Maize Production and South Africa

April 2, 2009

Corn, Maize

I’m Kobus Lindeque, the business lead for Africa. As some of you have heard, a few weeks ago we started hearing from some of our farmer customers about a pollen issue with three white maize hybrids grown in South Africa.  In some instances, farmers experienced reduced yield. We’ve committed to reimburse the farmers for their lost yield.

This is an issue involving seed production that we will correct.

Yesterday, we posted a news release on our South Africa Monsanto Web site that provides an update.  I’ve included a copy of that news release here for those who might be interested.

News release – 1 April 2009

Monsanto Announces Results of First Phase of White Maize Inquiry – Next Phase Will Determine Farmer Compensation

Johannesburg – Monsanto announced today it has completed the first phase of inquiry into a reduction in yield in three white maize hybrids caused by production of less pollen than expected.

For the past five weeks, teams of company representatives have either visited the farms or talked by phone with about 400 farmers who make up all of the growers who said they had a potential reduction in pollination. Initially, there were reports of about 120,000 hectares affected. After detailed, in-field investigations involving Monsanto and the farmers, the teams concluded about 25 percent of the total planted hectares — or roughly 75,000 hectares — were affected in some way by this variation in pollination, according to Kobus Lindeque, South Africa Area Director Monsanto Africa.

“We personally examined tens of thousands of hectares. While there is variation in pollen production, the average pollination rate in the fields is about 90 percent pollination. That means, on average, the yield reduction is about 10 percent, keeping in mind that portions of some fields were significantly more affected than that,” Lindeque said.

Research teams confirmed, as Monsanto previously announced, that the biotechnology traits provided superior weed and insect protection. They worked exactly as they should in all of the fields visited, Lindeque said.

The issue was a traditional seed production technique that was used with the hybrid breeding, he said.

“During 2007 seed production, we reversed the male and female cross of these three hybrids to maximize seed production yields,” Lindeque said. “This process of reversing the male and female is a common practice in hybrid production that existed before the development of biotechnology.”

“In this situation, the three hybrids produced using this particular female inbred have experienced variable pollen production. We have reviewed the seed production method for the three hybrids and will make the necessary changes,” he said.

Pollination variation is not uncommon and can be influenced by several factors such as weather or agronomic practices. In some cases, such as this one, seed production methods can also contribute to lower pollination, he said.

Further, Lindeque said the maize hybrids with biotechnology traits are safe. The two traits contained in the three white maize hybrids have been thoroughly tested in South Africa for genetic quality and purity of these seeds.

“These hybrids meet all of our strict quality-control standards,” Lindeque said. “The safety of maize with one or both of these biotech traits has been independently reviewed and approved by regulatory authorities in 19 countries in Europe, Asia, North and South America. They agree that these products are safe and protective of the environment.”

Maize with the YieldGard trait has been grown for a decade in South Africa. Maize with the Roundup-Ready trait has been grown for the past four years in South Africa, he said.

The next phase of the inquiry will involve meetings between Monsanto and every farmer impacted by the yield loss. Monsanto has committed to compensate farmers for any yield loss in these three hybrids. These meetings should take place over the next two months.

33 Responses to “Maize Production and South Africa”

  1. Katherine Mann Says:

    Well maybe you shouldn’t be messing with genetic modification, ever think of that? Those of us who still care about the food supply and the planet are all rejoicing in your failure.

  2. A Moore MD Says:

    This is why we don’t need Monsanto GM Food.

  3. Ewan Ross Says:

    A Moore – we dont need Monsanto GM food because an issue in seed production (techniques used to produce both GM and non-GM hybrids) which had absolutely nothing to do with genetic modification effected pollination by ~10% in ~25% of planted acreage?

    I dont quite follow the logic there.

    Especially considering that the same areas have grown GM crops for 10 years and seen yield benefits due to the adoption of the technology.

  4. andy Says:

    I think the replies are missing the point- This is not a GM issue but a conventional breeding issue. This situation was as likely to happen in an all conventional product as it was one with BT.
    Chances are by having the Bt protection in it kept a bad situation from being far worse.
    I know those that want to besmirch all Monsanto products hate to have to understand the fine point of Breeding ( It’s not as simple a sound bite as GM=Bad) but they often show they don’t really care to let facts get in the way of a sound bite.

