After months of suspense, government has finally allowed the continuation of the BT or genetically modified cotton trials to selected farmers in the country.
Last year, confined trials did not take place as government had not yet given its approval to Monsanto Malawi and researchers to proceed with the trials.
The trial’s principal investigator Professor Moses Kwapata confirmed in an interview last week that the Department of Environmental Affairs has given the go-ahead for the trials to be taken to farmers.
“We got the letter two weeks ago and what this means now is that we will have to identify 20 farmers in the all the cotton-growing districts to do on-farm trials. We have done confined trials for three years and this development means we are making progress,” he said.
Proponents of BT cotton say it has potential to transform farmers livelihood as it is disease resistant as compared to conventional cotton which requires that farmers apply pesticides at least seven times.
Despite cotton being touted as one of the country’s foreign exchange earners, harvests have been going down over the years with yields this year being at a record low due to the El Nino induced drought.
Figures from Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development show that this year’s cotton output will drop to between 15 000 and 20 000 metric tonnes (MT), down from last year’s 40 000 MT.
Kwapata said they are also targeting other districts with weather patterns that can allow growth of cotton.
“From on-farm trials, we will evaluate and then look at logistics on how we can expand and bring in more farmers to grow the crop in zones. What this development means is that we will now have more work and there is need to involve all stakeholders to make our job easy,” he said.
Department of Environment and Climate Change spokesperson Sangwani Phiri confirmed that government has given Monsanto Malawi a certificate to proceed with the BT cotton trials which will not be confined.
He said: “They applied for a general release of BT cotton and they have been given a certificate. What this means now is that they can proceed with their trials which will now not be confined.
“After the trials, they will take their results to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development who will make a final decision on whether the BT Cotton is released to farmers or not.”
This means that after three years of confined trials, the trait will now for the first time be in the hands of farmers, a thing they have been anticipating for a long time.
In other countries such as India, China and Burkina Faso, yields for cotton tripled after farmers started planting BT Cotton.