Impact of Foreign Debt and GMOs on Pakistan’s Economy and Security Professor Dr Shahida Wizarat Dean CESD, Director Research, Chief Editor PBR, HOD Economics, IOBM, Karachi.
The Government of Pakistan and the Punjab Government seem totally oblivious to the hazardous consequences of foreign debt as revealed by their attempts to arrange for $70 mn from the World Bank to purchase GM seeds from Monsanto at a time when the country’s external indebtedness has exceeded $74 bn. Either both the Governments are oblivious of the likely consequences of increase in foreign debt, or couldn’t care less. Maybe, there is a trade off between personal and social bene?ts, for what is socially detrimental, is not necessarily, personally detrimental. In fact, what is socially detrimental, might personally be very bene?cial.
Recent amendments to the Seed Act 1976 by the National Assembly and the Senate without any debate on the pros and cons of GMOs shows the lack of interest of elected representatives on this very vital issue, which has grave consequences on the health, environment, farmers well being, economy, food security, with strong implications on the external and internal dimensions of national security. The People’s Party in whose earlier tenure the Seed Act was passed in 1976 did not resist attempts to make amendments to it, the PML-N’s patriotic face has been totally whitewashed. The PTI which has always tried to present itself as a party upholding the interests of the country and the common man also stands exposed. The MQM and the religious parties, who draw their support from the lower middle classes were also not interested in an issue of such grave importance to the common man.
In marked contrast to the indifference of Pakistani politicians, other countries are concerned about the health and welfare of their citizens and are banning GMOs. For example, majority of the European Union countries including Germany have banned GMOs. China refused to allow Bt corn imported from USA to enter the Chinese market. I have learnt through reliable sources that some countries are growing GM crops for aid/export to less developed countries, but have banned their sale at home. Consumption of these products will be considered only after surveys have been conducted to quantify increases in serious illnesses in countries consuming GM crops exported/donated by rich countries.
Brie?y summarizing my concerns raised earlier about GM farming: they reduce nutrient content in foods and increase allergic reactions causing increase in the production of harmful proteins. GMOs increase cancer and cause Horizontal Gene Transfer between modi?ed organisms and human bacteria. It has been found that 50-80 percent of female rodents developed tumors in all the groups, while male rodents suffered from liver damage, kidney problems, indigestion and skin tumors when they consumed NK603 corn for 24 months. The WHO has warned that glyphosate which is ingredient in Roundup Ready is carcinogenic. The same has been acknowledged by the FAO, which states that GM technologies are mostly proprietary, developed by the private sector and released for commercial production through licensing agreements. Adoption of GM technologies has raised social and ethical concerns about restricting access to genetic resources and new technologies, loss of traditions e.g. saving seeds, private-sector monopoly and loss of income of small and poor farmers. FAO has also drawn our attention to problems associated with pest resistance, contamination of non-GMO crops and potential toxicity of GM foods and products. It has been observed that there has been a tremendous increase in cancer in Pakistan about the same time when the consumption of GM food products increased.
In addition to being a health hazard, GMOs have serious implications for the economy. They increase the dependence of LDCs on corporations and results in corporate monopolies on crops. This is because seeds from GM crops can not be used for sowing and fresh seeds have to be imported for each sowing. Moreover, on account of increased fertilizer and herbicide use, they increase the cost of production of crops, raising food prices, thus increasing food insecurity.
That is why while western seed companies are popularizing GM seeds in less developed countries, they are doing their upmost to protect their own populations from this hazard. I have learnt through reliable sources that WWF is growing organic crops in Pakistan for Western consumers. Similarly, a political personality from Sindh has received a ten year
order for the supply of organic rice and wheat to a U.S. co, which is insisting that not only the seeds be organic, but no chemical fertilizer and pesticides should be used.
Another very important issue is on account of the Intellectual Property Rights of the farmers, as their natural and healthier seeds are the result of years of research and hard labour. Treating them as inferior and robbing them of their intellectual property is adding insult to injury. This behavior of the GOP and Punjab government is in marked contrast to governments all over the world who are jealously guarding their technology and innovations.
