The impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation

Written evidence submitted by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (abc)

The following submission provides an overview of the role of agricultural innovations in helping to mitigate carbon emissions and other environmental impacts brought about by agricultural production, with a particular focus on the developing world. It is being submitted to help inform the committee’s inquiry into the impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

abc is the umbrella organisation for the agricultural biotechnology industry in the UK. The companies involved are BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, Pioneer (DuPont) and Syngenta. Our goal is to provide factual information and education about the agricultural use of GM technology in the UK, based on respect for public interest, opinions, and concerns.

Definition and current usage

1. This submission will focus on the use of genetically modified crop technology as one of a range of complementary range of tools for farmers to both increase their productivity whilst reducing their impact on the environment. Other innovations that complement GM technology include the use of modern farming techniques, crop protection products and decisions about what crops to grow and where they should be used.

2. The UK Government, through the Department for International Development, is heavily involved in supporting agricultural projects in the developing world. It should be noted that abc member companies are not currently directly involved with specific DFID schemes, however member companies are partners in a number of initiatives for resource poor farmers for example in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other NGO’s.

3. GM crops are used extensively throughout the developed and developing world. In 2009, over 14million farmers in 25 countries chose to grow GM crops on 134million hectares of their land. This amounts to the equivalent land mass of France, Germany and the UK & Ireland. Over 90% of those using the technology are resource-poor farmers growing food, feed and materials on an area considerably less than 10 hectares in developing countries, where they are keen to maximise the effectiveness of their crops and protect their incomes.

Reducing the environmental impact of agriculture

4. The use of biotechnology can lead the more efficient usage of resources, increasing production from the same amounts of land and reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact of agriculture.

5. The mitigation of environmental impacts includes:

- Reductions in fuel use and CO2 emissions through less tillage. In 2008, current (worldwide) GM cultivation led to global emissions reductions of 15.6 billion kg of CO2, equivalent to 6.9 million fewer cars on the road for one year.

- GM crops can improve yield while using water more sustainably. It can help plants cope with water scarcity by reducing water loss and improving drought tolerance.

- GM crops can protect soils from erosion and compaction through less ploughing, conserving soil moisture in the process.

- Insect damage to crops is decreased with pest resistant crops, significantly reducing he need for spraying.

- Getting more out of the same areas of land can reduce pressure on non-cultivated regions which can play a vital role in mitigating climate change.

How agricultural technology is assisting farmers in the developing world

6. Agricultural biotechnology is playing a role in helping farmers to use resources more efficiently. 12 million resource-poor farmers, often small holders in developing world countries utilised GM in 2009 – through individual choice.

7. Pest-resistant GM crops in China, South Africa, South America and India are providing stable food and commodity supplies and in the future such adaptable crops will play a crucial role in helping farmers cope with the effects of climate change.

8. By 2025 it is estimated that about 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity. Research is under way to develop drought tolerant crops, such as maize, which can maintain and even increase crop yields despite changes in water supply.  These varieties could produce 2 million more tonnes of food under moderate drought conditions.

9. Positive and robust regulatory regimes in other parts of the world has allowed public private partnerships to flourish, with local scientists taking the lead on producing tailored crops for specific climatic conditions, boosting yields in places like Uganda.

10. Many NGOs remain very opposed to the use of any biotechnologies, which risks hindering their usage in resource stressed parts of the world.

11. The major companies involved with GM technologies work with developing world governments to ensure responsible usage and that the areas in question benefit.

How the UK Government could achieve its aid objectives through the use of biotechnology

12. DFID lists its strategic priorities on food as to:

- Help countries to design and implement sound national agriculture and food security strategies.

- Work closely with multilateral organisations and regional initiatives to help to better coordinate the global response to hunger and malnutrition.

13. DFID has already demonstrated its willingness [1] to invest in research into the expanded role that agricultural biotechnology could play in adapting crops to the conditions brought about by climate change in the developing world. Such research will, abc believes, assist in achieving the goals set out above.

14. However, abc believes that the UK Government must go further and include biotechnology as one of a number of solutions within its aid objectives. As stated above, it can help address the problems affecting food security and supply, coping with climate change and mitigate the impact of agriculture on the environment.

15. abc believes that GM, along with a range of other techniques, has the potential to help meet the Millennium Development Goals on reducing poverty whilst at the same time delivering wider policy goals.

16. abc believes that the UK government can support access to modern agricultural technology in developing countries by more actively supporting a science and evidence based regulatory process for such technologies in the EU. The current EU process for regulating agricultural biotechnology is heavily politicised and dysfunctional. it is a poor example to countries who have urgent needs to develop their agricultural systems. The UK government has done much to support sound basic science in the UK, there is a need for clear leadership in this direction in European forums which the UK is well placed to provide.

3 February 2011

[1] See: