Burkina reaps over US$1 Billion from Bt cotton as Kenya drags its feet

Dr Oumar Traore, INERA Director of Crops Research

Dr Oumar Traore, INERA Director of Crops Research

Prior to adopting and commercializing Bt Cotton, Burkina Faso’s cotton production had fallen sharply.

According to INERA (the countries lead agricultural research body) in 2007 cotton production had gone down by almost 50% or just about half.This prompted the country to speed up the process of commercializing biotech cotton, which had been in trials since 2003. The commercialization of Bt cotton in 2008 brought the much-needed relief to the farmers who had started deserting cotton farming due to high cost of production as a result of insect pests pressure that required over six sprays to contain.

According to Dr Oumar Traore (INERA’s director of Crops Research), adoption of Bt cotton was ‘a wise move’ by the government. For example, last year 2013, cotton production increased sharply by 57.5 per cent, he says, citing the Burkina National Cotton Producers’ Union (UNPCB) monitoring reports.

The booming harvests fetched the country US$1.2 billion from the sale of 630,000 tons of cotton produced last year. If this cannot persuade those opposed to biotech crops, then I doubt if anything will ever persuade them otherwise.

What is more, according to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) Survey report, the country’s share of world cotton exports tripled over the past few years, thanks to adoption of Bt cotton. This is unprecedented for an African agricultural product; “What makes it more remarkable is the fact that these successes were achieved despite a slump in world prices,” the report says.

The president of the giant UNPCB, Mr. Karim Traore, fondly talks of GM cotton: “Bt cotton production is experiencing growth every year. Burkina Faso’s top cotton producer, SOFITEX, collected 500,000 tonnes, 55 per cent of which came from GM cotton, while the Gourma Cotton Company collected 100,000 tonnes.” This means that in less than 8 years of commercialization of Bt cotton, it has overtaken the conventional varieties as the first choice of farmers.

Burkina Faso is one of the few countries that have commercialized biotech crops in Africa. The others are South Africa and Sudan.  Kenya could easily become the third country in Africa to commercialize GM cotton but it is likely to be overtaken by Ghana because of the current GM import ban imposed in 2012 by the cabinet. The task force established to advice the state on way forward seems to have been infiltrated by anti-biotech groups if their public utterances are anything to go by.

But as Kenyan government wavers on its commitment to modern biotechnology its cotton industry, and indeed the general agriculture sector, remains in the doldrums waiting to be rescued. It is incredible that the Kenya government prefers to listen to propaganda peddled by anti-GM lobby groups instead of heeding the voices of its scientists and regulators.

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