Trade Policy at Work

How important is GMO in cotton production?

As the new cotton buying season began last week, cotton farmers are still crying over the prices, saying that the prices are very low compared to the expenses incurred in the production.

As the new cotton buying season began last week, cotton farmers are still crying over the prices, saying that the prices are very low compared to the expenses incurred in the production.

Total budget the farmers are using on fertilisers and other farming expenditures.

The government has directed the cotton prices for 2014/15 to be 750/- compared to 660/- of the last season, but still farmers are complaining that the prices are low.

The Tanzania Cotton Board (TCB) acting director Gabriel Mwalo said in an exclusive interview: “Farmers are now complaining on the prices, saying that 750/- per kilogramme is not sufficient. We however find it not true. The only reason is that farmers produce little quantity of cotton and that the quality is poor.”

Mwalo says the only solution is to increase the output of cotton by using modern crop husbandry through GMO methods which will assure the farmers of quality and increased output.

He pointed out that cotton farmers have been demoralised by the low cotton prices to the extent that some of them decided to quit cultivating the foreign exchange earner.

“Cotton is a cash crop, the farmers cannot eat it, and ever since its price went down, some of them shifted to cultivate other crops… its better now for the government to allow farmers to use GMO methods for the crop,” he said.

“We advocate for the cultivation of GMOs in the country because we think that is the only way to rescue our poor cotton farmers from abject poverty. so would subject cotton farmers to abject poverty, and they will not complaining on the prices because they would produce more cotton than their expectations” he said.

It says the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) cotton would increase farmers’ yields while also increasing its quality.

The TCB boss revealed that a law allowing farmers to cultivate GMO cotton was still in the process and saying farmers were longing for it.

He said the county’s adjacent countries were already growing their cotton under GMO specifications.

“While Tanzania is still waiting for the law, our neigbours- Kenya and Uganda are now in pilot project using the Genetically Modified Organisms in cotton. If we can not wake up early we will find ourselves too late. Let us allow our farmers now to improve their lives,” he noted.

Mwalo also said that the GMOs assist the crop even when there is a climatic change as well as making the cotton cleaner. The cotton grown under GMO condition have a dig chance in fetching higher prices because of its good quality.

Mwalo said they have witnessed the GMOs being applied to cotton in West African countries and have seen the effect on the production levels and quality of their produce.

“We went to Senegal and other countries in West Africa and were thrilled to learn that GMOs have enhanced production and the quality of the product. Since the GMOs add value to the crop, the government should allow it quickly so as ensure that our farmers are using the GMOs,” he said.

Speaking recently in Dar es Salaam at the workshop themed “Climate, Food, and Trade: Developing Coherent Policies and Programmes, Lucas Saronga, former acting ambassador of Tanzania to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva, explained that many of the farmers shun the GMOs because of genetic modification, but allayed those fears, saying that the GMOs are certified and approved as safe for use.

Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) executive director Dr Hoseana Lunogelo urged the government to run awareness campaigns on the use of genetically modified crops which apart from being better yield producers they are also drought resistant, a trait necessary given the ongoing global climate changes.

“Let us advice our farmers on the benefits and safety of GMOs,” he said.

Many farmers complain of the effects of climate change but if trained and advised on the crop to grow according to their areas they would not suffer,” Dr Lunogelo said.

However, Genetically engineered in cotton is currently grown on 25 million hectares around the world, mostly in India, China, Pakistan and the US.

Other countries growing significantly smaller amounts of GM cotton are South Africa, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Columbia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Burma, Australia, and Egypt.

GM cotton is engineered with one of two traits. One makes it resistant to glyphosate-based herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup, while the other stimulates the plant to produce a toxin that kills the bollworm, one of the crop’s primary pests.

This pest-resistant cotton is engineered with a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thurengiensis or “Bt”, and is the more commonly grown of the two types.

In India, it is grown on 12 million hectares, making India the second largest producer of cotton in the world, behind China. Insect-resistant Bt cotton is the only GM crop currently grown in India.

Reduce the amount of pesticides farmers need to buy to control pests, increase harvests and farm income by reducing crop losses due to pest attacks.

More than half (68 percent) of China’s cotton production is genetically modified to produce a substance that protects it against pests.

Cotton used to be protected from insects by repeated pesticide and the application of GMOs to Chinese cotton farmers has helped them in reducing the use of pesticide on the crop.

GMO refers to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology techniques.

The plants are modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to diseases or improved nutritional content.