of Bt cotton.
* High seed price, persistent corruption and late cotton payments reduce adoption rates.
* Risks associated with Bt cotton appear to disproportionally affect resource-poor farmers.
* Bt cotton’s performance cannot be separated from its sociological and agro-ecological context.

2. Editorial: Seeds and places: The geographies of transgenic crops in the global south

Guest editors Brian Dowd-Uribe, Dominic Glover, and Matthew A. Schnurr

Volume 53, May 2014, pp. 145–148

Summary by GMWatch:

Many decision-makers, policy analysts, and media commentators take it for granted that humanity must take urgent steps to produce much more food. The population is still growing, albeit at a reducing rate; recent projections suggest the number of humans will surpass 9.5 billion in 2050.

Yet the global supply of dietary energy reached 121 per cent of the global requirement in 2010–2012, continuing a steady rise from 114 per cent 20 years earlier.

This substantial increase in the food surplus occurred during a period when the global population swelled from about 5.3 billion to an estimated 6.9 billion.

Over the same period, the daily amount of protein available per person increased from 69g (1990–1992) to 78g (2007–2009) – the latter is about 139 per cent of the amount recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control for male adults.

Evidently there is plenty of food.

Moreover, 1.4 billion people are overweight and, surprisingly, an increasing proportion of these overweight people are relatively poor. Apparently, the situation humanity faces is not a simple shortage of food, but something much more complex.

The public discourse about global food security occurs at a high level of abstraction. A 2011 special report published by The Economist is a good example. The report is sprinkled with passing references to particular situations and places, yet its authors address themselves sedulously to the macro question of how ‘the world’ or ‘nine billion people’ can be fed. This global food security discourse presents a kind of ‘view from nowhere’: a sweeping perspective on food (in)security as an undifferentiated global concern, rather than a phenomenon that has very local characteristics, causes and likely solutions.

Public debates about transgenic crops and the future of agriculture in the global South should renounce globalising rhetoric about ‘feeding the world’ and reject simplistic assumptions about food scarcity and the supposed need to raise yields and produce more food. Geographers can steer the discussion in more appropriate directions by insisting on the importance of place, politics and history, and affirming the need for a fine-grained analysis of patterns and dynamics of food production and consumption that are inescapably local.