Battered by this year’s outbreak of a drug-resistant pest, which has ravaged the cotton crop in some districts, farmers in the country want government to expedite the release of the pest-resistant Bt cotton for use.
The Bt cotton seed—currently with the Environmental Affairs Department (EAD) after three years of confined trials at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar)—is a genetically modified cotton variety that is resistant to pests, matures quickly and enhances productivity.
Cotton Farmers Association of Malawi (Cofam) board chairperson David Rice said in an interview last week that time has come for Malawian farmers to replicate benefits of growing Bt cotton as other farmers in Africa are doing.
“Bt cotton is a way to go for us, cotton farmers. We have been to the trials at Luanar for several occasions and we saw how productive the seed is. Further, some of our friends travelled to Burkina Faso and South Africa to appreciate how our friends are benefiting from growing Bt cotton.
“We are facing a great challenge in managing pest which is very costly to us. With Bt cotton this won’t be a problem,” he said.
Rice said a cotton farmer using the current varieties in Malawi produces 600 to 800 kilogrammes (kg) per hectare.
However, with Bt cotton, coupled with good rains, studies show that a farmer could produce 1 500 kg per hectare.
In Africa, South Africa was the first to adopt Bt cotton for its farmers.
Studies show that economic gains from Bt cotton for South Africa for the period 1998 to 2013 was $1.6 billion and $313 million for 2013 alone.
In 2014, Burkina Faso was in its seventh year growing Bt cotton. Studies show that the country experienced a 67 percent reduction in pesticide use and also achieved a 20 percent yield increase compared to conventional cotton.
Economic gains from 2008 to 2013 from Bt cotton for Burkina Faso were $137 million and $37 million for 2013 alone.
Sudan is another country that, by 2014, was in its third year growing Bt cotton. Seven other African countries—Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda have conducted field trials on the cotton as well.
Officials from the EAD recently confided that the Bt cotton seed will be released soon to selected farmers as part of the last trials.
However, there has not been any specific date of the release.