BY SAMUEL NABWIISO
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA- Two more member states of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa have been granted a go ahead from their environmental agencies to commence with the cultivation of insect resistant genetically modified cotton varieties commonly Known as Bt cotton.
The two member states from the economic block are the Kingdom of Eswatini formerly known as Swaziland and Ethiopia. They will join Sudan, a member state of COMESA that commenced the commercialization of bt cotton in 2012.
Currently there are four countries that commercialized the growing of bt cotton in Africa that is Burkina Faso, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa the coming on board of Ethiopia and Eswatini will bring the number to six countries.
The new development in the adaptation of biotechnology in the growing of cotton in the two COMESA member states was approved by the Swaziland Environment Authority (SEA) and the Ethiopian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change granted the landmark approvals in May and June respectively.
According to the statement from the COMESA Secretariat, In Eswatini the Environmental agency approved the cultivation of bt cotton (JKCH 1050) and two varieties in Ethiopia which are (JKCH 1050 and JKCH 1047), are hybrid types. Both varieties JKCH 1047 and JKCH 1050 were previously approved for cultivation in Sudan.
On addition to Cotton, Ethiopia has also granted a five-year special permit for confined field trials for drought tolerance and insect resistance maize varieties (Water Efficient Maize for Africa).
The adoption by Ethiopia and Eswatini brings to three the number of COMESA member States including Sudan that have adopted biotech crop varieties out of a total of four in the African continent.
“It is gratifying to see that the demand-driven support from COMESA and its implementing partners finally came to bear fruit in Eswatini and Ethiopia,” said Dr. Getachew Belay, formerly Senior Biotechnology Policy Advisor, and now African Plant Biosecurity Network Coordinator at COMESA Secretariat.
COMESA, through its specialized agency, the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) supported both Eswatini and Ethiopia in biotechnology/biosafety policy formulations
In the past six years, COMESA conducted awareness and capacity building trainings and experience sharing visits (mainly to Sudan, South Africa, Burkina Faso and India) for parliamentarians, regulatory authorities, researchers, farmers, private sector, media and civil society organizations.
It also played a leading role in coordinating activities of other biotechnology/biosafety service providers in these two and other member States.
“It was not easy; however, we knew all along that COMESA has been the most trusted partner to the member States and other biotech stakeholders in handling this controversial and emotive issue of introducing GMO-products in the region,” Dr Belay remarked.
Dr Belay observed that the same varieties are being approved in different countries thus creating a good platform for COMESA member States to exchange data and share experiences amongst themselves without looking too far.
Cotton industry has been one of the leading industries driving Eswatini’s economy. However, production has been dwindling because of insect (bollworm) attack. Small-scale farmers, mostly women, are involved in cotton production and this technology is expected to raise their income earnings.
In Ethiopia, the government has identified the textile industry as one of the priority areas for industrial development and job creation where increased supply of cotton raw material with competitive price is needed.
The country expects to gain one billion dollars export earnings from textile and garment industry by the end of the second Growth and Transformation Plan in 2020.
Sudan commercialized Bt-cotton in 2012, and is now reaping the benefits by doubling productivity. More than 95% of the cotton produced in Sudan is insect resistant biotech (Bt) cotton.
Research trials on biotech maize, banana, cassava, cowpea, enset, and potato have also been underway in other COMESA member States including Malawi, Kenya, Egypt and Uganda.
Dr Belay underscored the importance of documenting the socio-economic changes that will take place after the adoption of such “new” technologies to ensure that countries at field-trial stages gain more confidence to make well informed decisions.
What is Bt-cotton?
It is any variety of cotton, genetically enhanced with Bt-genes to protect it against caterpillar pests, especially the African bollworm, which is the most destructive pest in cotton crops.
scientists believes that bt cotton reduces use of insecticides from 12 to about three sprays per season hence lowering the cost of production, enhancing populations of natural insect enemies such as ladybirds, and allowing beneficial insects like bees and butterflies to flourish in the cotton crop.
BY SAMUEL NABWIISO