Genetically modified Bt cotton not worth the hype
2 months ago, 25 Maý 00:37
Cotton is mainly grown for its fibre, which accounts for about 35 per cent weight of the primary product known as seed cotton. The seed is the main byproduct and is used to produce cotton seed oil, cake, and hulls for livestock feed, and linter (used for film, plastics).
Kenya’s cotton sector is generally characterised by about 140,000 smallholder farmers, with a low average yield of 0.53 tonnes of seed cotton per hectare between 2000 and 2010 and poor quality cotton fibre outputs. The average production of 18,000 tonnes per year over 2005-2010 represents a mere nine per cent of the country’s potential.
The key challenges faced by the sector include poor agronomic practices, inadequate extension services, high cost, and poor quality seed. It is noteworthy that pest pressure of the African cotton bollworm is not mentioned as a key challenge yet, Bt cotton has been developed with public resources targeting this pest.
In terms of regulation, conditional release has been granted for (GM) Bt cotton to Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organisation and Monsanto by the National Biosafety Authority. However, an environmental impact assessment report is still pending from National Environmental Management Authority. Kenya is at a crossroads on whether to allow GM cotton or not. It would therefore be incisive to draw parallels with the experiences of Burkinabe and Indian small-scale farmers who have already commercialised it.
Bt cotton was claimed to be resistant to the most common pests in India, the pink bollworm. In 2006, just four years after its release by Monsanto, the pink bollworm had become resistant to it in Western India. Rapid development of resistance occurs because Bt cotton plants are engineered to continuously release toxins, and this constant, long-term exposure encourages the survival of any pests that are genetically resistant to the toxin. As a result, the usage of insecticide on cotton increased from 0.5kg per hectare in 2006 to 1.20kg in 2015 in India.
The cost of proprietary GM seed in Burkina Faso was $45 (Sh4,539) per bag compared to $1.25 (Sh126) for conventional cotton seed. This trend has been observed in India and South Africa and has a high likelihood of being replicated in Kenya. On claims that Bt cotton has increased yields from 2007 to 2016, yields stagnated as Bt cotton production rose from 67 per cent to 92 per cent and eventually declined in 2016-17.
GM cotton was officially approved in 2002 by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd. A joint venture between Mahyco Seeds and Monsanto India, which also supported its rolling out through an aggressive advertising campaign. There is no hybrid seed for cotton available in Kenya and the last variety bred was in 1989 which was a multiline.
Current cotton seed is from ginneries and is of poor quality. Access to non GM seed by non-GM and organic farmers was, and still is a huge problem as supplies of non-GM, and particularly organic seed became scarcer by 2012 in India. It appears that its cotton germplasm is contaminated with ...
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