Burkina Faso, Africa's top cotton producer and the sole West African nation to venture into biotech farming, is dropping genetically modified (GM) cotton on quality grounds. The world's 10th largest cotton producer, with four of its 19 million people dependent on the "white gold," Burkina Faso earlier this month said it was giving up Monsanto's GM Bt cotton because it had proved uneconomical. Burkina took up GM cotton in the 2000s in hopes of bumping up returns on what was then its top export product, surpassed in 2009 by gold.
But the country's association of cotton producers now says GM cotton, though producing higher yields, has caused a drop in crop quality. "The cotton fiber we are producing today is short," Burkina Faso's new President Roch Marc Christian Kabore told AFP this month.
Fiber length is key in textiles with longer ones tending to produce stronger yarns because they allow fibers to twist around each other more times, also enabling higher spinning speeds. But the shorter fibers now being produced from Burkina's GM cotton "means that in market terms it's an activity that is no longer very attractive for us," the president said. The government, he added, has taken steps "to underpin the sector ... and help producers."
Those measures include tens of thousands of dollars worth of seed and fertilizer subsidies as well as price controls for producers to offset market falls. Burkina's Inter-professional Cotton Association (AICB), grouping the country's main producers and the national cotton farmers' union, is now targeting "100 percent conventional" production, Wilfried Yameogo, director of Sofitex, Burkina Faso's main cotton company, said earlier this month.
With Burkinabe cotton once prized for its purity and length of fiber, it was the fall in quality that weighed in favor of a return to conventional cotton. Producers say this resulted in the sector incurring losses between 2011 and 2016 of some 48.3 billion CFA francs ($82.4 million). They insist these must come back to them in the form of compensation.