If GM Cotton Increased Production Why Is Burkina Faso Phasing It Out?

By Staff Published: February 6, 2016, 8:34 am
Photo: Youtube

By Brian Dowd-Uribe and Matthew Schnurr | From African Arguments

The thorny topic of genetically modified (GM) crops was recently thrust into the global spotlight again. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bill Gates said that GM crops are a necessary tool to fight hunger and poverty in Africa.

But something Gates did not discuss was the news that the largest and most significant African adopter of GM crops – Burkina Faso – recently began a phase out of Bt cotton. Bt cotton is the most widely grown GM crop by poor farmers in Africa.

Why would Burkina Faso, a nation that struggles with hunger and poverty, turn its back on the very tools Gates and others so ardently support?

How Burkina Faso came to be an early adopter

In 2003, Burkina Faso became one of the first African countries to begin field trials of Bt cotton. This was done in partnership with the agriculture company Monsanto. Bt refers to a toxin – Bacillus thuringiensis – that kills one of the world’s most common and pernicious cotton pests, the bollworm. Monsanto agreed to backcross the Bt gene onto local Burkinabè varieties, which were subsequently released to farmers in 2008.

Burkina Faso’s adoption of Bt cotton made big news. Not only is Burkina Faso consistently one of Africa’s largest cotton producers, but cotton is also seen as the engine driving rural development throughout large parts of the country.

The introduction of Bt cotton has reportedly boosted total cotton production. In 2014, Burkina Faso had the largest number of total GM crop producers on the African continent. It has more than 140,000 smallholder farmers cultivating Bt cotton.

Burkina Faso’s success story has been celebrated as an example of how GM crops can help poor farmers. Many farmers have enthusiastically adopted the technology, and for good reason. Studies show that Bt cotton has increased yields and profits. The average Bt cotton farming family gained 50% more profit than from conventional cotton. This is despite the very high cost of Bt cotton seed.

Bt cotton growers also use significantly less pesticide. The total number of sprayings has gone down from six to two, reducing exposure of damaging chemicals and saving valuable labour time.

Read more at African Arguments

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