Zimbabwe must seriously consider the adoption of Bt cotton by farmers to revamp production and revive the textile and clothing industry, farmers' representatives say. GM cotton is developed using bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which naturally produces a chemical harmful only to a small fraction of insects such as the boll-worm.The Bt toxin is inserted into cotton.
Farmers union officials said this after touring Bt cotton field trial plots at Bunda College of Agriculture at Lilongwe University and another in Salima, a cotton-growing region in central Malawi.
"Our farmers are experiencing huge losses due to the boll-worm problem. Despite the fears that we have for biotechnology, I think Zimbabwe as a country needs to seriously consider Bt cotton to help farmers to reduce crop yield losses and enhance their earnings," said Mr Berean Mukwende of the Zimbabwe Farmers' Union.
Bt cotton is a genetically modified variety with an insecticide developed to reduce heavy reliance on pesticides and reduce input costs.
Said Mr Garikai Msika of the Zimbabwe National Farmers' Union: "After seeing Bt cotton trials here in Malawi, I feel strongly that as farmers we need to make a lot of noise to adopt this technology.
"We are lagging behind in terms of adopting agricultural technologies which could help cut input costs for our cotton farmers who are struggling with high pesticide costs and crop yield losses. This can be a useful technology to boost cotton production and help us meet some of the objectives outlined under the Zim-Asset economic blueprint."
Mr Rodgers Nyoni, who grows cotton in Gokwe, said the Bt variety could help lower their production costs.
"As Zimbabweans we need to adopt this crop to help us cut pesticide costs and enable us to sell our cotton at competitive prices."
Malawi started Bt cotton trials in January 2013 to boost smallholder cotton production. It is still to commercialise Bt cotton.
"Malawi wants to promote demand driven scientific research," said Dr Ibrahim Benesi, deputy director of Agricultural Research Services in Malawi. As a Government we don't want to block science.
"We want to facilitate science for the good of agriculture. If there are good technologies, we want our people to benefit from them provided we follow our biosafety regulations and procedures."
Cotton production in Zimbabwe has declined sharply over the years due to uncompetitive prices, high input costs for farmers and other constraints.
Output fell from 283 000 tonnes in 2012 to less than 200 000 tonnes last year. At its peak Zimbabwe produced more than 353 000 tonnes, earning the country over US$200 million.
Cotton creates employment for some 200 000 people.
Zimbabwe has not adopted GMO crop technologies, but established the National Biotechnology Authority in 2006 to regulate research, transport, import, manufacture, safe handling and use of organisms and products of modern biotechnology.
In its Second Science, Technology and Innovation Policy released in March 2012 the country identified biotechnology as one of the most promising tools that can help increase food productivity, enhance the health and wellness of society and boost manufacturing output.
Modern biotechnology remains controversial in much of Africa with researchers raising questions on ownership, markets, genetic contamination and control of the technologies.