– African nations enacting biotech friendly laws
By Birhanu Fikade, Hyderabad, India
Following the adoption of a law that granted experimentation rights both in labs and fields and the conduct of confined field trials of biotechnologically developed cotton, Ethiopia is set to take the next step, which is commercialization of BT cotton in two years’ time, The Reporter has learnt.
During a study tour that adjoined a delegation of Ethiopia—composed of lawmakers, agricultural experts and officials and cotton producers and ginners together with the delegates of Kenya, Malawi, the Kingdom of Swaziland and Zambia— Endale Gebre (PhD), director of agricultural bio technology sector at the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute, told The Reporter that in the coming one or two years, Ethiopia will probably set the biotechnologically engineered cotton seed varieties to the market.
According to Endale, the confined field trail stage of the BT Cotton has now entered into the final stages, which will allow the cotton to be commercialized. The trail stage has been conducted for at least four years on four different sample varieties sourced from India and Sudan. The outcomes of the field trial will determine the bollworm insects that greatly affect the productivity of cotton plants. In addition to that, high yields, less use of herbicides, water and other agricultural inputs are what the BT Cotton sought for.
The field trial has been conducted in selected cotton growing areas of the country. Most of the activities have been undertaken in the North, South and Eastern parts of the country, so far. Based on the results of the field trail, Endale has confirmed that Ethiopia will have a BT Cotton variety in the plantations sometime sooner. The biotech activities on the ground as Endale anticipates are directed not only to resolve daunting demands of agricultural inputs of the country, but to become one of the exporters of biotech products in the long run Ethiopia will.
It’s to be recalled that the House of Peoples Representatives has enacted a biosafety Proclamation that governs the introduction and use of BT Cotton in the country. Following the enactment of the law, the research institute has launching lab trails as well as confined field trials.
However, the biotech experiments and related studies, according to Endale, have evolved in the past two decades across the world. Both the US and India have long capitalized in the biotech cotton sector.
For nearly two decades, Endale says BT Cotton has been under series of scrutiny where currently the byproducts of this lab engineered cotton has been widely utilized in countries such as India. During the field visits in India, Abhay Nutrition Pvt. Ltd, an Indian company that extracts edible oil from byproducts of BT cotton, says that BT cotton oil extract is safe for humans, animals and aquatic animals.
Visiting one of the manufacturing plants of Abhay Nutrition in the central part of India, the Aurangabad city outskirts, the company explained to the visiting African delegation that the extraction procedures of edible oil out of BT Cotton involves best treated residuals not to be found in the final production of the oil. Ashish Mantri, founder and Co-owner of the Abhay Nutrition, the company currently generating USD 700 million (equivalent of 47 billion rupees), says that his company is eyeing Africa to set up a similar manufacturing plant where Tanzania has become the prime target. Mantri argues that high wet of anti-biotech products have been wooing the country in a biased outlook. He confirms he has been extracting cotton oil for the last 12 years and has seen no single negative outcomes of the oil on health; in fact BT Cotton seed extract oil has helped to constitute soy bean oils with significant nutritious contents.
According to figures of the Indian biotechnology sector, 95 percent of the country’s small holder farmers and major commercial farms in India have been covered by BT Cotton varieties. The US giant Monsanto, the Indian Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds (Mahyco) Co. Pvt. Ltd, the German based Bayer Bioscience and the likes are active in the Indian biotech sector. Currently, there are 7.2 million farmers in India that are cultivating BT Cotton varieties both Monsanto and Mahyco and some local firms such as JK Agri Business Pvt. Ltd – which is currently working on its own hybrid BT genes have collaborated on to further exploit and rip the country’s potential. Some 11 million hectare land is dedicated for the cultivation of BT Cotton contributing to make India a self- sufficient and net exporter of cotton. Accordingly, BT Cotton is a major contributor to Indian economy whereby some 45 million jobs in the cotton industry has been created so far in the country in less than two decades.
In Ethiopia, the expansion of the textile manufacturing sector has seen 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. Arkebe Oqubay (PhD), board chairman of the Industrial Parks Development Corporation, has been insisting on the introduction of BT Cotton to feed the textile and apparel plants coming in Ethiopia.
However, there is still a huge concern and criticism against BT Cotton from the environmental and consumers rights groups and against biotech industry in general. Even in India despite measurable outcomes and implementations of the biotech crops and other products, the country still faces stern oppositions from the wider rages of rights groups. At some point, the supreme court of India has been involved in the litigations of a case with regards to implementations of biotech engineering activities that involved Mustard.
Similarly, Ethiopian activists have never been shy about their anti-genetic engineering stance and its purported dangers to the country. The environmental, health hazards, toxicity and allergy and to some extent cancer and the likes are some of the repercussions the anti-GMO groups have been actively echoing. Biotech scientists such as Endale downplayed the alleged consequences saying that it is “scientifically unfounded”.
Getachew Belay (PhD), senior biotechnology advisor of Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa at the COMESA in an interview with The Reporter said that, dialogues and arguments have to be encouraged based on the foundations of scientific evidences. He also said that formalized and regulated environment that allows the proper utilization of resources would contribute to curbing the intrusions of counterfeited genetic seeds and other products in the country.
Since 2001, COMESA has been engaged in promoting biotech activities across member states. In addition to initiating biotech 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.