  5. Brad Says:

    A couple years ago, in a previous job I was involved in nvestigating the death of about 150 chickens on a farm. They all died within 24 hours which is usually indicative of either a very virulent disease or a toxin. This happened to be an organic operation.

    We eventually traced it to mycotoxins in some organic feed. The feed had likely been stored improperly at some point before it had been fed to the poultry. The farmer got it straight from the feed supplier, so the fault was likely somewhere in their operation. The supplier was well-regarded in the industry and nothing like this had ever happened before.

    Now one could jump to the conclusion that the problem was the fact that the feed was organic, and therefore organic was bad – but that would not have been based on sound logic. It would not have been appropriate to lay the blame for one incident at the foot of a well-established process of food production (organic).

    Same logic applies here.

  6. roberto Says:

    not quite same logic, quite faulty comparison, nice try in “flipping the omelette”

    The chicken thing was an unfortunate accident.

    Genetically modifying nature’s perfect ways and creation for profit is another thing.

    Of course, in the process some good accidents can happen, but are they the norm? the actual intention? What about the side effects? sustainability? Long term consequences?

    What are the company origins and where it is heading to…for (organic) chickens sake.

  7. Steve Says:

    Quick note for Brad.

    Love your use of logic and I’ve decided to use it to further my understanding of history. Lets see now.

    Stalin ordered the killing of millions of people.
    George W. Bush signed off on the execution of dozens of Texans
    Stalin was Innocent.

    I am going to have lots of fun with this.

  8. Ewan Ross Says:

    Steve – surely the conclusion there would be that Bush was guilty? =) (or on a more serious note possibly that you should take each case individually and explore the reasons behind the outcome before deciding on the factors which led to the outcome)

    The point being made is obviously that you cant jump to conclusions based on whatever you believe about a given product – people against organic production techniques could have jumped on the bandwagon and claimed that it was organic techniques which caused the deaths of the chickens in the case Brad illustrated – and been completely wrong.

    Jump to the issue of South African maize – the Anti-GM lobby sees that a GM crop has an issue and therefore decides that this issue must be with the GM aspect of the crop, and not some other aspect – as it actually was.

  9. David Says:

    I heard that Roundup is approved for use as “organic” in some European countries. Is this at all true?

    • Kathleen Says:

      My understanding is that as glyphosate is a synthetic chemical, it is ineligible for use in organic systems.

  10. Deborah Rubin Says:

    According to an article posted by Dr. Moore on another thread:

    The damage-estimates are being undertaken right now by the local farmers’ cooperative, Grain-SA. Monsanto claims that ‘less than 25%’ of three different corn varieties were ‘insufficiently fertilised in the laboratory’.

    80% crop failure
    However Mayet says Monsanto was grossly understating the problem.According to her own information, some farms have suffered up to 80% crop failures.

    Of the 1,000 South African farmers who planted Monsanto’s GM-maize this year, 280 suffered extensive crop failure, writes Rapport

    “It’s a very good gesture to immediately offer to compensate the farmers for losses they suffered,’ said Kobus van Coller, one of the Free State farmers who discovered that his maize cobs were practically seedless this week.

    “One can’t see from the outside whether a plant is unseeded. One must open up the cob leaves to establish the problem,’ he said. The seedless cobs show no sign of disease or any kind of fungus. They just have very few seeds, often none at all.

    The South African government does not require any labelling of GM-foods. Corn is the main staple food for South Africa’s 48-million people.

    The three maize varieties which failed to produce seeds were designed with a built-in resistance to weed-killers, and manipulated to increase yields per hectare, Rapport writes.

    So did 20-25% of farmers lose 80% of their crops or is there an overall loss of 20-25% of crops? The original post above is unclear.

    Isn’t it odd that a crop that was manipulated to increase yield failed to pollinate properly. Do you think an up or downstream genetic function may have been affected by the modification?

