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African Farmers Reap Gains Of Biotech Cotton

By Ronald Njoroge OUAUDOUGOU, (Xinhua) -- Burkina Faso small scale farmer, Sanu Sibiri, took up planting of Genetically Modified Cotton in 2009. Four years later, his life has improved dramatically as a result of embracing biotechnology in one of world poorest continent.

For the first time I was able to make a return on my investment thanks to the Bt cotton,” he said when African farmers went on study tour of his farm on Sunday that is located 400 km away from Burkina Faso’s capital city of Ouagadougou.

Sibiri, who has planted three hectares of biotech cotton, added that yields have improved from 400 kg per ha to at least one tonne per ha. However, scientists have been able to achieve two tonnes per ha.

The transgenic cotton that is widely grown in Burkina Faso was developed by inserting a gene on one of the locally available high yielding varieties.

The GM cotton is highly resistant to the Bollworm pest that is responsible for most of harvests losses.

The father of four, now only has to spray his cash crop twice per season down from the nine that was required with conventional cotton. The two sprays are against the sucking insects that are common in Africa.

The pesticides are also one of the biggest costs of production for any cotton farmer. “I have channeled the savings to improve the living standards of my family,” the farmer said.

I now also have more time to do social activities instead of applying the dangerous pesticides,” he said. The West African nation was one of the few countries that have taken the bold step of commercializing Bt cotton.

It has been growing conventional cotton for several decades. However, since the early 1980s pests such as bollworms began taking a heavy toll on the farmers’ harvests.

Up to 90 percent of crop was damaged by the common pests,” Sibiri said. As of 2013, over 250,000 small scale farmers in the landlocked nation have embraced Bt cotton.

They have cultivated over 500,000 ha of the transgenic variety of cash crop.

In addition, approximately 52 percent of cooking oil is from the Bt cotton seed.

Sanu Vallante, however, is one of few farmers that are still planting conventional cotton. He added that the high cost of the Bt cotton seed has prevented him from making the switch.

Bt cotton seeds cost 56 U.S. dollars for 12 kilograms while conventional seeds cost less than two dollars for 30 kgs.

Burkina Faso is currently working closely with seed producers to ensure that the price reduces so that more farmers can embrace the new technology.

However, the African farmers who have embraced Bt cotton are reaping the gains of the technological advancement.

SOFITEX is one of the three cotton companies in Burkina Faso. They produce high quality seeds for farmers.

We also train farmers on the agronomic practices so as to increase yields,” SOFITEX Researcher Tianhoun Casimir said. He noted that Burkina Faso currently has a problem satisfying demand of the Bt cotton seeds.

Casimir said that up to 60 percent of all cotton grown in Burkina is now GM cotton.

Burkina Faso’s National Cotton Producers Union (UNPCB) President Karim Traore said that Bt cotton has revolutionized the rural landscape of the country.

On average, cotton yields have increased by 20 percent as a result of less pest damage,” he said.

Burkina Faso’s Environment and Agriculture Research Institute Entomologists Omer Hema said that the Burkina Faso still needs to grow some conventional cotton.

We want between 60 and 80 percent of cotton cultivated be transgenic, while the rest should be conventional cotton,” he said.

This will prevent the pests from developing resistance to the biotech cotton,” he said.

African scientists are now working on developing cotton varieties that are resistant to herbicides as the crop is affected by weeds.

Ugandan legislator Oleru Huda said that her country is ready to embrace biotech crops so as to improve the agricultural sector’s productivity.

Zambia Cotton Development Trust Acting Director lwisya Silwimba said that cotton growing in the Southern African Nation has been affected by pests.

We are therefore conducting research so that we can introduce improved cotton varieties,” he said. Kenya’s Baringo County which is located in the north central region of the country was once a cotton producing area.

However, farmers abandoned the crop due to low farm gate prices as well as high pest damage,” the County’s Deputy Governor Mathew Tuitoek said.

Once Bt cotton is commercialized in Kenya we will embrace it,” he said.

Common Market for Eastern and South Africa (COMESA) Senior Policy Advisor Getachew Belay said that adoption of modern agricultural biotechnology is one avenue to ensure Africa achieves food security.

Sudan’s Agriculture Research Corporation Director of Technology Transfer Asim Abu-Sarra said that his country commercialized biotech cotton in 2012.

Since then over 90 percent of all cotton cultivated is transgenic. This shows that our farmers are accepting this new technology due to its benefits,” Abu-Sarra said.

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