Genetically modified (VIP) cotton
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CTA. 2004. Genetically modified (VIP) cotton. Rural Radio Resource Pack 04/5. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57170
Lucia Muza of the Quton company on the potential offered by Syngenta?s VIP cotton to small-scale farmers in Zimbabwe.
Genetically modified (VIP) cotton Cue: In South Africa, the planting of genetically modified cotton plants has been going on for several years. So what success has it had? According to a report in the New Scientist magazine, farmers growing the GM varieties in KwaZula-Natal have not only experienced yield increases of between 50 and 89%, but also have greater peace of mind about the health of their cotton crop, which so far has shown good resistance to pest attack. The GM cotton plants get this resistance from a protein which is normally formed by a bacteria that lives in the soil. However, scientists have been able to take the gene which is responsible for making this protein, and introduce it into cotton plants. The name of the bacteria is Bacillus thuringiensis, which is why the modified cotton is called Bt cotton. Most of the world?s Bt cotton is made by the company Monsanto, and is sold under the name Bollgard. However, the Syngenta company also have their own variety, which actually uses a different gene from the same bacteria. The gene also produces a protein, which when eaten by pest larvae, causes them to stop feeding and die. The protein is called a Vegetative Insecticidal Protein. Hence the name ?VIP? given by Syngenta to their own brand of Bt cotton. The Quton company of Zimbabwe is currently testing the ability of Syngenta?s cotton to withstand pest attacks. Lucia Muza, one of the research team, spoke recently to Sylvia Jiyane about the potential of Bt cotton for farmers in Zimbabwe. IN: ?We planted the Bt cotton ? OUT: ? human life is not there.? DUR?N 3?55? BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: Lucia Muza, on the testing programme for genetically modified cotton being carried out by the Quton company of Zimbabwe. Transcript Muza We planted the Bt cotton, it is a variety that we got from Syngenta and then we compared it to our local variety. The objective was to see whether the VIP gene was able to control Zimbabwean bollworms. Bollworms are the major cotton pest in Zimbabwe and I think they constitute more than 50% of the total cost of production in terms of plant protection. Normally for a cotton crop we end up with 7 to 10 sprays to control these bollworms and in some cases it may be weekly. So it?s a lot of work, it?s a lot of chemicals to use. So when we did our trial in the Bt cotton we didn?t need to spray for all the bollworms, Red, Spiny or the Heliothis, up to the end of the season. Whereas in the non-Bt cotton we had to spray 7 to 10 times to control the bollworms. Jiyane Having given that background, what do you think is the potential of Bt cotton in the country? Muza I think there is a lot of potential because, like I was telling you, 40% of our production costs in cotton can actually be accounted by the sprays that we need to control pests. So it means that if we really adopt Bt cotton or VIP cotton then we can get rid of that 40% or we may reduce that to 20%, saying maybe that is the cost of the seed. So you actually reduce our cost of production. And also during spraying time, it?s not easy because we have to go and scout for pests so that we just don?t go and spray. And most of our farmers, especially smallholder farmers, they don?t have these good scouting skills. So they don?t actually scout, so they loose a lot of their yield because they spray when maybe it is too late, or if they spray when it is not necessary. Also in spraying, people use a lot of chemicals, you need to wear a lot of protective clothing, you use a lot of water, so especially for women spraying is not an easy job. Also in terms of the environment, you are adding a lot of chemicals to the environment. So I think by introducing Bt cotton surely it will be environmentally friendly, it will reduce our costs, it will reduce our labour requirements and it would be user friendly. Jiyane And do you see potential in Bt cotton in the smallholder sector? Muza I see the potential surely to be there more in the smallholder sector because they are the people who have got the limitations in terms of scouting, in terms of labour and most of the farmers are actually women. And if you look in terms of yields in the cotton industry, the smallholder sectors are the ones that are being affected so much. So that it is very difficult to say a farmer will achieve yields that are above 1500 kgs per hectare. That is why at the moment they complain that is not profitable to grow cotton. With Bt we will assure them of yields that are above 1.5 tons per hectare, and then it will become profitable to them. Jiyane And what are some of the challenges for Bt cotton in the country since it seems like it?s a new development that is just coming in and people may not really welcome it that much. What are some of the challenges? Muza There are so many challenges. People need to be educated, what is Bt cotton? What is the effect of that protein that we have added to the cotton, to the environment, and to the people themselves. So it?s a matter of educating not only the people on the ground but also including the policymakers. We needed really to take lessons from what has happened in other areas, to see whether there were some negative effects on the environment and on the human beings in those areas, so that we really assure our people that there are not going to be those negative effects on the environment or on human life in general. But like I told you, it?s a matter of us working together with the Bio-safety Board and doing the experiments together so that everybody would be convinced that this is the way forward and that the results are positive and that the damage to the environment and to human life is not there. End of track.