Formalising the informal: the commercialisation of GM cotton in Pakistan
AuthorRana, Muhammad Ahsan
AffiliationMelbourne School of Land and Environment
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsRana, M. A. (2010). Formalising the informal: the commercialisation of GM cotton in Pakistan. PhD thesis, Melbourne School of Land and Environment, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2010 Dr. Muhammad Ahsan Rana
Genetically modified insect-resistant (Bt) cotton is widely cultivated in Pakistan, although the Pakistani Government has yet to approve its commercial cultivation. This thesis is the first in-depth, systematic and critical examination of its commercialisation through the informal sector, and explains the conundrum of around 6.4 million acres of ‘illegal’ cultivation of a GM crop. Most popular Bt varieties under cultivation in Pakistan contain Monsanto’s genetic modification event (called MON 531), widely believed to be under patent protection in Pakistan. Not wanting to infringe Monsanto’s intellectual property rights (IPR), the Pakistani Government has refused biosafety approval to these varieties. Consequently, the Pakistani breeders of these high-yielding Bt varieties commercialised them in the informal sector. This research decriminalises seed provision in the informal sector and shows that rather than being discrete categories, the formal/informal sectors are locations across which breeders and varieties travel. For its part, Monsanto is not willing to enter the Pakistani seed market, considering it too disorderly in which to operate. It seeks to operate in the ‘high-differential’ end of the market, therefore requiring active engagement of the Government to keep the farmer from dropping out. Alternatively, Monsanto proposes that the Government licenses MON 531 on payment of an annual technology fee for use by Pakistani farmers and breeders. This technology fee is compared with Monsanto’s cost of development of Bt products, and Pakistan’s budgetary allocation for agriculture. On both counts, the technology fee demanded by Monsanto is excessive. An examination of Pakistan’s patent law and the patents granted to Monsanto reveals that neither MON 531 nor biotechnological products/processes required for its insertion in local cotton varieties are patented in Pakistan. Thus Pakistan presents a unique case where the Government has consistently honoured patents that it never issued. It is argued that Monsanto’s non-existent IPR has been honoured due to the particular social relations between Monsanto and Pakistani farmers and breeders. Since MON 531 is a commodity objectifying the labour of a particular social group, a patent thereupon becomes a means to operationalise the social relations between this social group and those who consume this commodity. An alternate route for commercialisation is through the hybrid seed. Monsanto is willing to enter the Pakistani seed market if its technology can be carried in hybrid seeds. But the use of hybrid seed is economically unfeasible in cotton production, and there are significant problems with hybrid seed production in large quantities for the Pakistani market. Yet Monsanto and other companies prefer the hybrid route to technology commercialisation because of an important latent function that hybrids perform – they stop the farmer from saving seed. It is argued that IPR and the use of hybrid seed are key social and technical strategies for accumulation by dispossession. They represent the commodification of seed, which is a pre-requisite for the process of accumulation. At the same time, these appear to be the only available strategies within existing social relations for improving cotton germplasm and for providing quality Bt seed to the Pakistani farmer.
Keywordspolitical economy of GM crops; social shaping of technology; social relations in Pakistan; policy making process
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