GMOs as an International Development Tool

*Trigger warning: This article briefly mentions suicide as relevant to this topic*

Bt Cotton. What does that make you think of?

In the event you’re not familiar with it, Bt Cotton is a type of genetically modified crop (Bharathan 2000, Sengupta 2016, Manjunath 2011, Bhagwat 2016). Bt Cotton is your typical cotton plant with one exception; it can produce its own pesticide (Bharathan 2000, Federation of American Scientists 2011). The pesticide that Bt crop varieties produce is a type of organic, bacteria based pesticide that was sprayed on crops for decades before the crop was genetically modified to produce its own pesticide (Federation of American Scientists 2011).

GMO crops have always welcomed controversy (Bharathan 2000, Sengupta 2006, Manjunath 2011, Bhagwat 2016, Parrett 2015, Federation of American Scientists 2011). But GMO crops aren’t all evil; having Bt Cotton produce its own pesticide greatly reduces the amount of pesticide that washes into water ways (Federation of American Scientists 2011, Manjunath 2011). There are two distinct GMO camps: those who see potential in GMOs and those who see fear in the very word (Parrett 2015, Bharathan 2000, Sengupta 2006, Manjunath 2011, Bhagwat 2016, Federation of American Scientists 2011).

Many blame Bt crops for a recent spike in suicide in rural areas of india (Sengupta 2006). However, the issues that lead to the deaths of these farmers stretch far beyond GMO crops (Sengupta 2006). India is a rapidly industrializing country and its agricultural industry has been shifting as a result (Sengupta 2006). Additionally, in the three seasons before the suicide spike, there were two droughts and a large flood which interrupted three seasons of crops (Sengupta 2006). Perhaps that was the true reason for this spike in suicides (Sengupta 2006).

Some even say that Bt crops save farmers money because they don’t have to separately purchase pesticide to spray on their crops (Federation of American Scientists 2011, Manjunath 2011). A report conducted by AgBioWorld concluded that using Bt cotton actually increases farmer profits (Manjunath 2011). Additionally, according to The Times of India as recently as March of 2016, prices for GM seed have been continually dropping year after year which has made farming financially easier for farmers in India (Bhagwat 2016).

After consumer outrage over safety concerns, AgBioWorld (a group of researchers from Tuskegee University in Alabama) set out to research potential safety consequences related to a plant that produces its own pesticide (Manjunath 2011). This report concluded that there is no scientific basis to claims of threats to consumer health and wellbeing from Bt cotton (Manjunath 2011). The author also concluded that Bt cotton has more benefits to offer than most are willing to acknowledge; like less pesticide run-off and increasing farmer profits (Manjunath 2011, Federation of American Scientists 2011). This fact alines with recent news that Bt cotton seed prices have been dropping season after season in India, making life easier for farmers (Bhagwat 2016).

So why are people so critical of GM crops? Bt cotton is cheaper and easier for farmers to use than typical seed (Manjunath 2011, Bhagwat 2016). Bt cotton has passed every safety test and shows no threat to consumer health or safety (Manjunath 2011). Bt pesticide does not bioaccumulate in the environment (Manjunath 2011). Bt is an organic, bacteria based pesticide to begin with (Federation of American Scientists 2016). GM crops also offer some environmental salvation since they help us use fewer resources and grow more crops on less land (Foundation of American Scientists 2011, Manjunath 2016).

pic-bt-cotton-punjab-farmer

Link to image

So again, why are people still upset?

GMO crops are a little scary and they are the stuff of bad science fiction movies. In reality, one report even goes as far calling risks associated with Bt crops “imaginary” (Manjunath 2011). If anything, some GMO activism has harmed some economies and families (Parrett 2015). Activists in Mexico have banned the growth of GM corn in their country (Parrett 2015). Now corn must be imported into the country at a higher cost to communities (Parrett 2015).

Our planet is at risk of more and more climate events that will disrupt agriculture as we know it (Parrett 2015). These climate events subsequently will effect food availability, especially in the global South (Parrett 2015). To make that problem even more daunting, population continues to grow (Parrett 2015). GMO crops offer a way to resolve this problem because we can grow more food with less (Parrett 2015).

Many are quick to be critical because GM crops are so easy for the media and others to demonize (Parrett 2015). With a growing population and an ever more turbulent environment that could result in more severe food security and hunger issues, we may not have a choice but to embrace GM crops (Parrett 2015).

Work Cited

Bhagwat, Ramu. “Big Relief for Farmers as Bt Cotton Seed Prices Cut.”IndiaTimes. The Times of India City, 12 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/Big-relief-for-farmers-as-Bt-cotton-seed-prices-cut/articleshow/51365457.cms>.

Sengupta, Somini. “On India’s Farms, a Plague of Suicide.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Sept. 2006. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/19/world/asia/19india.html?_r=1&>.

Manjunath, T. M. “Safety of Bt-Cotton: Facts Allay Fear.” AgBioWorld. AgBioWorld, 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/safety-bt-cotton.html>.

Bharathan, Geeta. “Bt-cotton in India: Anatomy of a controversy.” CURRENT SCIENCE-BANGALORE- 79.8 (2000): 1067-1075.

