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July 20, 2008

Burkina Faso puts hope of increased cotton yields on GM cotton

Bt cotton, developed by U.S. farming biotechnology leader Monsanto contains a bacterial protein that deters insects, reducing the need for costly pesticides and raising yields by around 30 percent, Burkinabe researchers said.

Two strains of Bt cotton, both developed from local varieties, have been approved for production and general sale, Zourata Lompo, director of Burkina Faso's National Biosecurity Agency (ANB) told a news conference on July 17.

"This year we have authorised 15,000 hectares for seed production and if the socio-economic evaluation by our field workers is conclusive there is no reason why next season we won't move to generalised production of genetically modified cotton," Lompo said.

Burkina has been the top cotton producer in West Africa in recent years, although its harvest slumped to 360,000 tonnes in the 2007-08 season from 660,000 tonnes the previous year.

Researchers at Burkina Faso's INERA agricultural research institute said Bt cotton required only two pesticide treatments per season, compared with six or eight for non-modified cotton. That cut pesticide use by at least 60 percent. Pesticides currently make up around 30 percent of production costs. It translates into a saving of around 35,000 CFA francs ($84.64) per hectare each season, while the 30 percent higher yield from Bt cotton increases revenues by around 55,000 CFA, the researchers said.

Royalties from seed production will be split with local farmers receiving 72 percent of seed sales and Monsanto 28 percent, officials said. "It's a co-ownership scheme. The gene belongs to Monsanto, but all the scientific work to select and evaluate performance and toxicity has been done by Burkinabe scientists on Burkinabe varieties," Lompo said.

St. Louis-based Monsanto's cotton, which is already grown in some other countries around the world, has a gene derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that protects the plants from specific lepidopteron insect pests, the company says.

Use of genetically modified crops for food and textiles has increased in recent years but has faced opposition from environmentalists who say the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could upset delicately balanced habitats or even lead to uncontrolled super species.

Last year, 23 countries planted genetically modified crops, Monsanto said. Only one, South Africa, was on the continent where advocates like Monsanto say GMO crops could have their greatest impact in increasing food output and fighting poverty.

Burkina National Cotton Producers' Union President Francois Traore said farmers had nothing to fear from GMO cotton.

"We are going ahead because we have followed the process since the start and the researchers have proved our fears were unfounded. The trials have demonstrated that at a productivity level, we will earn more with Bt cotton," he said.


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