    I see that farmers will be compensated. What will be done to compensate the people who depend on corn for a dietary staple–the people of South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa? How will this grain shortage affect the market price?

    The Monsanto blog says pollination variation is not uncommon. Is the extent of this particular case in South Africa uncommon? It sounds like it could be disastrous.

  11. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Thousands of people are now facing famine after a massive crop failure in South Africa. The Times of Zambia has just reported that three types of Monsanto GE corn has failed to pollinate affecting 82,000 hectares (202 000 acres) of vital food production land.

    Maize is a staple food of Africa and farmers regularly fight drought but never before have their plants failed to be pollinated. Such a catastrophic event is unheard of and highlights the dangers that have been forecast by scientists about the risks to food security posed by GEO’s.

  12. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – the blog covers the questions you asked:-

    “Initially, there were reports of about 120,000 hectares affected. After detailed, in-field investigations involving Monsanto and the farmers, the teams concluded about 25 percent of the total planted hectares — or roughly 75,000 hectares — were affected in some way by this variation in pollination, according to Kobus Lindeque, South Africa Area Director Monsanto Africa.

    “We personally examined tens of thousands of hectares. While there is variation in pollen production, the average pollination rate in the fields is about 90 percent pollination. That means, on average, the yield reduction is about 10 percent, keeping in mind that portions of some fields were significantly more affected than that,” Lindeque said.”

    There is an overall loss (average loss) of 10% of the yield – not a total crop failure, although certainly a big dent in expected farm income (which will be compensated by Monsanto)

    It is also clearly stated that this isnt a problem of genetic engineering – it is an issue that arose from the breeding techniques used to produce seeds (to maximize seed yield in production) which led to the production of hybrids which had variable pollination efficacy – if it was a genetic function which was affected in these plants then the previous 10 years of yieldguard traited maize would have suffered similar problems, as would the previous 4 years of roundup ready maize.

  13. Bob Peirce Says:

    This is a topic I work on at Monsanto, so I know that the situation in South Africa is not as you described. There is no famine in South Africa based on the reduced yield from the white maize.

    We’ve had teams personally visiting farms and talking with farmers. About 25 percent of total planted hectares — or about 75,000 hecares — were affected in any way by the pollination issue, and the average yield reduction is only about 10 percent.

  14. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I don’t believe that Lindeque’s blog or you, Ewan, answered how the people who depend on this maize will be affected–the people other than the farmers. Will the expected amount of failure affect the local food supply and markets? Is Monsanto willing to help feed the people or countries who may face a shortage or may have trouble affording the higher prices this crop failure may cause. Has Monsanto researched the economic and social implications of a crop failure like this in an area–sub-Saharan Africa– already affected by food shortages?

  15. Ewan Ross Says:

    A recent story about the state of white maize in South africa

    “Traders say the flush maize supplies, and expectations of another good crop this season, have contributed to relatively lower maize prices on the South African Futures Exchange”

    This does not appear to support any notion of famine induced or worsened by a 10% reduction in yield over 3 varieties

  16. Deborah Rubin Says:

    A more recent story says the munbers will have to be adjusted after the extent of the damage is known.

    S.Africa cuts 2008/09 maize crop forecast

  17. Ewan Ross Says:

    Gives another interesting look at this – surprisingly South Africa had a 2.93 million tonne surplus of corn in 2008 and that the forecasted surplus in 2009 is 1.60 million tonnes (not sure if this incorporates the reduced figures in the forecast you linked) which would mean that there is room for an approximate 10% reduction in total yield across all south african maize production before the country would face a deficiency of maize.

  18. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Are the crops that failed hybrids of NK603 and Mon810? If not which event are they? Have these hybrid events ever been grown in South Africa before? Were the seeds supposed to be sterile in the second generation?

  19. Andrew Says:

    If you actually read the article from reuters you will see that the white maize production has in fact increased marginally vs the previous forecast, and yellow has gone down. The hybrids with the pollination problem produce white maize. South Africa produces about 2.6 million hectares of maize annually, and the current crop production estimate of around 11 million tons is one of the higher annual productions.

