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Rebuttal to Christian Aid

By Dr. Christopher Dowswell

To: Daleep Mukarji, Director, Christian Aid

I recently received a copy of "Selling Suicide - Farming, False Promising, and Genetic Engineering in Development Countries." In my 30 years of working with small-scale farmers in the developing world, I have never seen a piece that is as malevolent, uniformed, and blatantly biased as this document.

Smallholder access to technology, equity of distribution of benefits, intellectual property rights, and biodiversity and biosafety concerns, are all matters of imense importance, which must be debated by society. However, none of these transcendental issues is treated in even a remotely responsible (balanced) way. This document is "neo-Lysenkoism" at its worst. Virtually every page contains serious distortions of facts, and fails to address the population monster.

Christian Aid could have been a constructive contributor to the debate on biotechnology and other development issues. But you have chosen to do otherwise, vilifying the work of the many agricultural scientists and hundreds of millions of farmers who have contributed to a tripling in global cereal production over the past 35 years. This has led to continuous declines in global real price of cereals (which benefits all consumers, and especially the poor), and to increased income for millions of farmers (although there clearly there have also be losers). Progress in agricultural science and technology has allowed global food production to stay ahead of population. Sadly, and India is a classic case of surplus cereal production and serious food insecurity, nearly 1 billion people (mostly rural, and mostly women) still live in misery and despair.

Let me assure you that we share your concern about the growing disparity between the rich and the poor.

But how will we reduce poverty without accelerated growth in agriculture, in particular, and more broadly, in rural development? The best demographic projections from the United Nations predict that by 2020-25 more than half of the people in the developing world will live in cities. What are the implications of rural-to-urban migrations in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Still today, 60-80% of "food consumers" sgrow the food they eat. But in 25 years, 50-60% will have to be supplied through market channels. This has profound production and market implications.

With global population increasing by nearly 90 million per year, and almost all of this growth occurring among the poor and disenfranchised in low-income food-deficit nations, how will these societies feed themselves without agricultural intensification (still today, it is rare to find a country that doesn't produce 90-95% of their food requirements)?

To give two examples, had the 1960 cereal yields per ha persisted today, India would need an additional 100 million ha, of the same quality, to meet 1998 harvest levels.On a global basis, if 1950 cereal yields still persisted, we would need 1.7 billion ha of land, of the same quality as land in farming today, instead of the 700 million ha that are actually used to produce the 2 billion gross tons of cereals, which remain the staff of life?

Where would the additional land have come from? What would have been the impact on land use, on erosion and water quality, on biodiversity, had it been necessary to bring so many additional hectares of land into production? Why doesn't Vandana Shiva address (I realize she is a physicist and not an agricultural scientist) how the 500 million additional souls in India would be fed, using pre-Green Revolution technology?

Of course, Christian Aid has a right to have its opinion. But I believe your resources are best spent in consensus-building, and not for such divisive ends. We need, more than ever befoe, productive partnerships between agriculturalists and environmentalists; sadly your publication encourages polarization and discord.

In closing, I must say that I very much like Christian Aid's logo, in which you say you "believe in life before death." However, I fear you are unwittingly contributing to "death before life" with this sort of unbalanced and irresponsible reporting.


Christopher Dowswell
Director for Program Coordination
Sasakawa Africa Association