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GM giant's plan to cash in on world water crisis

MONSANTO, the genetically modified food giant, drew up plans to make billions of dollars out of the world's water crisis, confidential company documents reveal. The documents, seen by the Independent on Sunday, identify a "vast economic opportunity" for the company in impending global shortages of resources such as water.

They outline a strategy to use "environmental issues" to "deliver strong financial returns" and create "a compelling possible future for Monsanto - financially, strategically and aspirationally."

The revelation of the strategy - drawn up in connection with recently dropped plans to establish water businesses in India and Mexico - follows the publication 10 days ago of a report on the growing global environmental crisis by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The GEO 2000 report identifies impending water shortage as the world's greatest environmental problem after global warming. It says that over one-third of the world's people already live in countries suffering "water stress" and that, on present trends, two-thirds will do so by the year 2025. It adds: "The declining state of the world's freshwater resources may prove to be the dominant issue on the environment and development agenda of the coming century."

The confidential Monsanto document - a "sustainable development sector strategy" and a "water business plan" use the same statistics and take up the same theme. The business plan adds that two billion people worldwide "still lack reasonable access to safe water" and says that this is likely to rise to 2.5 billion over the next decade.

The document, like much of Monsanto's material on genetically modified foods, is written in idealistic language. The strategy paper says that one of its aims, as well as strengthening Monsanto, is "to help solve some of the world's major environmental issues and to improve quality of life in the process". It concludes: "We at Monsanto have been given the rare opportunity to enjoy the wealth of spirit that comes from doing the right thing while we are doing business."

But the documents display a sharp sense of the gains for Monsanto, both now and in the future: "Initial entry into the water business will create US$400m in annual revenues ... furthermore, extension of the water platform beyond the safe and healthy water business has the potential to create several billion dollars in annual revenue."

It adds that there would be "other strategic benefits", including "reshaping Monsanto's image as a more sustainable and environmentally positive company". It goes on: "Population growth and economic development will apply increasing pressure on natural resource markets. Those pressures, and the world's desire to prevent the consequences of those pressures if unabated, will create vast economic opportunity."

Yesterday Dr Vandana Shiva, director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in New Delhi, India, said: "Monsanto is seeking a new business opportunity because of the emerging water crisis. Since water is as central to food production as seed, and without water life is not possible, Monsanto is now trying to establish its control over it ... [as] a source of guaranteed profits. Privatisation and commodification of water are a threat to the right to life."

A Monsanto spokesman confirmed that the company had made plans to exploit the world water situation but had decided several months ago not to proceed. "We do not like to talk too much about plans that were never completed," he said. But he did not rule out that the company might return to them in the future.