  20. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – I’m not sure what events the hybrids contained, I’ll assume someone will be able to better inform you on that. (I assume it is the same two products which have been used in SA for 10 years and ~4years respectively)

    Just to keep the wording clear – a hybrid is simply put a cross between two inbred lines and isnt necessarily the result of any genetic modification – the pollination problem was caused by a change in hybrid production technique.

    Another useful link for assessing south african maize (and other crops) is

    which shows weekly exports and grain surpluses (and at least to my mind clearly demonstrates that a 10% reduction in yield to a portion of the white maize crop would not be a significant blow to exports or overall grain levels)

  21. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Andrew Says:

    April 20, 2009 at 6:13 am
    If you actually read the article from reuters you will see that the white maize production has in fact increased marginally vs the previous forecast, and yellow has gone down. The hybrids with the pollination problem produce white maize. South Africa produces about 2.6 million hectares of maize annually, and the current crop production estimate of around 11 million tons is one of the higher annual productions.

    I did actually read the article, Andrew, but it reads to me like they did not fully account for the crop failures yet. According to this and other articles, the maize production is up due to favorable weather this growing season…not necessarily GM yield increases. Thank goodness for that.

    On the other hand, input costs are high due to fertilizer and fuel rates:

    JOHANNESBURG, 27 August 2008 (IRIN) – High fertiliser and fuel prices in South Africa may impact the 2009/2010 maize harvest in the region’s largest producer, a grain farmers’ body warned.

    The cost of fertiliser has shot up by more than 100 percent – higher than the official inflation rate of around 11.6 percent – fuel prices have increased by over 70 percent since August 2007, and seed prices are up by more than 30 percent, Hawkins said.

    Studies by Grain SA show that if farmers are to recover the high cost of inputs in 2008, they will have to hike prices by 63 percent in 2009. “It is highly unlikely that they will be able to charge that amount and recover the money, so farmers are going to plant less,” Hawkins explained.

    South Africa’s national consumption requirement of the staple food is around 9 million mt, and surplus maize is exported to neighbouring Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia and Mozambique, as well as countries outside of Africa.

    Global trends show that food prices will decline next year, leaving South Africa’s farmers little room to pass on increased costs to the consumer, said Abdolreza Abbassian, secretary of the Intergovernmental Group on Grains Trade and Markets Division at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome. “The vulnerability of farmers will be increased.”

  22. Deborah Rubin Says:

    The hybrid lines were listed as


    in the SA Farmers Weekly 6 Mar 2009

    I’m just curious if these hybrids have been grown in South Africa or elsewhere before and which lines they are. Are there any new traits in the corn such as seed sterility?

  23. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – I can guarantee there isnt a seed sterility trait in the seeds.

    detail plant varieties in SA in 2004 and 2007 respectively – DKC78-45BR appears on both, DKC78-35BR appears in the second document, I’m not sure on an introduction date for the DKC77-71R.

    I’m not a plant breeder so I am not entirely sure on the nomenclature involved, but there does appear to be a DKC77-61R which I would assume is a close relative of the 71R variety.

  24. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan, if a variety appears in the 2007 document, does that mean it is first planted in 2007 or 2008?

  25. Ewan Ross Says:

    My guess would be in the 2007/2008 growing season – not 100% sure on this, I believe planting in SA occurs in the October – November timescale so a publication in October of 2007 could (but doesnt necessarily) cover crops planted at approximately that time.

    Thinking a little further on the nomenclature – I think the numbers probably represent the inbred lines used, and the letters the traits in them (R = roundup B = Bt?)

  26. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Can you find out for certain, Ewan, about the first planting season?

  27. Anthony Says:

    Shame on Monsanto.

    Monsanto is a criminal corporation. Monsanto must die.

  28. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – sorry for the wait – the info on the various hybrids, and their appearances on the market are as follows:-

    DKC78-35R has been on the market for 4 years

    DKC 78-45BR for 2 years (ie this year is its second)

    DKC 77-71R is in its first season in the market.

    The original conventional hybrid used in all cases has been on the market for the past 8 years (ie the non-GM form). And to restate – the pollination problem only occured when the parental lines were switched.

