It has been said that genetically modified (GM) crops are the answer to hunger and poverty in Africa. Yet Burkina Faso, one of the first African countries to adopt Bt cotton in 2003, has begun phasing out the crop. Burkina Faso has been the largest adopter of GM crops in Africa; the country is also one of Africa’s largest cotton producers.

 

Bt cotton, which is resistant to a common cotton pest, the bollworm, appeared to be a wise choice for the country. Burkina Faso’s success story has been celebrated as an example of how GM crops can help poor farmers. Many farmers favor Bt cotton as it increases yields and profits while lowering the use of pesticide. The crop does what it was modified to do. So why is the country getting rid of the GM crop?

 

It would seem that in Burkina Faso, Bt cotton not only produces less cotton lint but also lint of an inferior quality. Although farmers still sell the cotton to companies for the same price, companies have to deal with lower profits due to these critical issues. As companies control the seeds, they have been able to start phasing out Bt cotton. The promise of the GM crop was fulfilled in Burkina Faso but with concrete disadvantages. This begs to ask the question; will other GM crops have hidden costs?

 

Most African countries have been reluctant in adopting GM crops, perhaps due to fears over impacts on trade and public health. GM crops are grown commercially in relatively few countries, such as South Africa and Sudan, while trial runs have been grown in Nigeria and Ghana. The current events in Burkina Faso could be bad news to other countries considering the commercial use of GM crops and to supporters of GM crops in Africa. It could also begin a review into tailored solutions to problems such as hunger and poverty on the continent.  

 

Do you think the phasing out of Bt cotton in Burkina Faso could spell the end of GM crops in Africa? Leave a comment below or reach me on Twitter @rafeeeeta