Trade Hub Succeeds in Advancing Bt Cotton Application in Malawi
SATH's support of the Farmer's Union on Malawi's efforts to introduce genetically modified (GM) cotton into Malawi paid off, as the government agreed to allow commencement of trials of Bt cotton. This is a first but major step that should lead to Malawi accepting GM cotton as a commercial crop throughout the country. The wide-spread use of more drought and pest-resistant GM cotton seed varieties will lead to more jobs, particularly for women, more revenue from this popular cash crop, and is expected to have a knock-on effect in other countries in the region such as Zambia and Tanzania. Bt cotton seed does not affect politically sensitive staple food crops, and has a large impact on yields of cotton grown under small-scale dryland farming conditions.
Foreign exchange shortages and volatile world markets are forcing Malawi to diversify away from tobacco (which currently accounts for two thirds of total annual foreign revenue); with cotton as one of the most promising alternatives for small-scale crop growers. Close to 150,000 rural households, mostly in the south of Malawi already depend on cotton as a cash crop, grown in rotation with staple food crops. The impact of the commercial release of the GM technology could be an increase of approximately US$5 million for these households.
These positions were presented at a July 2011 conference on biotechnology which brought in Malawi government and the private sector together to agree on practical steps for the commencement of trials and allow commercial application of GM technology, particularly Bt cotton.
SATH identified and sponsored the participation of cotton farmers from Burkina Faso and South Africa who shared their experiences in growing GM crops, which participants agreed was vital in shaping conference discussions and formulation of the communiqué.
SATH continues to work with Malawian stakeholders to overcome remaining hurdles to commence trials. Government authorization for trials was finalized too late for the current growing season and there are physical infrastructure constraints at the approved testing facility. It is now expected that trials will commence in the 2012/2013 growing season.
In Zambia, SATH has commissioned a technical report on the introduction of GM cotton and the role that SATH can play to facilitate adoption of the technology. In Mozambique, the Institute for Cotton (IAM), which already has a government mandate to conduct GM cotton seed trials, has requested SATH assistance to facilitate a dialogue between them and the GM gene rights holder, Monsanto.