GM cotton threat to Pakistan and Africa

August 2015
Photo Creative Commons
The situation resulting from inappropriate deployment of GM cotton in India [1] is, it seems, being played over elsewhere in the world.

Rumblings in Pakistan suggest Bt insecticidal cotton has been introduced without the necessary checks on quality. Critics allege that the first GM seed brought to Pakistan in 2005 was intended for research but instead was immediately introduced into farms. An expert from the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) recalls how, in 2005, the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering put seed on the market which it had made with stolen GM seed crossed / mixed with indigenous cotton varieties. In 2008, a Bt cotton expert and ex-employee of Monsanto pointed out that Bt cotton was irrelevant in Pakistan: the biggest threat to its indigenous cotton was cotton leaf virus, while insect pests were of little concern. In 2009-10, PARC imported and planted Bt cotton from China in violation of quarantine law.

As in India, new Bt-resistant pests are arising on cotton in Pakistan. And there doesn't seem to be any sign of the promised increase in yields over the record harvest of 2004 before Bt cotton was introduced.

Almost all the cotton seed available on the market is now GM but as one seed seller lamented
"... the indigenous varieties the local farmers first ask for have been wiped out". 
In Africa, only three countries so far have commercialised GM cotton, but another four are on the verge and two more are planning to follow suit within a couple of years.

However, after only a few seasons of growing Monsanto's GM cotton, Burkina Faso is phasing out the crop due to disappointing yields and poor fibre quality. In Malawi, which is about to embark on the GM path, the cotton industry is already publicly voicing concerns over inadequate field trials, the high cost of inputs, and the ominously blurred intellectual property arrangements.

Some African governments and cotton producers have high hopes that GM will boost their competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog global cotton market.

How realistic is this?

" ... (Cotton) prices are erratic and distorted by unfair subsidies in the North, institutional support for the activities is often lacking and high input costs are already annihilating profit margins" (Haidee Swanby). During a public consultation, one Malian farmer put his dilemma bluntly "What's the point of encouraging us to increase yields with GMOs when we can't get a decent price for what we already produce?" As The African Centre for Biosafety pointed out "Scrutiny of actual experiences reveals a tragic tale of crippling debt, appalling market prices and a technology prone to failure in the absence of very specific and onerous management techniques, which are not suited to smallholder production ".

What's needed has been spelled out by The African Centre for Biosafety
"It is time that African governments turn their resources to improving the local environments in which cotton producers operate, including institutional and infrastructural support that can bring long-term sustainability to the sector without placing further burdens and vulnerability on some of the most marginalised people in the world."


GM crops are simply not what farmers, the poor or the hungry in developing countries need. Using such vulnerable people as an excuse to push GM food in developing areas is obscene.



  • Haidee Swanby (The African Centre for Biosafety), Opinion: GM cotton a false promise for Africa, IPS News 15.06.15
  • Burkina Faso dumps GM Bt cotton, Jeune Afrique translated by GM Watch, 9.06.15
  • Jamil Shahid, Genetically modified cotton seed 'blights' Pakistan's cash crop, Dawn 22.06.15

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