Federation of American Scientists. “Bt-Corn: The Biggest GE Crop.” Bt-Corn. Federation of American Scientists, 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. <http://fas.org/biosecurity/education/dualuse-agriculture/2.-agricultural-biotechnology/bt-corn.html>.

Parrett, Tom. “GMO Scientist Could Save The World From Hunger, If We Let Them.” Newsweek. Newsweek, 21 May 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. <http://www.newsweek.com/2015/05/29/gmo-scientists-could-save-world-hunger-if-we-let-them-334119.html>.

Deforestation in Indonesia: Who is to Blame?

Deforestation. A looming concept that each one of us is familiar with. Whether it be the expansive tracts of the Amazon, the dense growth of the Congo, or the tall flora of Cascadia. While deforestation in each of these regions is attributed to specific causes, the deforestation currently happening in Indonesia, one of the world’s major rainforests, is a complexity of seemingly unidentifiable culprits and multiple issues.

In discussing the deforestation problem plaguing Indonesia, it is crucial to set up a contextual background for discussion. Indonesia, while one of the planet’s most thriving and upcoming markets, is home to 10% of the world’s rainforests, containing an astounding amount of endemic fauna that are hypersensitive to any environmental change. Roll in climate change and deforestation, triggering havoc to local environments and causing not only one of the greatest species disappearance rates of all time, but permanent shifts in indigenous life. Traditionally, locals practiced sustainable agriculture and slash-and-burn techniques called today “swidden agriculture” (Dauvergne). Combined with modern globalization efforts taking place in the country, the government places forests, and its inhabitants, on the backburner when money is on the line.

Past, current, and estimated loss of forest in Borneo, the largest island in Indonesia

Four key reasons exist for deforestation in Indonesia: tropical government, developmental, environmental, and public policy. The first places indigenous people and their way of life as the cause of the forest destruction, an almost laughable argument. The development explanation and public policy are closely tied. Both agree that development has led to greater situations in which deforestation is necessary, such as the poor attempting to make a livelihood. The public policy explanation even goes so far to say that, “Aid agencies, multinational corporations, international finance, and Third World Elites, motivated by profit maximization and the international market, all contribute to destructive forest activities,” (Dauvergne 501). Coupled with the fact that the Indonesian government is highly corrupt, with 40% of its aid being lost to corruption, it is plausible to see a link between government, international corporations, and deforestation. In fact, the environmental and public policy explanations stress the importance of this connection, with both stating that the government has installed policies that encourage illegal logging and deforestation for monetary profit.

However, the government is not the only person to blame, the globalization era has also created an insatiable hunger for products, notably timber, which Indonesia can provide. The global network of supply chains and multinational corporations are equally partakers in the destruction of the forests, exploiting and supporting not only the corrupt government, but destroying balanced ecological systems and local livelihoods in the process. As an UNEP article debriefs, “More than 74% of the poor [depend] on ecosystem services for their basic livelihoods, depletion of these services could be detrimental to the wellbeing of the poor and the country’s overall growth,” (Benson). Not only is this a siphoning of wealth to the corrupt officials and international corporations, but it is an exponentially growing problem if sustainable forestry and environmental education is not put in place. So how can it be fixed, and who can the blame truly be placed on?

While the most obvious answer is the creation of federal or international programs to monitor forestry rates, with an unreliable government, such actions can only go so far. I am not discrediting the actions of organizations like REDD+, IUCN, and WWF, in fact I am acknowledging the work done by these establishments as crucial, however more needs to be done. Locals are beginning to take power not only through activism and protest, but through education and support of local forests and economy in ecotourism. Ecotourism itself is tourism taken with an approach of education, sustainability, and appreciation for the natural world. One example is increased visitations and interactions in orangutan reserves, generating income for local economies while creating conservation oriented mindsets and animosity against deforestation. The effects of these projects are well noted: “Genuine socio-economic incentives, control over the direction and size of the ecotourism development and control over the possible impacts would empower local communities making them willing actors rather than reluctant subjects,” (Drewry). Not only are these people gaining economic power, but combined with ecotourists visiting these centers, a core group preventing unsustainable development and logging can be established.

Nexus-Scorecard-Facebook
Infographic detailing which companies have been more successful in reaching their palm oil sustainability goals

One last tidbit about Indonesian deforestation that cannot be ignored is the dreaded palm oil industry. Thousands of acres per year of Indonesian forest are cut down, both legally and illegally, to support the unsustainable cultivation of palm oil and other palm related products. As one organization describes, “From Doritos to Colgate to Johnson & Johnson baby soap, palm oil is in so many products that it is hard to avoid,” (Rahmawati). While palm products are in nearly everything, I am a firm believer in consumers having purchasing power and the ability to dictate to multinational corporations what they will and will not tolerate in terms of consumer goods. Such is the reasoning behind projects like the RSPO, companies that have, after consumer demand and pressure, committed to the use of sustainable palm oil in their products. After all, if multinational corporations are driving Indonesian deforestation to produce products for consumers, do we not have at least some power, fault, or responsibility in fixing the crisis? All in all the Indonesian deforestation crisis is one that propagates and results from various levels, but one that can receive assistance and restriction on the national, local, and global consumer level.

