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June 06, 2008

GM cotton trials continue in Burkina Faso

In a new online video and podcast, Dr. Ouola Traoré, an agronomist and head of the cotton program at the Institute for the Environment and Agricultural Research (INERA), discusses the field trials and evaluations that have been conducted since 2003 to assess if transgenic cotton crops provide advantages to farmers in Burkina Faso.

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, yet are susceptible to frequent drought and insect infestations.

“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 mature,” explains Dr. Traoré. “At present, the cost of insecticide treatment means that often we can’t be competitive internationally.”

GM insect-protected cotton crops contain a protein from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that protects the plants from 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. Traoré.

Once approved for commercial use, Burkinabe farmers are expected to benefit from less labor, less pesticide spraying and increased income. According to a recent report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), the adoption of genetically modified crops among resource-poor farmers in other countries is resulting in unprecedented benefits that are contributing to the Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty by 50 percent by 2015.

In addition to assessing the agronomic characteristics and effectiveness of GM cotton, researchers at INERA are evaluating the impact of the technology on the environment and the composition and safety of the cotton seed and oil byproducts used for animal feed and human consumption.

“I’m interested in giving the best possible information to the producer. And it’s not in the interest of others, but in my own interest – as a scientist,” says Dr. Traoré. “It’s in the interest of the country, in the interest of the producers – because I myself am the son of a producer – to convey to them the right information.”

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