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The issue of balancing benefits and risks between competing interests does open a little bit of a conundrum on how to balance the “…needs of the many against the needs of the few or the one…”. Sorry for not resisting the temptation of paraphrasing Spock in Star Trek on the later part. This is an important decision making process issues, although it does point to other options.

Let me take my hat of an IFPRI researcher and put on the hat of what I am, a Honduran Citizen.

Field survey smallholder producers PROMIPAC Honduras. Bt/RR maize in Honduras. 2008.

Field survey smallholder producers PROMIPAC Honduras. Bt/RR maize in Honduras. 2008.

In Honduras, we have approximately 330,000 hectares of maize being produced under mono-cropping and inter-cropping conditions. I am using old data by Barreto and Harkamp, as cited in a Ph.D. dissertation by Hintze.

This represents approximately 253 thousand farms producing corn in my country. Of these, roughly 63% are smallholders with less than 5 hectares, many in fact are less than 2 hectares. Damage by corn borers and other lepidopterans can be as high as 50% or more.

 

Smallholder farmers are specially hit in Honduras as they have very little access to control mechanisms. Maize is a staple crop in Honduras and thus a food security crop for my country.

It certainly makes sense for the Honduran government, if the desire is to increase productivity and to help secure food security in the country, to explore all potential alternatives including the GM approach. Note that I am not saying that it is the only approach, rather one more approach. Please also note that we might as well, study all potential ways by which to use this technology combined with other cultural and management practices such as integrated pest management (IPM) as long as they prove their worth. For a second, assume that a community raises an issue with the planting of GM corn in the country as it may affect the biodiversity value to the community (e.g. access to indigenous varieties).

How do we then balance the claim and the needs of this community against those of a large share of the smallholder community? How can we elicit the wishes of local and indigenous communities and separate these from some who claim to speak on behalf of such communities?

The response is not necessarily to ban the technology because it may (or does) affect a community. Rather is may be to find ways to mitigate/manage the potential harm. In the case of Honduras, this was actually done by not allowing the cultivation of the GM maize in a set of western states and one local community in the south. This was done, at the request of communities in those areas, not necessarily because they represented a specific harm when the technology was evaluated for commercial release. This decision is fully compliant with the formal Honduras agricultural policy and other wishes expressed by different communities in the country.

This bring us to finding way to manage potential issues and to cross check decisions with other existing laws, regulations and policies within the country. If a law within a country a provides for special autonomy rights to specific communities, and their desire is not to have GMOs, then in the risk mitigation/management plans that are drawn during the regulatory recommendation by the competent authority, the decision can include such restriction in the permit for environmental release.

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