The GOP and Punjab Government have the full support of international NGOs and U.S. AID. Some years back Cotton Productivity Enhancement Project initiated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture had two objectives. One, increase in cotton productivity and two, removal of curl leaf virus. The project was for three years and Dr Shef?er was the project leader. Although both the objectives were not achieved at the end of three years, Dr Shef?er was given an award by the U.S. Government. The only thing that happened during the course of this project was that 86 percent of Pakistan’s cotton acreage was planted with GM cotton seeds instead of the existing natural seeds. Moreover, Agriculture and Cold Chain Development (PACCD), a subsidiary of Winrock International, a US NGO working under the patronage of USAID distributed apple samplings in Balochistan whose description resembles GMOs, without informing the farmers that they are GMOs. They also built a free cold storage to win the con?dence of the people. And more recently, US AID was trying to promote Syngenta’s GM paddy seeds. The price of a packet of Syngenta’s seeds was Rs 5000, while the same quantity of local seeds were available for Rs 1500. Farmers were therefore not switching to Syngenta’s seeds. U.S. AID, therefore, leased land from a farmer in Shikarpur and started cultivation of Bt rice, which entered the market in December 2015.
GOP has not done any legislation to protect the people of Pakistan against this menace, for example, Labelling Law has not been passed that would enable the consumer to have knowledge about the food they are consuming. What are the implications of the absence of a Labeling Law which would inform consumers that the food they are purchasing is GM or otherwise? At the individual level, the absence would ensure that consumers developing diseases as a result of consumption of GM foods will not be able to take legal action against chemical cos and countries selling these seeds and crops to Pakistani consumers.
At the country level, mixing up GMOs, hybrid and organic crops will mean that we will not be able to export to countries that have banned GMOs and this includes EU and the Russian Federation. In this context, it is pertinent to mention here that the recent testing of Pakistan’s rice in the EU found traces of GMOs about which the EU expressed its displeasure. Similarly, testing of Pakistani mango pulp in the Russian federation found traces of GMOs. Both the European Union and the Russian Federation have banned GMOs and traces of GMOs in our exports means that we will not be able to take advantage of GSP Plus status granted to us by the EU and to take advantage of the vast Russian market for fruits, vegetables and other food items. It is dif?cult to believe that the GOP is totally oblivious of the importance of Labelling Law without which we will not be able to export to many regions and countries. Is this the reason for exerting pressure on the GOP to refrain from formulating a Labelling Law?
As a result of the absence of Labelling Law and the commercial use of GM seeds for cotton, rice, wheat and corn means that we will not be able to increase our exports. As a result our rate of growth which has stagnated around 4 percent will not pick up. Reduction in our rate of growth and exports means reduction in foreign exchange earnings. How will we pay for the import of GM rice, wheat and corn seeds which the GOP plans to do? Our dependence on foreign seed companies will increase our food insecurity. At a time when our rate of GDP growth and exports will be at an all time low, our foreign exchange requirements will be at a climax and that also for the import of an item as important as food! The GOP has already taken credit from the international ?nancial institutions against the country’s highways, motorways and airports. Will we then be offered credit against the conditionality of surrendering our nuclear assets? Will we then have to choose between our nuclear assets and credits to purchase GM seeds for food crops?
This brings me to the all important question of governance in this country. We are paying the price of bringing (with some exceptions) the worst amongst us to leadership positions. It is common knowledge that we install people on leadership positions who have links with the US establishment. These people have never delivered and caused a lot of harm to Pakistan by disclosing state secrets to the U.S., getting visas granted to US agents without vetting, resulting in strategic losses to the country. Pakistan is like a person that loves to nurture snakes in its sleeves, and when the snake bites the person makes a hue and cry that the snake bit him. In Pakistan when such planted technocrats/bureaucrats/politicians disclose state secrets and hurt the strategic interests of the country, great anger is
expressed for a few days, everyone tries to dissociate themselves from the persona non grata. But no soul searching is done to determine why the snake bit us in the ?rst place. The snake bit us because we allowed it to get into our sleeve, and that there are many other such snakes sitting in our sleeves that are biting us without making a public announcement. If we want to stop all the snakes that are sitting in our sleeves to bite us, we will have to abandon the present political order and replace it by a system based on merit, where the most competent, honest and patriotic Pakistanis are elevated to leadership positions.