Burkina Faso, Africa’s top cotton producer and the only West African nation that has ventured into biotech farming, has decided to ban genetically-modified cotton produced by Monsanto on quality grounds.
Earlier this month Burkina Faso, the world’s 10th largest cotton producer, announced it was giving up Monsanto’s GM Bt cotton as it had proved uneconomical.
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Burkina Faso embraced GM cotton in the 2000s in the hope of bumping up returns on what became its top export in 2009 after surpassing gold.
With four of 19 people dependent on the so-called "white gold," the importance of cotton to the West African nation cannot be understated.
But the nation’s association of cotton producers now say GM cotton, though producing higher yields, has resulted in a significant drop in the quality of crops.
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Between 2011 and 2016, producers say the industry incurred losses of some US$82.4 million and are demanding compensation.
“The cotton fibre we are producing today is short,” Burkina Faso’s new President Roch Marc Christian Kabore told AFP earlier in April.
Burkina Faso's Interprofessional Cotton Association, which consists of the country’s main producers and the national cotton farmers’ union, is now targeting “100 percent conventional” production, Wilfried Yameogo, director of Sofitex, Burkina Faso’s main cotton company, said earlier this month.
“It’s a battle won,” added Christian Legay of the national council of organic food processors, an umbrella organization of consumer groups and farm workers that wants a five to 10 year moratorium on transgenic cotton in the country.
The emergence of GM once fueled hopes of greater production and also reduced the need for fertilizer. This was a key issue in a region prone to drought, where pests had grown resistant to traditional pesticides.
GM crops were supposed to be a win-win solution—reducing the number of pesticides required as well as boosting yields by as much as 90 percent, including hectare profits.
In 2003, Burkina Faso authorized experimental planting by U.S. seed giant Monsanto and Swiss multinational Syngenta. Then, in 2007, the country launched large-scale production of transgenic cotton.
But the deterioration in quality has now weighed in favor of a return to conventional cotton.
Researchers, political and community leaders were critical of the move to launch GM crops from the outset.
"The principle of precaution was not respected," says Jean-Didier Zongo, a geneticist from the University of Ouagadougou, who accuses Monsanto of "criminal" acts. He alleges the firm provided insufficiently tested seed varieties.
Monsanto officials have denied the allegations, arguing that a host of factors can lead to a drop in quality and says it is continuing to negotiate with its partners in Burkina Faso.