Two months after Malawi planted the first genetically modified (GM) cotton in its history, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) says the crop looks more impressive than the other varieties that have been planted in the country before.
Luanar Associate Professor, Weston Mwase, who is one of the leading proponents of GM crops in the country, said the crop is performing well.
“We planted the GM cotton in a confined area as per requirements by the regulators two month ago, but the outlook of the GM cotton is completely different to the conventional cotton which we planted as a control. The GM cotton is dark green while the other is light green,” Mwase told Business News in Lilongwe.
He said what this means is that the GM cotton has more chlorophyll which enables it to manufacture more food and grow faster.
It has also been observed that conventional cotton had some pests under its leaves while the GM had not yet been attacked.
Despite the conventional cotton being attacked by pests, plans are underway to spray all the crops with pesticides.
Project adviser for GM cotton certified field trials Professor Moses Kwapata said the institution is proud to be the first in the country to handle GM crops even though the climate is not good enough for growing cotton.
“As we upscale this project, we will take the trials to Salima, Chikhwawa or Nsanje where the climate is hotter and cotton does extremely well. We were ordered by government to conduct the trials away from areas where cotton is grown to avoid contaminating the other crops if something goes wrong,” he said.
Kwapata said it is important to train officials at the institution to equip them with the right information on GM crops.
“As a college, we are the custodians of this GM cotton and we need to equip the staff with important information on GM crops so that they can competently handle queries. There are a lot of misconceptions regarding GM crops and we want those misconceptions cleared,” he said.
Cotton Development Trust (CDT) vice-chairperson Duncan Warren said there are a lot of positives the country will get from GM cotton and pleaded with the institution to hasten the trials so that farmers can benefit.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture Ulemu Chilapondwa said by allowing Luanar to conduct confined GM cotton field trials, government shows that it realises the importance of the cotton crop in the country.
“We want to go back to the days when the country was producing over 150 000 metric tonnes of cotton per year. With GM cotton, we will improve our yields because over the years production has gone down to as low as 15 000 metric tonnes,” he said.