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Agri Biotech Production of Cotton in Africa

If biotechnology is now used in every agricultural activity, the industry will grow more. / Photo by: phartisan via 123RF

 

Agricultural crop production leads to wide-scale economic developments, especially when integrated through biotechnology.

 

Cotton production

Biotech is now being used for the production of cotton in Africa due to the plant's high demand. / Photo by: Gilles Paire via 123RF

 

The cotton industry is embarking on the road towards genetic modification as countries in Africa meet the demand for the agricultural crop.

Kenya has taken a step towards commercializing Bt cotton following the commencement of National Performance Trials (NPTs) to identify suitable varieties for different agro-ecological zones.

This comes after the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) granted an Environmental Impact Assessment license to Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Fisheries Organisation (KALRO) to undertake the trials.

The first transgenic cotton was planted in 2004 and then completed in 2010. This was a culmination to the planting that was done on 2001 where the method of cotton planting was first introduced.
The NPTs will be carried out in seven sites spread across six counties. In Kenya, the planting began on June 11 with KALRO’s Bt cotton Principal Investigator, Dr. Charles Waturu, presiding over the event. More than 200,000 hectares were allotted for the Bt cotton.

GM cotton planting is a significant move in the revitalization of textiles and apparel industry, which the Kenyan government has identified as key in upscaling manufacturing and realizing the ‘Big
Four’ agenda, a five-year ambitious economic recovery plan.



Speaking at the event, Waturu said he is optimistic that the data obtained from the trials will be adequate to allow Bt cotton varieties to be registered in Kenya,

“I believe the NPTs will give way for commercialization of the GM crop,” Waturu remarked.

Farmers who will benefit from this technology will be able to obtain five tons of cotton from one acre. This will ensure Kenya to regain its former glory in its widespread cotton production.

The beginning of the NPTs is a relief for thousands of cotton farmers in the country who are excited that they will reap big from Bt cotton once it is commercialized.

“We are excited that today marks the beginning of an end to our woes as Bt cotton will significantly reduce exposure to harmful pesticides, boost our cotton harvests, reduce the cost of production and increase our income so that we can afford quality education for our children,” said James Midega, a local cotton farmer.

If the trials yield favorable data, farmers are likely to access the Bt cotton hybrid seeds in April 2019.

An environmental release approval by the National Biosafety Authority followed in 2016, subject to meeting some conditions among them, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) clearance certificate. NEMA issued the license for implementations of the NPTs on May 30, 2018.

Sudan is one of two African countries that cultivate Bt cotton. According to an ISAAA global biotech report, the country’s Bt cotton adoption rate stands at 95% with an estimated 90,000 farmers growing the crop in over 192,000 hectares. Notably, farmers growing insect-resistant cotton had increased by 300 percent and the land under the crop more than doubled in just three years. The biotech cotton was developed to control the African bollworm and Sudan approved it for commercial planting in 2012.


Biotech in Africa

Biotech is now the reason why more than 100 trillion crops are now produced in Africa alone. / Photo by: avemario via 123RF

 

Research on crop production particularly in cotton wields more numbers when applying biotechnology.

A report on the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM crops published last year showed an increased benefit to cotton farmers estimating an amount of 136.5 Trillion from a 21-year period done on 1996 to 2016.

The report also stated India as the largest country producing biotech cotton with over 114 million hectares alloted for its growth.

Countries such as Sudan and South Africa has also started using biotechnology in their crop production.

Open Forum for Africa Biotech (OFAB) advisor, Mr. Nicolaus Nyange remarked that Tanzania needs to utilize research to fully understand the benefits of biotech to its farmers. Moreover, ISAAA Afri Centre Director Margaret Karembu added that Tanzania had been successful in tolerating drought-resistant maize including crops which are insect resistant.

Elarabi, a Sudanese local farmer, started growing cotton in 1979. He says farming through conventional methods was a painstaking one as it involved the regular spraying of highly toxic chemicals, was too expensive and induces low production due to many other opportunistic pests like jassids and the whitefly.

He reveals that his income has increased four to five times since he embraced biotech cotton. “With enough income from biotech cotton sales, I have improved the health standards of my family members and workers. This has motivated me to increase the land size under the crop from 25 to 107 feddans (44.94 hectares) and I even intend to scale it up to 240 feddans (100.8 hectares) in the coming season,” Elaraba says.

The story of success with genetically modified cotton reverberates across the farming communities of Sudan. In Central Block of Barakat region in Gezira Scheme, 35-year-old Jauaher Hamid Balwla takes delight in narrating how the crop has changed her fortunes by yielding an increase in harvest tremendously.

Sudan farmers had been given extra income consistently due to the increased production of cotton by embracing biotechnology.

Overall, the African communities in the agricultural sector have experienced revolutionary development through advances in farming led by crop biotechnology.

 

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