Cotton players have expressed optimism that the drive to commercialise Bt cotton will boost the crop’s output and the economy as a whole.
In an interview on the sidelines of a familiarisation tour National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) organised at Chitala Research Station in Salima District, Bt cotton lead scientist Jessie Mvula said the genetic set up coupled with the physical structures of the varieties under trials, give the Bt cotton a clear advantage.
He said: “We are evaluating the Bt cotton varieties across the country and so far so good in terms of preliminary findings. I may not divulge much on the findings as we are still collecting data but I can confirm that the gene is really efficient in controlling the bollworm.
“It is even doing wonders when it comes to improving yields in those varieties with the trait as compared to those without because these GM varieties have, in part, some hairy leaves that prevent the sucking pests from destroying the plant.”
The claim has the backing of preliminary results from the open trials, now in their second year, before they are commercialised as they seem to have impressed in both the improved yield and disease resistance areas.
The move to commercialise Bt cotton will place Malawi among the few countries in Africa on a steady path of commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops.
Bt cotton is developed using bacterium Bacillius thuringienss (Bt) which normally produces a chemical harmful to insects such as the bollworm, which is said to be a major constraint to cotton production.
One of the cotton experts Duncan Warren said this is good news to the sector whose output has been dwindling over the years.
“The adoption of GMO cotton, which is developed with an insecticide to reduce heavy reliance on pesticides and reduce input costs, is the way to go. The reduction in pest infestations through adoption of GMO cotton could increase yields and improve the general well-being of cotton growers,” he said.
According to the Cotton Strategic Plan, cotton output has been on the decline since a record output of 2010 when the country produced about 100 000 tonnes.
The yield has been hovering around 6 000 and 10 000 tonnes with last year’s national yield reaching a record low of 5 000 tonnes.
Cotton Council executive director Cosmas Luanda said there is need to improve on value addition to revitalise the cotton sector.
An official from NCST Katherine Chiweza said they will continue to visit trial sites and will see through the process towards commercialisation.
Through its partner, Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS), NCST provided technical and financial support to the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), an institution that implemented the first confined trials of the crop in the country.