Ethiopia's move towards Bt cotton Commercialization

11 Oct 2017

For centuries, people have been searching ways that would enable them protect their crops from insects and pests so as to grow the highest yield in their fields.

To this effect, various insecticide and pesticide have been tested and proved to be effective. Among these, Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium which has been used to control crop-eating insects and kill mosquitoes, is the one.

Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly known as Bt, is a genetic modification which is done through the insertion of one or more genes from a common soil bacterium. These genes encode for the production of insecticidal proteins, and thus, genetically transform plants to produce one or more toxins as they grow. And these toxins protect the plant from bacteria and enables it yield better. Bt, was first identified in 1911 when it was discovered killed the larvae of flour moths, as sources indicate.

The gene is used globally for pest control practice and in integrated crop management system. Particularly, because it has shown remarkable results in protecting cotton crop, it is used widely to growing insect-resistant or genetically modified cotton, known as 'Bt cotton'.

Ethiopia, following the adoption of a law that granted experimentation rights of the Bt cotton both in labs and fields, is also at a point to grow bio technologically developed cotton. As a long term plan, it has also intended to supply biotechnologically engineered cotton seed varieties to the global market.

As it is learnt from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) released recently, nation's field trial towards Bt cotton has now entered into final stage. The experiment has been conducted for over four years on four different sample varieties taken from India and Sudan. And the findings of the field trial show that Bt technology could reverse the influence of insects that greatly affect the productivity of cotton.

The field trials and most of the preparation activities that have been undertaken in the North, South and Eastern parts of the country has shown better results. And the results indicate that Ethiopia will have a Bt cotton variety in its farmlands soon.

As this same release stated, development of Bio-technology and bio-safety are necessary for the effective implementation of Bt technology. And the various bio tech and bio safety works done so far are directed towards resolving the daunting demands of agricultural inputs of the country. They also put the nation one among the best exporters of bio tech products in the long run.

Recently, a workshop aimed at sharing countries best experiences of Bt cotton practice was organized here in the capital under the theme: “Technology Commercialization and Product Stewardship Outreach Program for Cotton Stakeholders in Ethiopia.”

Sanjay K. Gupta, an Indian and a representative of JK AGRI GENETICS LTD Company told The Ethiopian Herald that Ethiopia is a country endowed with fertile land and abundance water resources. “Thus, the nation could get higher yield and greater profits through utilizing genetically modified cotton seeds, Bt varieties. Luckily, nowadays huge and star textile and garment industries are showing keen interest to commence business in Ethiopia.”

Mentioning that JK AGRI has already invested a huge amount of capital at Hawassa Industrial Park, Gupta said his Company is on the way to open a new cotton factory which is crucial for textile and garment industry and make big investments in the country.

Now the world is expecting Ethiopia to be exemplary on the area as it has already done its assignment on Bio-safety, Bio-technology and related regulatory works that are per-requisite to the implementation of Bt technology commercialization. The political will of the nation is also another aspect that is highly appreciated, as Gupta stated.

In Ethiopia, the expansion of the textile manufacturing industries has shown an increasing demand for cotton. Furthermore, the introduction of industrial parks in the manufacturing sector is expected to push the increase in the supply of cotton production. EIAR is echoing the premise that Ethiopia is on the right track and at the final stage to commercialize Bt cotton technologies. The reasons behind this push are attributed to the availability of ample investment opportunities and expansion of infrastructures throughout the country.

EIAR Deputy Director General Adviser Dr. Adugna Wakjira said that in the process of transforming nation's economy from agriculture based to industrialization, textile and garment industry sectors have been given priorities. In this regard, he said, at the end of the second Growth and Transformation Plan years (GTP-II) a plan is set to generate some about 1 billion USD from textile and garment sector.

To realize this, employing modern technologies and improved cotton varieties are highly decisive to increase productivity and produce commercialized Bt cotton. He stressed adding “EIAR is conducting researches as per the direction put in place by the government.”

The Adviser further said that Ethiopia has ample natural resources, trainable work forces, institutions, infrastructure, and all the necessary inputs. However, lack of modern varieties and quality related to the market are still challenging the sector. It is crucial to strengthen the capacity of all stakeholders by sharing relevant expertise information and experiences at hand, he added.

Agricultural Counselor and USAID Liaison to the African Union Michael G. Francom said on the occasion that Ethiopia including the amendment of the Bio-safety proclamation, it has gained lots of achievements in the areas of Bio-safety, Bio-technology and other endeavors which depict that things are in the right direction. He further noted “The government of Ethiopia is leading the charge on that regard which the US is keen to support its effort.”

Professor Karim M. Maredia from Michigan State University of the US said that Bt Cotton is a new technology that Ethiopia has already done field trials in advance. Now the nation is moving forward for its commercialization. He added “The implementation of the technology would enable Ethiopian farmers benefit more from the technology.”

Ethiopia has great Bt cotton potential and nation's textile industries are demanding more out of it. As the technology is instrumental to increase productivity, it hopefully will fulfill the demands of local industries and generate revenue from export markets.

Highlighting the various efforts done to link Ethiopia to other countries that have benefited from the technology, he said India is the notable one among others.

At the workshop, six countries: Sudan, Burkina Faso, South Africa, India, Australia and United states have shared their experiences to participating countries.

Since 2001, COMESA has been engaged in promoting bio tech activities across member states. In addition to initiating bio tech policies, the regional bloc has been active in awareness campaigns; part of that is the collaboration of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has with US Department of Agriculture (USDA), The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) stationed in Kenya, the South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC) and the likes have long joined hands to induce the use and utilization of GMOs across Africa and beyond.

 

BY YARED GEBREMEDEN

 

 

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