GM brings benefits to women cotton farmers in Colombia

Colombia has been growing GM cotton commercially since 2003 Copyright: Flickr/Martin LaBar (going on hiatus)

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[BOGOTÁ] The reasons for adopting genetically modified (GM) crops differ for men and women, as do levels of access to information on GM farming, and understanding these differences may benefit women and their families, a study of cotton farmers in Colombia has found.

Women farmers said adopting GM cotton saved them time and money — on weeding and on hiring male labour to spray insecticides, respectively. They also said that GM varieties were easier to manage, freeing up their time for other activities, according to the study, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute this month.

The GM technology empowers women and gives them more say in household decisions, said Jorge Maldonado, one of the study authors, and an associate professor of economics at the University of the Andes, in Bogotá.

But he said the report identified a "difficult issue" of lack of information on managing the crops that multinational companies, which sell the GM seed to farmers, provide to farmers.

Women had limited access to information on farming GM cotton, which they cited as the biggest problem the technology brings, ahead even of the higher costs of seeds. So they were more likely than men to rely on occasional visits by technical assistants, and to follow their advice.

Both male and female farmers wanted better, more frequently available information in different types of media from private seed companies, associations, and technology owners, the report said.

It concluded that there is ample scope for more research on the role women play in GM cotton farming.

Patricia Zambrano, a senior research analyst from the Environment and Production Technology division of IFPRI, and lead author of the study, said a further, quantitative study is needed to "support the perceptions gathered in this study".

María Andrea Uscátegui, executive director of Agrobio, a non-profit association of multinational companies that produce GM plants, said that the study was original in its focus on gender and that it would be interesting to see if the same conclusions hold for other GM crops, such as maize.

Jonathan Gressel, a plant sciences professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel, said that GM cotton should also be available to women in Africa, China and India, where some may spend up to 60 per cent of their waking hours weeding.

"The best way to empower developing world women is to get them out of weeding and into mainstream life — including schooling and commerce. The added value of [GM] is that it provides the women farmers even less dependence upon others," he said.

Colombia has been growing GM cotton commercially since 2003, when it had just over 6,000 hectares planted. This rose to more than 37,000 hectares in 2010, all for use within the country.