Nigeria adopts genetically modified cotton

A biotechnological and economic success story from 2009, was the commercialization of genetically modified cotton (Bt cotton) in Burkina Faso. Cotton yields increased, as did the export of cotton products. Farmers were also making more money, with profit margins as high as 50%. However, due to concerns from manufacturing companies that the fibres from Bt cotton are shorter, Burkina Faso is now phasing it out. Surprisingly, this move by Burkina Faso has not stopped neighbouring countries from looking to adopt Bt cotton as a means of improving their own economies. Nigeria is one such country.

Nigeria’s revenue from oil continues to decline, and the government is looking for alternative options to bolster the economy. Cotton production in Nigeria, though operating under capacity, contributes 25% of the GDP. Production has been hampered by several factors in the production chain, but high input costs and insect pests have largely discouraged farmers. Analysts have predicted that West African countries failing to implement Bt cotton will become non-competitive in the global market. Other African countries that are commercially growing Bt cotton are Sudan and South Africa.

In May 2016, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) of Nigeria issued permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited, for two GM crops. The first is for the “Commercial Release and Placing on Market” of Bt cotton. The other is for a confined field trial of GM maize. Nigeria adopting Bt cotton will have a significant impact on whether, and how other West African cotton producing countries will follow suit. A collaborative approach by the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) to harmonise biosafety legislations may provide a platform to guide the way forward.

Michelle Mukonyora

Aug 2020
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21 June 2016