Global Bt cotton acreage increases dramatically

July 18, 2009 - Zimbabwe

Cotton accounted for 12 percent of the overall biotechnology area in 2008. Across the world, it has emerged as the third largest biotechnology crop. Global Bt cotton acreage increased drastically from 0.7 million hectors in the year 1996-97 to 14.4 million hectors in 2008-09.

And in this period the share of Bt cotton acreage in the world cotton cultivated crop increased steadily from 2 to 47 percent. Several countries are intending to produce Bt cotton while rest of others are conducting field trials, revealed a report of the International Cotton Advisory Committee.

Countries like Pakistan, Egypt, Kenya and Mozambique are conducting field trials of Bt cotton. In the year 2008-09, Uganda was ready to conduct the trials but the process was not done, while Zimbabwe and Thailand carried out these trials but has yet not been commercialized.

The technology for the production of Bt cotton has not been adopted yet in Zimbabwe on account of lack of funding, though the field trials were successful, informed Director, Zimbabwe Farmers Union, Mr. Paul Zakariya adding that commercialization requires funding as well as government support.

Ongoing economic environment is not allowing country to subsidize their cotton farmers unlike other countries. In Africa, Bt cotton has been commercialized only in South Africa and Burkina Fasco, added Mr. Zakariya.

Financing conventional crops is difficult for Zimbabwe’s cotton industry, which results into the low prices for crops. Experts said that situation can be improved by increasing yields of crops, which will generate profit for the farmers as a few of the cotton growers are threatening to diversify to other highly remunerative crops.

Exports of Bt raw cotton have increased from 0.35 million tons in 1996-97 to 31 million tons in the year 2008-09, which was 51 percent of the overall world cotton exports, as per ICAC’s estimates. It is estimated that in Asia and Oceanic, 60 percent of cotton ginning is of biotech cotton.

As per the experts, Bt cotton is produced by inserting a synthetic version of a gene from naturally occurring soil bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis into cotton. This gene, is introduced into the cotton in order to destroy a major cotton pest called bollworm, as it produces Bt toxin in all parts of cotton plant, which destroys the worm.

Bt cotton toxin kills the worm when it ingests any part of the plant. Biotech is meant to provide ways to the farmers to increase the yield per hectare, resists diseases and pests and also reduces production costs of farmers.