BENEDICT TEMBO, Lilongwe
THE Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member States have been urged to take a leaf from Malawi’s decision to embrace biotechnology in agriculture to help farmers boost cotton production and enhance their livelihoods through increased incomes.
Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA), a specialised agency at COMESA is impressed with Malawi’s bold stance.
Malawi, whose economic mainstay is agriculture, is currently conducting trials for cultivation of bacillus thuringiensis (bt) cotton.
Bt is the source for the gene that confers resistance to the notorious African bollworm insect that attacks cotton and reduces farmers’ yields.
ACTESA senior biotechnology advisor Getachew Belay, who is based at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) secretariat in Lusaka, said Malawi, which is testing nine bt cotton varieties across the country, will have wider options for the varieties to settle for.
Eight varieties are hybrids while one is local.
During a field tour of Chitala Agricultural Research Station in Salima district, about 100 kilometres east of the capital Lilongwe, Dr Belay said other COMESA countries, which have not reached Malawi’s stage should go and learn from there.
Malawi, which has already started field trials for genetically-modified (GM) bananas and cowpeas, embarked on the bt cotton trials for the 2016/17 season.
The trials, authorised by the Ministry of Environmental Affairs following the successful confined tests by Lilongwe University, will be done for three years before being released to farmers.
And agricultural research scientist Jessie Mvula said despite fears about GM varieties, the trials have so far shown that oil from cotton is safe, so is the lint.
She said bt cotton saves farmers the cost of spraying which is harmful to the environment and human health.