The 10th largest cotton producer in the world is giving up on Monsanto’s genetically modified Bt cotton. Burkina Faso, Africa’s top cotton producer, has been having some serious problems with the quality of the cotton being produced from Monsanto’s GM seed. The strands of cotton being produced are far too short, making them unworkable for spinning applications. The yarn produced from GM cotton is weaker and takes longer to spin. The entire region is now planning “tactical withdrawal” of Monsanto’s transgenic cotton. The sub-par GM product is proving to be economically unviable.
Burkina Faso’s biggest cotton company, Sofitex, along with the national cotton farmers’ union and the rest of the country’s main producers are now shifting toward “100 percent conventional” production to save their agricultural economy.
Economic boom of GM cotton short-lived as quality of fiber worsens over time
Experimental GM cotton planting began in Burkina Faso in 2003. Promising to be an economic boom, Monsanto’s GM cotton seed passed all field trials and was launched on a large scale in 2007. This was the first time GMOs had taken root on a wide scale basis in the great continent of Africa. Right off the bat, it produced higher yields. Within two years, 80 percent of the country’s cotton crop was taken over by transgenic seed. Now, millions of people are economically dependent on its production. Transgenic cotton quickly replaced gold as Burkina’s top export product.
But the boom was short-lived. Over time, the quality of the cotton deteriorated. Burkina Faso’s new President Roch Marc Christian Kabore told media sources, “The cotton fibre we are producing today is short.”
Shorter strands negatively affect the strength of yarns and the speeds at which it can be spun. Longer fibers from natural cotton plants produce a stronger yarn because they can be spun around one another more numerously and more quickly.
GM seeds have produced inferior cotton fiber. As the value of the fiber goes down, Burkina Faso’s president sees economic troubles for everyone in the sector. “In market terms it’s an activity which is no longer very attractive for us,” the president commented. In the interview with AFP, he said Burkina’s authorities are “pursuing talks with Monsanto,” as producers in the region start to demand redress for their lost income.
High hopes for Monsanto’s Bt cotton fade to disappointment
Between 2011 and 2016, even after all the government subsidies and price controls were used to jump start GM cotton, its production started to falter due to quality issues. During those years, producers lost some $82.4 million. Now the producers are demanding that Monsanto compensate them for the losses.
One genetician, Jean-Didier Zongo, is accusing Monsanto of “criminal” acts. “The principal of precaution was not respected,” he says, pointing out that Monsanto failed to provide sufficiently tested seed varieties.
Producers were sold on Monsanto’s high hopes, after they promised up to 90 percent increase in yields. Per hectare profits were scheduled to go through the roof. As it was being introduced to the country, GM cotton was praised as the answer to the continent’s most pervasive pest, the African bollworm. Monsanto’s transgenic Bt cotton was engineered to produce its own insecticide from within, promising reduced use of insecticides that no longer worked on the highly resistant bollworms anyway.
It turns out that the genetic changes also elicit an inferior cotton crop that is hardly viable in the marketplace.
Christian Legay of the national council of organic food processors wholeheartedly supports Burkina Faso’s five to 10 year “tactical withdrawal” from Monsanto’s transgenic cotton. He says, “It’s a battle won,” and “a timely warning for other African countries.”