Maize to follow suite
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has approved the cultivation of Genetically Modified Cotton in Ethiopia.
Undergoing two seasons (years) of confined field trials, the genetically modified cotton – best known as BT-Cotton – has finally secured the approval from the Ministry for “environmental release” or for the cultivation of the biotechnologically engineered cotton for commercial purposes.
Assefa Gudina, Biosafety Affairs Directorate director with the Ministry told The Reporter that the approval of the BT-Cotton came into play following the formal request made by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research.
According to Assefa, the release of BT-Cotton has been approved based on the analyses made by experts and technical team composed from various organizations that have assessed the final report the agricultural institute has submitted. The analysis confirmed GM cotton is safe for environment, ecosystem and human health Assefa assured. He went on to say that, BT cotton is less likely to cause hazard as it does not cross pollinate. Hence, the biotech cotton is expected to be cultivated from both small and on large-scale basis once the National Seed Approval Committee endorses the cotton seeds. The ministry has granted an ‘advanced informed permit’ for two cotton hybrids: JKCH 1050 and JKCH 1947, trademarks of seeds registered in India and with which Ethiopia is expected to initiate plantations.
According to the Biosafety Proclamation no. 896/2015 amended in 2015, there are indicative clauses that suggest GMOs could be approved based on fulfillments of certain requirements. In the proclamation, sub-article 6, stated that ‘advance informed agreement’ is a written consent granted by the ministry for the undertaking of any transaction of modified organism destined to be released into the environment in the country other than for contained use. This and ‘special permit’ clause of the proclamation has enabled for the approval of the biotech cotton to go for commercial use. A special permit is a legal permit issued for research and trial purposes by the ministry.
Despite the roaring criticisms and debates over the introduction of GMOs in Ethiopia, the agricultural institute has requested the ministry for the special permit to undertake trials on biotech maize in the country.
Tadesse Dabba (PhD), director general of Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, said that the approval for commercial plantation of cotton will be followed by the scientific trials that are going to be applied on GM maize. The ministry has legitimized trials on maize to be undertaken for five years. The research trails will concentrate on finding out drought tolerant and insect resistant biotech maize suitable to Ethiopia. It is also confirmed that Ethiopian agricultural scientists are also working on to develop resistant varieties of Enset an Ethiopian banana or widely known as false banana.
Literature indicates that BT cotton is a bacterium of Bacillus thuringiensis that produces over 200 different BT toxins, each harmful to diverse insects. Most notably, BT toxins are insecticidal to the larvae of moths, butterflies, beetles, cotton bollworms and other flies but are harmless to other forms of life. The gene coding for BT toxin has been inserted into cotton as a transgene causing it to produce this natural insecticide in its tissues.