Malawi has snubbed Monsanto’s application to release cottonseed varieties that have a BT trait.
Government is demanding clarification from the US-based seed producer Monsanto, why it wants to release all varieties instead of the only cottonseed on confined trials in Malawi.
This development has put on hold confined trials of genetically modified organisms (GMO) Bt cotton seed this year.
The Bt-cotton trials started in 2013 at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources and were in third year of research.
In June last year, Assistant Director of Environmental Affairs, Michael Makonomera indicated that “good progress had so far been made and there was a lot of interest in the cottonseed.”
Government even allowed confined trials to be expanded to research stations at Makoka in Zomba, Chitala in Salima,
Kasinthula in Chikwawa and Toleza in Balaka.
Monsanto, then applied to government for a permit to release the GM cottonseed known as MON 15985, or Bollgard II to farmers as trials showed good results.
The seed has been genetically engineered to produce an insecticide from the bacterial species Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) within its tissues, making it poisonous to butterflies and moths.
Confirming the development, GM cotton lead researcher, Professor Moses Kwapata said the trials are off this year and Monsanto has not even released funding for the trials.
He said: “We are not doing any trials this year because Monsanto has not released funding for the continuation of the trials.
“What I have been told is that the National Biosafety Regulatory Committee did not approve the application by Monsanto. This is not good as we were nearing the end of the trials and next year we could have taken [cottonseed] to farmers.”
Technical development manager for Monsanto Alick Maulawo also confirmed in an interview with Business News having received letters from government.
“Government wants some clarifications on how we will proceed with the process. Since I do not have the letters with me, I may not share everything, but we hope early next year we will engage with government and clarify the said issues,” said Maulawo.
But cotton expert Duncan Warren said it should be appreciated as to why government want clarifications, but eventually GM cotton will still come to Malawi.
“To me we are just delaying the inevitable. These GM cotton varieties will still come to Malawi and if we are not careful we will be forced to import from other countries instead of producing them ourselves.
“If we are also not careful Monsanto might downscale its operations and invest in other countries, which will be bad for the economy,” said Warren.
Quizzed on what the future of the trials will be like, Minister of Energy, Mining and Environment Bright Msaka said government has not stopped Monsanto from continuing with the trials, but rather they should clarify why they want the trait that was being tested at Luanar to be in all cotton varieties even without testing.
“The issue here is that Monsanto wanted us to give them the go ahead to have all the varieties have a Bt trait, which to us is not on.
“If they [Monsanto] asked us to give them the go a head on the variety they tried at Luanar, officials in my ministry said they could have given them a go ahead already,” said Msaka. n