  29. Ewan Ross Says:

    Also to keep this in perspective there are at least 12 registered commercial hybrids containing traits in south africa from Monsanto.

  30. Andrew Sprawson Says:

    I will only accept that this issue was caused by the hybridization and not the genetic modification when I read it from a reputable independent source. Monsanto does not have a track record that suggests it holds any store in the truth.

    They are corrupt and their only goal is to maximize their profit margins. They use well-funded lobbyists to ensure that their products breeze through the necessary testing processes and find their way to supermarket shelves without the awareness of the general public. They fight tooth and nail against any bills tabled to ensure that GM products are marked as such in stores. Their concerns are not the well-being of consumers.

    If it is widely accepted that we face huge corruption issues in South African government; how can WE trust that these products ever went through the required probity?

  31. Andrew Sprawson Says:

    The following leads me to believe that Monsanto is not a company that I trust as a producer of food, Nuclear weapons maybe, but definitely not food.

    “The 1940s saw Monsanto become a leading manufacturer of plastics, including polystyrene, and synthetic fibers. Since then, it has remained one of the top 10 US chemical companies. Other major products have included the herbicides 2,4,5-T, DDT, and Agent Orange used primarily during the Vietnam War as a defoliant agent (later proven to be highly carcinogenic to any who come into contact with the solution), the excitotoxin[dubious – discuss] aspartame (NutraSweet), bovine somatotropin (bovine growth hormone (BST), and PCBs[2]. Also in this decade, Monsanto operated the Dayton Project, and later Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg, Ohio, for the Manhattan Project, the development of the first nuclear weapons and, after 1947, the Atomic Energy Commission.
    Monsanto began manufacturing DDT in 1944, along with some 15 other companies.[3] The use of DDT in the U.S. was banned by Congress in 1972, due in large efforts to environmentalists, who persisted in the challenge put forth by Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring in 1962, which sought to inform the public of the side effects associated with the insecticide. In 1947, an accidental explosion of ammonium nitrate fertilizer loaded on the French ship S.S. Grandcamp destroyed an adjacent Monsanto styrene manufacturing plant, along with much of the port at Galveston Bay. The explosion, known as the Texas City Disaster, is considered the largest industrial accident in US history, with the highest death toll. As the decade ended, Monsanto acquired American Viscose from England’s Courtauld family in 1949.
    In 1954, Monsanto partnered with German chemical giant Bayer to form Mobay and market polyurethanes in the US. In the 1960s and 1970s, Monsanto became one of 10-36 producers of Agent Orange for US Military operations in Vietnam[4][5]

    The company spent $8,831,120 for lobbying in 2008. $1,492,000 was to outside lobbying firms with the remainder being spent using in-house lobbyists.[84]
    [edit]Public officials formerly employed by Monsanto
    Justice Clarence Thomas worked as an attorney for Monsanto in the 1970s. Thomas wrote the majority opinion in the 2001 Supreme Court decision J. E. M. AG SUPPLY, INC. V. PIONEER HI-BREDINTERNATIONAL, INC. which found that “newly developed plant breeds are patentable under the general utility patent laws of the United States.” This case benefitted all companies which profit from genetically modified crops, of which Monsanto is one of the largest.[79][85][86]
    Michael R. Taylor was an assistant to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner before he left to work for a law firm on gaining FDA approval of Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone in the 1980s. Taylor then became deputy commissioner of the FDA in 1991.[79]
    Dr. Michael A. Friedman was a deputy commissioner of the FDA before he was hired as a senior vice president of Monsanto.[79]
    Linda J. Fisher was an assistant administrator at the United States Environmental Protection Agency‎ (EPA) before she was a vice president at Monsanto from 1995 – 2000. In 2001, Fisher became the deputy administrator of the EPA.[79]
    Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was chairman and chief executive officer of G. D. Searle & Co., which Monsanto purchased in 1985. Rumsfeld personally made at least $12 million USD from the transaction.[79]

