The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)



Douglas Pachico,
Veronica Gottret,
Zully Escobar,
Salomon Perez,
(International Center for Tropical Agriculture),
Universidad del Valle,

This study makes a preliminary assessment of the potential income and employment consequences that could result from the development of a transgenic herbicide resistant cassava deployed in the Atlantic Coast region of Colombia. Cassava growers generally constitute some of the poorest of the rural poor in some of the most disadvantaged regions of the low-income tropical countries, including Colombia. The limited market for cassava constrains the opportunities for poor cassava growers to increase their income and welfare. A more productive, lower cost cassava that could compete in the animal feed market might generate additional employment and income opportunities, both in cassava production and in post harvest processing.

Due to its slow establishment and long growing period, weed control is one of the major costs of cassava production. Moreover, since weeding is done almost exclusively by hand, seasonal labor bottlenecks are critical constraint on any expansion of cassava production. It has been suggested that a particularly promising avenue of reducing the cost of weed control in cassava, thereby opening up vast new income opportunities for poor cassava growers, would be the introduction of herbicide tolerance into cassava. This would permit low cost herbicides to be substituted for expensive manual weed control.

Herbicide tolerant crops are now being cultivated on a massive scale in temperate agricultural systems. In 1999 this included 21.6 million hectares of soybean, 3.6 million hectares of maize, 3.5 million hectares of canola-rapeseed, and 2.4 million hectares of cotton. Whether a similar transgenic herbicide tolerant cassava for the tropics should be developed depends upon a number of considerations, among them its potential contribution to food security, any environmental risks, and any potential hazards to human health. This paper endeavors to make an initial assessment of the potential income and employment impacts of transgenic herbicide resistant cassava for the case of the north coast region of Colombia.

The paper constructs costs of production for traditional mono-crop cassava; cassava with improved yield potential through conventional breeding; and transgenic cassava with herbicide resistance. Differences in labor use and per hectare and per ton costs are noted. These cost differences are utilized in a partial equilibrium model of the market for cassava as an animal feed in Colombia. Potential benefits to consumers and producers are estimated along with projections of changes in animal feed prices, demand for cassava, and imports of feed grains. In addition, potential changes in labor use are made, taking into account decreases in the per hectare use of labor and possible increases in the area of cassava production as well as changes in labor demand for cassava processing.

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