WASHINGTON, Jul 30 (IPS) - Biotechnology giant Monsanto Company says
it will forge ahead with business plans in Bangladesh despite the
withdrawal by village lender Grameen Bank this week from a
widely-criticised joint venture.
The micro-lender and agri-business multinational were to be co- owners
of a for-profit 'Grameen Monsanto Centre for Environment-Friendly
Technologies', in Dhaka. Critics at home and abroad assailed the deal
as threaten Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), which has
tracked the economic and social impact of new technologies on rural
societies for 20-plus years. "We're very happy that Grameen has come
to its senses."
Celebration may prove premature, however. "Grameen approached us"
with the idea of working together, Herndon said. Following protests,
the village bank "requested that they not be a partner in the centre
but we're still looking at where and how we can continue to work
Under the original deal, Grameen would have offered small loans for
farmers to buy technologies demonstrated at the centre - including
Monsanto products. It remained unclear whether Grameen would still
play such a role. Grameen's Washington representative did not respond
to requests for comment.
Special financing for farmers boosted the use of hybrid corn to around
70 percent in Thailand, according to industry analysts. By comparison,
rates were about 25 percent in the Philippines and 20 percent in
Indonesia, where such schemes were few or lacking.
Monsanto Chairman Robert Shapiro is a prominent backer of the
'Microcredit Summit', a campaign to provide small loans to 100 million
poor families worldwide by the year 2005, as is Grameen founder Yunus.
Their plans, aimed at boosting harvests and supporting local ambitions
of food self-sufficiency, were announced last month in New York.
Grameen was willing to "try out an idea's business potential," Yunus
said in a statement.
Critics reacted quickly. Prominent Indian environmentalist Vandana
Shiva wrote an open letter to Yunus warning that, as a result of the
deal, the micro-credit pioneer would "go down in history as the man
who took the side of a corporation against citizens worldwide and who
introduced destructive technologies and corporate monopolies in
Those fears were based on experience with hybrid crops in India, where
farmers committed suicide after failed harvests left them heavily
indebted to money-lenders and seed providers.
Indian authorities now are fighting to bar imports of genetically-
engineered seeds containing the 'Terminator', a gene which 'self-
destructs' and renders seeds sterile so farmers must buy new stocks
every season. Monsanto has bought Delta and Pine Land Co., which
developed the 'technology protection system' with the U.S. Department
Hybrids are created by mating different strains of a crop. Not all are
genetically engineered but the difference often cannot be detected by
agricultural and customs officials. 'Transgenic' varieties threaten
indigenous plants through cross-pollination, the Indian Council of
Agricultural Research warned this month. Risks are especially high in
South Asia and regions where farmers generally grow more than one crop
on small plots of land.
Monsanto said it would not provide transgenic crop seed in Bangladesh
because the country lacked regulations necessary for their approval.
Analysts at RAFI, however, feared the company would use the new centre
to stimulate demand for its products and pressure the government to
adopt regulations favourable to imported technologies. Hybrid use is
increasing worldwide and many are designed for animal feed, not human
The world's largest agro-chemical company and third largest seed
enterprise, Monsanto also produces Round-up, a leading
'broad-spectrum' herbicide which kills weeds as well as crops not
specifically designed to withstand it. Farmers using the herbicide
also buy Monsanto's 'Round-up ready' seed varieties. According to
agricultural researchers, results have been mixed even in the United
States, where growers raise single crops on large plots of land on the
advice of seed companies and the government.
Company sources said they were not looking for quick profits from the
Bangladeshi countryside. "We will look for a long-term return," said
Whatever the time frame, Monsanto's ambitions in the Third World have
been widely known in business circles. It consolidated its position in
Asia by purchasing Delta and Pine Land and DeKalb Genetics Corp. Last
month, it agreed to buy Cargill Inc.'s seed operations in Africa,
Asia, Central and Latin America, and Europe for a reported 1.4 billion
dollars. The proposed deal would include seed research, production and
testing facilities in 24 countries and sales and distribution systems
in 51 countries.
Monsanto's Herndon acknowledged suspicions about the company's
"We might drop the company's name from the centre," she said. "But
Monsanto will be involved and it's always been our intention to
include others," including any local group or multinational company
interested in working with Monsanto.
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