Development Features

Farmers stand to lose over GMO cotton

GENETICALLY modified cotton is one of the crops some countries resort to  in an effort to beef up their agricultural output.  But this mode of production results into an end-product that is not without problems.
This cotton is easily prone to attacks by pests.  They become resistant to the poisons in Bt cotton. Besides, other pests that had not been a problem in organically grown cotton also become a problem. This calls for more insecticide to be applied and turns out costly in the end. Eventually more insecticides have to be applied. Experience worldwide has taught us this.
When Zambia held a debate on GMO crops in 2002 at Mulungushi Conference Centre, cotton farmers from Makhathini Flats in South Africa spoke about how economically successful they were since they started growing GMO cotton.
They couldn’t praise the technology highly enough. Their assertions may not altogether be true. Cotton has collapsed in the Makhathini Flats. The price of GMO seed cotton was double the price of ordinary seed cotton. Farmers sold their cotton  to Pine and Delta Co. The cost of the seed was deducted at the ginnery.  The whole system was a closed so that Pine and Delta were assured of getting paid for their seed. When another ginnery came on the scene the farmers sold to the new ginnery. The farmers lost proceeds  from the GMO cotton. Makathini Flats is no longer the flagship that it once was touted to be.
The proponents of GMO cotton then went to Benin. Again the technology seemed to be a success initially. Today,  the farmers say they do not want GMO cotton.  The trend occurred in Burkina Faso.
In Benin, farmers are now growing organic cotton and getting paid a premium. The buyers of the lint add value to the whole chain – spinning, weaving until the final garment. This is all done within the country, thus creating employment for the local people.
At one time Zambia had ginneries, spinners, weavers and seed. The whole industry collapsed with the advent of ‘salaula’ (second hand) clothes. The industry can be re-established with organic cotton. GMO cotton will  provide high quality products.
Hundreds of farmers in India have committed suicide because the GMO cotton failed them. The yields decreased. The GMO seed is more expensive and so the farmers end up in such debt that they commit suicide because they know they will never be able to repay the debts incurred from growing GMO cotton.
Monsanto, the owners of some of the GMO technologies will be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity in connection with its technology which is alleged to harm human health and the environment by the  use of  Roundup Ready herbicide. Some GMO cotton is bred to withstand the spraying of Roundup herbicide.
It is said that 85% of tampons and other feminine personal products contain traces of glyphosate, the primary ingredient of Roundup herbicide. Roundup is definitely toxic and probably carcinogenic. Millions of women are using these products.
Monsanto will close three research centres in the USA in 2016 because farmers are no longer allured by the GMO technology. With this, the shift is now towards the African market. In general, many European countries have rejected the GMO technology.
So why does Zambia want to accept a failed technology? At the moment Zambia is respected  internationally because it rejected GMO technology in 2002.
For the safety of our people, it is better to maintain our laws on Biosafety.  The pressure for changing our Biosafety law is coming from the proponents of the GMO Bt cotton. Why are they so afraid of their technology if it is so good?
It is incorrect to state that there is no harm to human health since cotton is  not edible. Farmers feed the cotton cake to livestock, both dairy and beef. People consume both the milk and meat products. Vegetable oil is extracted from the seed and this makes its way directly into food.
Mr. W. Dunavant Jr. the former CEO of Dunavant stated years ago that GMO cotton fiber is of a poorer quality than conventionally grown cotton. In Burkina Faso farmers’ GMO cotton is downgraded at the ginnery because the fibers are shorter. Hence they are paid a lower price.
The African Centre for Biodiversity, 2015 has summarised the situation: “Scrutiny of actual experiences [with GM cotton] reveals a tragic tale of crippling debt, appalling market prices and a technology prone to failure in the absence of very specific and onerous management techniques, which are not suited to smallholder production”.
Zambia should make an effort at producing organic cotton. It would fetch a higher price for the farmers and better for the environment. The whole cotton industry from seed production, ginning, spinning, weaving up to the finished garment could be re-established within Zambia, resulting in the sale of high quality organic garments in the high-end shops in the developed world. Maybe we need another national indaba
The author is  Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre Executive Director.

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