References:

Benson, Brittany. “Investment of $600 Million a Year Required to Maintain Indonesia’s Forest Cover, Critical to National Economy and Local Livelihoods – UN Report.” United Nations Environment Programme. United Nations Environment Programme, 8 July 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Dauvergne, Peter. “The Politics of Deforestation in Indonesia.” Pacific Affairs 66.4 (1993): 497-518. JSTOR. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Drewry, Rachel. “Ecotourism: Can It save the Orangutans?” Inside Indonesia. Indonesian Resources and Information Program, July-Aug. 1997. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Rahmawati, Annisa. “Snack and Personal Care Companies Commit to End Palm Oil Deforestation – Who Is Taking Action?” One Green Planet. Greenpeace, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Blog 3: The Dandora dumpsite

The issue of climate change stems from many independent factors, one of which includes degradation of our planet. This week I want to focus on the environmental and land degradation that is occurring at the Dandora dumpsite in Nairobi Kenya. This dumpsite is not only impacting climate change but also the people in the area in many ways. Governing Global Desertification a book about land degradation and poverty discusses how, “land degradation usually has the greatest effects on the poorest, who depend on the land for their survival, and this can lead to a vicious downward spiral of poverty and land degradation” (Johnson et al). This is the case for these people in Nairobi living near the Dandora dumpsite.

Nairobi is a city of 4 million people and without an organized waste management plan all their trash goes into a 30 acre dumpsite on the outskirts of town near the slums. As you could imagine this excessive pileup of garbage, “has polluted the soil, water and air directly affecting more than 200,000 people in surrounding settlements” (Concern worldwide). The dumpsite has led to many health issues for those living in the area. There are large amounts of respiratory issues in the area, and an overwhelming number of people with high concentration levels of lead in their blood. Quite simply, “these poor communities, while contributing the least to the problem, are bearing the burden of an environmental catastrophe” (Concern worldwide). Overall the Dandora dumpsite is harming the health of those living nearby and this is an issue because they are the people who want the dump to stay.

The Dandora dumpsite has many legal troubles making it illegal to operate, but due to lack of waste management plans Nairobi has had no other option but to keep dumping the city’s waste. To the poor living in the surrounding area, this is great news because they are the ones who use it. Anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 people scavenge the dump for recyclable items that they can sell to make a living off of. It’s a tricky situation because, “the mountains of garbage that sustain them are also endangering their lives and those of their children” (Pulitzer center). What is more important, removing the Dandora dumpsite to take care of the health and environmental issues at hand or keep the dumpsite so the poor can scavenge and make a living which they wouldn’t be able to do elsewise? Getting rid of Dandora would hurt the financial stability of many people who relied on the site for a livelihood including one scavenger, Tiger, who said, “They don’t recognize us as people. They don’t care what happens to us, and if they relocate this place, then we will have nothing” (Pulitzer center). What Tiger deserves to see is the Kenyan government initiate the clean-up of the dumpsite but also provide jobs for those who need them and are relying on the dump. With no waste management plan, the ideal solution would be to create one and employ these people in a waste management program and recycling center, and Nairobi is on their way towards initiating this.

According to a local newspaper from December 31, 2015 the Nation Youth Service (NYS) took control of the Dandora dumpsite and were subcontracted by City Hall at a cost of 5 million Kenyan Shillings (50,000 USD) to clear the dumpsite before the end of the season. The NYS plans to do this using youths from around the area who had once scavenged, only now they will be paid 500 Kenyan Shillings (5 USD) a day which is double what they made before (Nairobi news). This isn’t the ideal course of action for those 6,000 scavengers and there was no information on their thoughts in the newspaper but at least the government is tackling one of the issues.

This is an interesting subject to study because it isn’t what we are used to learning about in the case where the poor would prefer to improve their health and environment conditions by reducing land degradation. But here the poor are feeling like they need to risk their health in order to make a living picking through garbage. They were willing to sacrifice their environment and health in an attempt to survive. The solution still isn’t solved and there still remains a major issue with what is going on in Nairobi. What the city needs now is a program to develop and initiate jobs for those who were digging through trash a year ago living off just $2.50 a day. Jobs in the waste management sector should be considered first, as an attempt to start a recycling and waste program for the city of 4 million. Clearing the Dandora dumpsite is a major first step but there is still plenty more to be done to reduce the poverty which at the moment is growing.

 

Works Cited

“Https://www.concern.net/resources/trash-and-tragedy-nairobi-city.” Concern Worldwide. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Johnson, Pierre-Marc, Karel Mayrand, and Marc Paquin. Governing Global Desertification: Linking Environmental Degradation, Poverty and Participation. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006. Print.

“Kenya Poor Cling to Dump Site.” Pulitzer Center. N.p., 30 Apr. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

“NYS Take over Dandora Dumpsite in Bid to Solve Garbage Crisis – Nairobi News.” Nairobi News. N.p., 31