Monsanto trying to strong-arm govt on cotton seed technology


LAHORE: The Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) Tuesday warned the Punjab government that its plan to sign an agreement granting exclusive rights to Monsanto, a US company, for the hybrid Bt cotton seed would spell disaster for domestic seed producers and place a heavy burden on the public exchequer.
“There is uncontested that country’s future lies in biotechnology to bring Pakistani agricultural practices to modern standards.
But the granting of exclusive rights to any foreign company which has not even cleared all required tests and trials means wastage of precious resources; it would be resisted at all costs.”
LCCI President and Chairman Seed Association of Pakistan (SAP) Shahzad Ali Malik addressing the Executive Committee of SAP was condemning the government’s decision.
The LCCI President added that the agreement with Monsanto without formal large-scale field trials of local cotton seed varieties, yield-increase commitments and no solution to the lasting problem of the Cotton Leaf Curl virus (CLC), would not only hurt the interests of the farming community but it would in all likelihood, prove to be, useless.
Monsanto is trying desperately to be compensated for any unauthorised usage of the Bollgard-II seed technology, despite the fact that its performance in field trials in local conditions is yet to be proven.
It was accepted that Monsanto should be facilitated in Pakistan, but royalty or compensatory payments for Monsanto or any other foreign company should be denied, as this will only discourage competition in the local market and kill off the local seed industry which would become licensees of Monsanto and its monopoly.
The LCCI President insisted that Monsanto must carry out large-scale trials, first with Bollgard-II in local conditions, to demonstrate its effectiveness against CLC virus and determining the increase in yield, if any, in local climatic conditions. Without any real yield increase the agreement with Monsanto would be an exercise in futility.
The LCCI President informed SAP that the German multinational Bayer would provide the same technology (Bollgard II) without any royalty and compensatory payment. Biocentury Transgene, China’s premier biotechnology provider also holds the patent rights and is prepared to provide the same to Pakistan without any provision of royalty.
“It raises very real questions over why the Monsanto contract should be accepted”, he noted. It was pointed out that Monsanto was asking the government to sign as a guarantor and pay compensatory amount of between seven and fourteen dollars per acre for any unauthorised planting of its cotton seed.
The company is asking the government to ensure profits and market share for itself. Shahzad Ali Malik surmised that the main problems facing Pakistani cotton crop are low yield and the CLC virus which causes losses of between three and four million bales every cotton season.
He said that Monsanto’s trials in Punjab and Sindh during 2010 didn’t inspire confidence and failed to counter the CLC virus. Furthermore, the trials were of imported Indian hybrid cotton seed and not local varieties; there was no scientific approach in the gauging of performance of local varieties.
Indian cotton area and production has increased but in India Bollworms are prevalent; Bt technology is an effective counter for this disease. The same cannot be said for the CLC virus.
The Indian example is also not relevant, as Indian cotton is mostly non-irrigated, while Pakistan grows cotton on irrigated land and depends on hybrid seeds; their yields are lower than current Pakistani varieties, even after Bt cotton technology introduction in India.
The LCCI President suggested that the way forward is that a seed act amendment and plant breeders rights be approved by the Parliament so that IPRs (intellectual property rights) are protected and investors both local and multinational firms gain confidence.
This year eight local Bt cotton varieties (BG I) and one hybrid containing Chinese fusion gene were approved by Punjab government. The agreement with Monsanto would do adverse damage to local seed companies selling the Bt Cotton seed.
The agreement should be signed after consent of the provincial or national Assembly is granted because of the controversial nature of royalty payments.
Pakistan’s position holds the higher ground in negotiations with Monsanto as it already has entered most cotton growing countries and Pakistan is the only major potential customer left.
It is quite understandable that the American company are in a hurry to wrap up the deal, because the Bt Cotton variety containing Chinese fusion gene as mentioned above, has already been approved by the government of Punjab and is on the verge of commercialization next year.
It is pertinent to mention here that on May 26, 2008, Monsanto wrote a letter to the Punjab government, accepting that it has no Patent and no claims for royalty for Bollagrd I in Pakistan, which is CRY1AC single gene. Now it is trying to get compensation for Bollgard-II seed technology despite the fact that its performance in field trials in Pakistani conditions has not been impressive.