In Summary

  • Cotton companies claimed that the Bt cotton varieties grown were producing lint of inferior quality, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
  • More important was the escalation in input costs, with the GM seed going for an equivalent of Sh4,500 compared to Sh121 for conventional seed.

As Kenya grapples with whether to allow cultivation and commercialisation of genetically engineered cotton (Bt cotton), there is a need to be aware of the predicaments of farmers in Burkina Faso, a land-locked country, 90 per cent of whose population is in farming.

Known as “white gold”, cotton accounts for about three per cent of Burkina Faso’s GDP, and 18 per cent of its exports and provides a livelihood for over 3 million people.

Bt cotton was introduced in 2008 and by 2014, some 140,000 small-scale farmers were growing the crop, making up 70 per cent of the total cotton production.

Initially, this was hailed as a success story, with farmers reportedly earning 50 per cent more, according to Monsanto.

However, in 2016, cotton companies claimed that the Bt cotton varieties grown were producing lint of inferior quality, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

As a result, the government banned Bt cotton. While the main reason was the economic loss, particularly by companies, farmers expressed concern over the weight, complaining that GM cotton had fewer seeds in the lint than conventional varieties.

This is important to farmers as payment was based on weight, which meant reduced income from the GM variety.

Farmers also lacked choice of seed as ownership was by seed companies. This is a key socio-economic concern and an infringement on the rights of smallholders and access to genetic resources.

More important was the escalation in input costs, with the GM seed going for an equivalent of Sh4,500 compared to Sh121 for conventional seed.

The Bt cotton seed is 36 times more expensive! Monsanto gets a whopping 63 per cent of the cost of the seed. Thus, cultivation of Bt cotton can only impoverish the farmer.

One area that has not received much attention from the government and multinationals is the loss of animals by Burkinabe farmers as a result of feeding on the Bt cotton straw.

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