Bt cotton - a safe and profitable option?
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CTA. 2004. Bt cotton - a safe and profitable option?. Rural Radio Resource Pack 04/5. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57413
Dr Ousmane Coulibaly of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture on the risks and potential of genetically modified (Bt) cotton.
Bt Cotton ? a safe and profitable option? Cue: The introduction of genetically modified crops to African soils has provoked strong reactions right across the continent. In Burkina Faso, the agrochemical company Monsanto is carrying out trials of a genetically modified cotton variety, called Bollgard 2. The new variety is designed to be resistant to certain cotton pests, such as bollworm and some caterpillars. The cotton plants have been engineered to produce a natural poison which kills these insects when they feed on the plant. However, opponents of the new technology have suggested that in many instances, such new varieties, which are known as Bt varieties, are no more effective at killing pests than ordinary cotton plants. They have also argued that yields from Bt varieties are lower than from ordinary cotton. So what should cotton producing countries like Burkina Faso do? Should genetically modified cotton be banned or permitted? The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, IITA, has tended to support the development of genetically modified crops in Africa, as a way of tackling the continent?s poverty and under-development. Tunde Fatunde spoke to Dr Ousmane Coulibaly about the new Bt cotton, and whether he thinks it is an appropriate technology for Africa. He began by asking what the difference is between Bt cotton and conventional cotton. IN: ?The difference is that if ? OUT: ? a good alternative for African farmers. Exactly.? DUR?N 6?33? BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: Dr Ousmane Coulibaly of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, on the potential of genetically modified Bt cotton. Transcript Coulibaly The difference is that if you plant Bt cotton, because of its resistance to some specific pests, the crop losses linked to insects will be lower, so at the finish the yield will be higher. And also by decreasing the amount of insecticide to be used on the conventional cotton, Bt cotton can protect also the environment by being used. Fatunde African governments have also been reacting to the controversy between genetically modified cotton and conventional cotton. Coulibaly Yes, well the controversy is a good one because if we have a genetically modified cotton, like the Bt cotton, to be planted, you have to make sure that there is no environmental cost or degradation or pollution linked to the planting of this kind of cotton. And African governments are thinking about testing, measuring the impact of planting this cotton compared to conventional cotton, and assessing all the environmental benefits, or the environmental costs, linked to the new cotton, because we don?t produce it our self. It is a company, which is Monsanto which brings it, but we have to make sure that all the safety conditions are met. If the safety conditions are met, the profit can be higher for us, in terms of increased yield and lower environmental damage through lower insecticide use. Fatunde OK, let?s take the example of Burkina Faso, that is currently experimenting with Bt cotton. What is this level of experimentation, and what are the partners involved in this experimentation? Coulibaly Monsanto is testing the Bt cotton in Burkina Faso, in collaboration with the INERA, which is the National Agricultural Research Institute. But these results are not definitive, and they are only comparing the yield of Bt cotton compared to conventional cotton. Fatunde What are these results, and where were the results presented? Coulibaly The results have been presented in September at the International Conference of Entomology in Australia, showing that there is a significant difference in yield and the level of resistance of Bt cotton. But still this is not really enough, because there are tests to be done to see the impact on the ecology, the impact on other insects, the economic and the financial impact to farmers, to the community and the country. And to make sure that all the safety conditions are met, before one can write a policy to recommend the wide use of the Bt cotton. But except Benin, which has a moratorium on GM crops up to 2007, most of the west African countries are ready to push the GM crop, especially the Bt cotton, because we have also to look for a cheaper way, to be more competitive. So this means that anything that anything that can decrease our costs of production, by using less pesticide, will be something good for us. Fatunde Why is it that an independent international body has not been able to evaluate the results presented by Monsanto, to say, ?Yes, this is OK.? Coulibaly I fully agree with you. I think we need checks and balances here. And the first check and balance, which will work well, will be to put together a kind of independent council of research. No Monsanto, or no government should really have a kind of political pressure on this body. I think this is a really good way to go for it, even for more accountability. Fatunde Now if Bt cotton becomes an alternative, what will this impact be on the farmers? Coulibaly Normally these farmers are supposed to benefit through the decrease in the cost of production, through the use of less pesticides. This can really be an advantage for a resistant Bt cotton. But the problem is more complicated, because you know that if you go to the international arena, there are a lot of subsidies. Fatunde Yes, in fact I want to come to that situation. Coulibaly Subsidy means that the government of the US or the European Union are helping farmers with money to produce their product at a lower cost, so they get something out of the government, and our farmers don?t get the same thing. Let me take an example: the US every year put $4 billion of subsidies, of help to a small number of farmers. Fatunde How many? Coulibaly Like 25,000, almost 25,000 farmers. So compared to 15 million farmers of cotton in West and Central Africa, which are producing by their own means, without really much help from the government. And these farmers are going to compete on the same market. So I think there is a kind of unfair trade at this level. If you look at the World Trade Organisation, and you are aware of the Doha ministerial conferences, and the Cancun, so the subsidies issues came very high. And four countries, Benin, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali put together a kind of paper proposal, called the Initiative of Cotton, where they asked for the complete removal of subsidies from cotton. Fatunde So you are in fact saying in essence that Bt cotton, in the long run, is good, provided, one, the subsidy given to the American and European farmers are removed, or subsidies are also given to African farmers? Coulibaly Which is unlikely. Fatunde Which is very unlikely. Two, one has to look at environmental impact, before one can generally say, ?Yes, Bt cotton is a good alternative for African farmers.? Coulibaly Exactly. End of track.