In what is proving to be a lengthy process to launching a field trial for Bt Cotton in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research announced that it has now submitted its application to get the necessary approval from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for the use of Bt cotton. Bt cotton is a genetically modified organism (GMO) cotton variety, which produces an insecticide to bollworm. It is major produced is Monsanto, the world’s largest bio tech corporation.
According to Fentahun Mengistu (PhD) Director General of the Institute, the application was sent a month ago and the institute is still waiting for a response.
“We have also applied for a license or approval from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, to go ahead with a field trial on Bt Cotton. How fast the field trial will start partly depends on how fast we get the approval from the Ministry,” Fentahun said.
Two researchers from the institute have had also traveled to Ghana on a trip organized by Monsanto, to learn about the experiences of that specific country.
“We are still looking into other countries experiences to learn as much as we can. Our researchers have traveled to Ghana to look at the country’s experience with the cultivation of Bt Cotton. The experience has been very positive and encouraging,” Fentahun said.
Companies such as Monsanto have been reluctant to work with Ethiopia with this specific biotechnology citing the bio-safety laws are too demanding; in particular, regulations referring to penalties.
Monsanto had also voiced strong opposition to laboratory and field trials in Ethiopia, reasoning that its seeds have already been extensively tested in laboratories as well as in confined field trials in Africa.
However media outlets around the world have different stories. According to a June, 2015 article on The Hindu newspaper, the cultivation of Bt cotton is a risky affair for Indian farmers practicing rain-fed agriculture, citing a study published by California-based agricultural scientists in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe.
Monsanto is one of the “Big 6” Biotech Corporations, along with BASF, Bayer, Dow Chemical Company, Dupont, and Syngenta.
Ethiopia is among several African countries that have implemented seed registration laws for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region, an initiative aimed at increasing access to seed varieties as well as facilitate the safe movement of quality seeds which includes GMO seeds across the COMESA region. Despite being a signatory to the framework agreement, each country still has the right to implement its own measures on the matter.
Priority has been given to Bt Cotton in Ethiopia as it has proven to be successful in several other countries. The Institute of Agricultural Research has stated that there is no doubt that GMO seeds would increase the productivity of cotton significantly. With GMO seeds, it is expected that Ethiopia can easily meet its demand for cotton in a very short period of time. The increase in productivity in return is expected to encourage more farmers to join the sector.