Burkina Faso has commercialized Bt cotton, making it the third African country after South After and Egypt to join the ranks of biotech crop countries.
Burkina National Agricultural Research Institute (INERA) and Monsanto recently signed a commercial agreement paving way for the importation of Bt cotton seeds to be grown for seed multiplication. Mr. Kinyua Mbijjewe of Monsanto Africa confirmed that seeds enough for 15,000 hectares had been imported and are already being planted by Burkinabe farmers. INERA hopes to produce 400,000 hectares worth of seeds for the next planting season.
Burkina Faso in Western Africa is one of the poorest countries in the world with 90 percent of the population engaged in subsistence agriculture.
Where possible, farmers are producing cotton as a cash crop, accounting for more than 50 percent of all exports in Burkina Faso.
However, cotton production in Burkina Faso is susceptible to frequent drought and insect infestations that can often result in damage to up to 90 percent of the crop.
As a result, cotton production is highly dependent on insecticide treatments to control these pests.
"It's true that we have some varieties that are productive, but we also have to use a lot of pesticides first to treat the seed, then to protect the plants until they are virtually mature," explains Dr. Ouola Traoré, an agronomist and head of the Cotton Program the Institute for the Environment and Agricultural Research (INERA).
"At present, the cost of insecticide treatment means that often we can't be competitive internationally."
To provide growers with more options for insect control and potentially greater productivity in the field, Burkina Faso began field trials and evaluations with genetically modified (GM) or transgenic cotton crops in 2003.
The advantages of transgenic insect-protected cotton crops are built-in to the plant, which contain a protein from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that protects against specific lepidopteron insect pests.
"The experiments are intended - with transgenic cotton - to see what the advantages are. ... It's to see if there is some other alternative to battling the various pests chemically," continues Dr. Traore.
The objectives of the experiments and tests were to assess the effectiveness of Bt cotton on the insects that infest fields in Burkina Faso, to analyze the financial profitability of the Bt technology for Burkinabe farmers, to analyze the impact of the technology on the environment, and to assess the composition and safety of the cotton seed and oil byproducts that are used for animal feed and human consumption.
With the entry of Bt Cotton however, there is widespread optimism in the country that Burkinabe farmers will finally enjoy the economic and agronomic benefits of Bt Cotton that South African, Chinese and Indian small scale farmers have been enjoying for many years.
With Burkina Faso (West Africa) and Egypt (North Africa) joining the ranks of biotech countries, the challenge is now on eastern and central African regions to stop dragging their feet on the technology.
Egypt recently commercialized Bt. maize (MON 810) and South Africa has been growing biotech crops (Bt. maize, Bt. Cotton and GM Soybean) for about 10 years.