    Monsanto Chemical company founded and incorporated the town of Sauget, Illinois, to avoid taxation from East Saint Louis. For many years the company employed the city’s people and polluted its environment while giving them no tax revenue in return, even during the city’s decline throughout the latter half of the 20th century.
    Monsanto is accused of encouraging residents of Anniston, Alabama to use soil known by the company to be contaminated with PCBs as topsoil.[73]

    Gary Rinehart of Eagleville, Missouri was sued by Monsanto in 2002, who claimed that he had violated their Roundup Ready Soybean patent. Rinehart is not a farmer or seed dealer, but he still had to spend money for his legal defense. Monsanto eventually dropped the lawsuit, but never issued an apology, admitted to making a mistake, or offered[dubious – discuss] to pay for Rinehart’s legal expenses.[81] This is not the only case of aggressive, misconstrued action on the part of Monsanto. Monsanto has been accused of showing up at farmers’ houses, making accusation, and demanding records;[81]
    Monsanto sued the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator in Pilot Grove, Missouri, claiming that offering seed cleaning services to farmers was tantamount to inducing them to pirate Monsanto seeds. The Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator had been cleaning seeds for decades before companies such as Monsanto could patent organisms.[75][77]

    In the United Kingdom
    Monsanto dumped thousands of tons of waste containing PCBs in a quarry near Groesfaen, Wales.[73] Also responsible for dumping various unconfirmed contaminates at a site near Llwyneinion, North Wales.[citation needed]

    Child labor
    A subsidiary of Monsanto employs child labour in the manufacture of cotton-seeds in India. The work involves handling of poisonous pesticides such as Endosulfan and the children get less than Rs.20 (half dollar) per day.[67]

    Indonesian bribing convictions
    In January 2005, Monsanto agreed to pay a $1.5m fine for bribing an Indonesian official. Monsanto admitted a senior manager at Monsanto directed an Indonesian consulting firm to give a $50,000 bribe to a high-level official in Indonesia’s environment ministry in 2002, in a bid to avoid Environmental impact assessment on its genetically modified cotton. Monsanto told the company to disguise an invoice for the bribe as “consulting fees”. Monsanto also has admitted to paying bribes to a number of other high-ranking Indonesian officials between 1997 and 2002. Monsanto faced both criminal and civil charges from the Department of Justice and the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Monsanto has agreed to pay $1m to the Department of Justice and $500,000 to the SEC to settle the bribe charge and other related violations.[56].

    Pollution in Anniston, Alabama
    On January 1, 2002, New Year’s Day, The Washington Post carried a front page report on Monsanto’s legacy of environmental damage in Anniston, Alabama. Plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit provided documentation showing that the local Monsanto factory knowingly discharged both mercury and PCB-laden waste into local creeks for over 40 years.[32]. In a story on January 27, The New York Times reported that during 1969 alone Monsanto had dumped 45 tons of PCBs into Snow Creek, a feeder for Choccolocco Creek which supplies much of the area’s drinking water. The company also buried millions of pounds of PCB in open-pit landfills located on hillsides above the plant and surrounding neighborhoods.[33].

    MON863 liver and kidney toxicity
    MON863 is a variety of maize genetically engineered to be resistant to corn rootworm[20] and intended for human consumption. The MON863 grain is approved for human consumption in Japan, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States and the European Union.[21][22]
    Both Monsanto experts, and independent toxicology experts attached to research institutions and food safety authorities internationally did not indicate statistically significant adverse effects. The European Food Safety Authority has found that “the placing on the market of MON863 is unlikely to have an adverse effect on human and animal health or the environment in the context of its proposed use.”[23]
    However, a statistical analysis conducted on results of a Monsanto 90-day feeding study by Gilles-Eric Seralini, Dominique Cellier, and Joel Spiroux de Vendomois found it increased triglycerides in female rats by 20-40%, caused increased weight gain in female rats of 3.7%, a decrease in male rat weight of 3.3%, and increased certain indicators associated with liver and kidney toxicity.[24]”

  32. Ewan Ross Says:

    Gives an update to the situation which better explains exactly what the issue was rather than just a ‘hybridization issue’ – it’s still from a Monsanto source and so won’t satisfy everyone.

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