Apr. 17, 2013
The government of Tanzania recognises the potential of modern biotechnology in reviving the country's cotton industry, the Minister for Water and Irrigation, Professor Jumanne Maghembe, was recently quoted as saying.
Taking part in the panel discussion at the recent Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) on how technological change in agriculture is essential for improving food security and agricultural growth, Prof Maghembe argued that GMOs were one way to increase productivity and boost the income of an African farmer. Prof Maghembe challenged scientists to do research to find out if GMOs are harmful to humans and the environment.
"For example, cotton is not a food crop. Why don't we start with that so that we increase yields and help farmers earn more from this crop?" he asked. However, cotton seed produces edible oil. Tanzania's cotton industry has undergone dramatic changes since its liberalisation in 1994. Stimulated by high producer prices, it has held either its position as either the most or second most important export crop in Tanzania in recent years.
An estimated 40 per cent of the entire Tanzanian population is believed to derive their livelihood either directly or indirectly from cotton, grown by as many as half a million of mostly smallholder farmers.
Farmers in the sector struggle with lack of access to credit and extension services. Research in cotton has also been limited, and seed quality is poor. A new variety is, however, planned for release in the 2013/14 farming season, and should improve yields. The introduction of Bt cotton is being considered as one of the main avenues to increase yields in the future.