Burkinabe Farmer Clears Air On Cultivation Of Genetically Modified Crops In Burkina Faso

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

An award-winning farmer in Burkina Faso, Dr. Traore François in a debate titled, ‘Controversy’, aired on National Radio and Television of Burkina Faso, joined in explaining the benefits of biotechnology for farmers in Burkina Faso.

In the debate, which centered on the advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified (GM) crops, François said that he had been cultivating GM cotton since 2007, ten years before which he had been cotton seed producer.

“More than ten years before I started cultivating GM cotton, I had been selected as cotton seed producer and as I started GMOs, I continued to be a producer of GM cotton seeds; seed multiplication is carried out by several farmers in Burkina,” he disclosed.

Explaining the intellectual property (IP) rights, François said that farmers in Burkina Faso used their own cotton seed varieties before the government signed an agreement with Monsanto to jointly have IP rights at 72% royalties for Burkina Faso and 28% for Monsanto.

“Since we started working with Monsanto on this technology, we use our own cotton variety seeds “made in Burkina Faso” seeds. In July 2008, Monsanto and Burkina Faso signed an agreement which stipulated that Burkina Faso co-owned with Monsanto genetically modified cotton seeds. Royalties were shared 72% for Burkina Faso and 28% for Monsanto,” he explained.

Stating why Burkina Faso became the first West African country to produce GMOs, François said the history of cotton production in the country was that of hard experiences, especially in the 1990 “when in West Africa, caterpillar Helicoverpa armigera developed resistance to pyrethroids (pesticide) in the treatment of cotton.” 

He added that Burkinabe farmers were compelled to use endosulfan pesticide which, though was banned in Europe, saved cotton in Burkina Faso; even as farmers also realised some side effects of use of high doses of pesticides.

“Cotton producers in Burkina Faso realized that the use of high doses of pesticides could make pests more and more resistant and could kill useful insects and soil microorganisms as well. 

Environment experts told them that the use pesticides also contributed to water pollution and this had consequences on aquatic flora and fauna,” François said. 

He said that the adoption of agricultural technology, Burkina Faso was now the largest producer of cotton in West Africa before which the country was at crossroads if no solution on economic losses was found. “And this situation brought us to support political leaders to choose agricultural biotechnology to reassure the more than three million people who directly lived on cotton.”

According to François, what brought a wider acceptability of the technology was the existence of cotton producers’ association at national to rural levels since 1996. “‎This facilitated collaboration between the Cotton Company and producers for the adoption of the technology and between 2007 and 2014, cotton producers found out that agricultural biotechnology solved the problem of lepidopteran attacks and brought increase in cotton yields.”

Citing a study by Gaspard VOGNAN, an agro-economist with Institut de I’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA), he explained that “the productivity increase for Bt cotton varies between 4% and 48% per hectare compared to conventional cotton, with an average yield of about 1.2 ton per hectare,” adding that growing Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) cotton was less expensive because it needed only two sprays of pesticide against six for conventional cotton. 

Francois, who also grows animals said that they produce good milk from feeding on GM cotton seeds without side effects. “For many years now, my animals are fed genetically modified cotton seeds, and they produce good milk that my family drinks and to date we have no problem.” 

Already in Africa, Sudan and Burkina Faso are commercializing GMOs with Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Ethiopia, carrying out confined field trials of GM crops. 

François said that Burkinabes visit the US; which cultivates 73.1 million hectares of GMOs; Brazil 42.2 million; India 11.6 million; Canada 11.6 million; China 3.9 million hectares and most of which food are produced from GMOs. “We have never heard that GMOs killed someone in those countries, and none of our children who go there died from eating GMOs. I know that the bread we eat in Burkina is not organic, neither is the beer we drink,” he said.