Food Market making Profit from Climatic Changes

Climatic changes being a source of making profit for food crop manufacturers.

Adverse changes in climate has triggered the ecosystems affecting crops, livestock, fisheries and forests and the billions of people whose livelihoods depend on them. Extreme climate events (especially hotter, drier conditions in semi-arid regions) are likely to slash yields for maize, wheat, rice and other such primary food crops.

Seed manufactures are now positioning themselves to take advantage of such changes with genetically engineered seed crops that can withstand such changes.  While good for the seed companies, this has some groups concerned.  ETC Group, dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights, has issued a report showing the policy implications of patent on genes.

The group sites certain reasons / issues for producing genetically engineered crops:

  • A temperature increase of 3–4 degrees Celsius could cause crop yields to fall by 15–35 percent in Africa and west Asia and by 25–35 per cent in the Middle East according to an FAO report released in March 2008.
  • 65 countries in the South, most in Africa, risk losing 280 million tonnes of potential cereal production, valued at $56 billion, as a result of climate change.
  • Projected increases in temperature and changes in rainfall patterns will decrease growing periods by more than 20 percent in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Farmers in dry land areas of sub-Saharan Africa will experience revenue losses of 25% per acre by 2060. The overall revenue losses of $26 billion per annum would exceed current levels of bilateral aid to the region.

Reports have shown that many of the world’s largest seed and agrochemical corporations are obtaining patents on genes in plants genetically engineered to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, heat, cold, floods, saline soils, and more. BASF, Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont and Biotech partners have filed 532 patent documents (a total of 55 patent families) on so-called “climate ready” genes at patent offices around the world.

 

Key areas of consideration:

There can be two ways: One, it is a way for companies to prepare to meet a foreseeable demand in the face of climatic change and a potential world food crisis. Or, it could be an opportunity for corporations to push genetically engineered crops using climate change as a scapegoat. The truth is probably somewhere in between but the concern is that proprietary technologies will ultimately concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and further lessen the ability of farmers to save and exchange seeds.

Other than U.S. and Europe, patent offices in major food producing countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico and South Africa are also seeing huge increases in patent application filings in GM seeds/crops. Monsanto and BASF have put together a $1.5 billion partnership to engineer stress tolerance in plants. Together, the two companies account for 27 of the 55 patent families (49%) of those identified by ETC Group.

The question now according to the ETC Group: “Will farming communities now be stampeded by climate change profiteering?”  Well “the patent grab on so-called climate-ready traits is consuming money and resources that could be spent on affordable, farmer-based strategies for climate change survival and adaptation,” there can be an issue when the top 10 seed companies control major part of the global seed market.

It must be seen how the small scale industries would cope up with such patents and how the respective government bodies try to protect farmers from these giant companies.

Reference: ETC Group Reports

About the Author:- Ms. Minusmita Ray, a Patent Specialist in IIPRD and can be reached at minusmita@iiprd.com

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