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The Global Biotech Challenge - Giving Farmers What They Want

The Global Biotech Challenge - Giving Farmers What They Want

20 August 2012

ANALYSIS - It's no secret that marketing genetically modified (GM) seed globally is a challenge, but DuPont Pioneer differentiates themselves by offering farmers around the world what they want - which isn't always biotech seed, writes Sarah Mikesell, TheCropSite senior editor.

GM acceptance has been an ongoing challenge in places like Europe, said Dan Jacobi, DuPont Pioneer VP for ACEA (Asia Pacific, China, Europe, Africa).

It's also a challenge in China because, while the government certainly recognizes the value of biotechnology, it is not yet comfortable with the idea of multinationals bringing that technology into the country, he said. They would prefer to have that technology developed in China.

"We're actually trying to take it one step farther by working with the local university scientists to develop their technology," Jacobi said. "If a Chinese researcher has a particular gene that they think could impart something of value - insect resistance or whatever it may be - we can help them validate their leads and get viable traits into high-performing germplasm."

Dan Jacobi, DuPont Pioneer VP for ACEA (Asia Pacific, China, Europe, Africa)

He said Africa is a bit uneven regarding acceptance of GMO's because of its continent diversity. In South Africa and Egypt, biotechnology is more accepted, but in sub-Saharan Africa, acceptance varies.

"I think clearly we are moving toward biotech acceptance in sub-Saharan Africa," he said. "Kenya either is already or getting ready to approve importing GM grain. Cultivation approval logically would be right behind that."

The EU also has some variability - there are certainly countries that have zero tolerance while others don't allow cultivation of GM, but have an acceptance level, or threshold for the allowable presence of GM technology in seed or grain. Then there are countries like Spain that fully allow biotech.

"The problem that creates is kind of a patchwork quilt of GM acceptance, and we try to produce seed on a regional basis in Europe," he said. "So if you're producing seed for Europe, you have a hard time not going to the strictest common denominator. All conventional Pioneer seed is produced according to recognized standards and is tested in advance for the inadvertent presence of biotech materials, however, the absence of a standard threshold in Europe is an ongoing challenge. A zero-tolerance standard is really impossible to meet and not realistic. There are tolerance levels in food for all kinds of things, so it only makes sense to establish a tolerance level for something like biotech traits, which have never been linked to any health or safety problems."

The DuPont Pioneer Difference

"I think it's inevitable that biotechnology will be virtually globally adopted ... there's no way you can double ag productivity without using every tool in the toolkit.
Dan Jacobi,
DuPont Pioneer Vice President

Jacobi said the good news for DuPont Pioneer is, and one that differentiates them from competitors, they don't feel compelled to sell GM seed. He said DuPont Pioneer is comfortable selling farmers what they want.

"That doesn't mean we don't recognize the value of GM seed-we do; or that we don't want to sell more of it-we do; but we let the farmer make that decision," he said. "I think it's inevitable that biotechnology will be virtually globally adopted. You might have a few pockets of holdouts, but there's no way you can double ag productivity without using every tool in the toolkit. It's just not possible in the time we have to respond to the global need."

He said as DuPont Pioneer looks at three of its big growth regions - China, Africa and Eastern Europe - GM seed will be a part of it, but today most of that opportunity is in conventional seed.

"We have plenty of opportunities to sell conventional seed in China, and there are plenty of growth opportunities before introducing GM," he said. "We also have plenty of growth opportunities in Eastern Europe where you still have quite a few hectares that are not even hybrid seed, which is why maize yields in Eastern Europe can be as low as 4 metric tons per hectare."

He said the US is about 10 metric tons/hectare (about 160 bushels/acre); Sub-Saharan Africa is about 1.5 to 2 metric tons/hectare (20-30 bu/acre; China is about 5 to 6 metric tons/hectare (80-90 bu/acre); Eastern Europe is between 4 to 6.5 metric tons/hectare (70-100 bu/acre).

Based on those figures, Jacobi sees huge opportunities to grow global productivity today that do not depend on introducing biotechnology. For China, the key is higher quality seed and getting low-quality, counterfeit, and fake seed out of the market. While in Eastern Europe, it's about improving agronomic practices and hybrid adoption.

"In Africa, it's a whole different beast that requires starting from square one," he said.

Africa has 24 million hectares but only about one-third - about 8 million hectares - is actually hybrid. The opportunity for Africa starts first with amending and improving the soil and effectively using fertilizers, then moving to hybrid seed. GM acceptance is not our top priority in Africa right now, he said.

This is the fourth article is a series on DuPont Pioneer's global seed business. Watch for our last article in the series featuring DuPont Pioneer's global challenges and business platform.

Click here to read the first article in the series - DuPont Pioneer Says Megatrend is Driving Their Global Business.

Click here to read - DuPont Pioneer: Global Growth Opportunities, China & The Pacific Rim.

Click here to read - How to Increase Corn Yields in Africa.

Sarah Mikesell, Senior Editor

Sarah Mikesell, Senior Editor

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