George Mhango, Blantyre. July 14,2021
Malawi has become the latest African country to adopt growth of genetically modified cotton seed varieties under BT Cotton. Others countries that have also embraced this include Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda and Nigeria.
This comes after successful biotech experiments by Quton Malawi and its partners, including approval of the new biotech seeds by Malawi authorities.
The new seed varieties seek to maximise production as opposed to conventional varieties, which have over years not benefited farmers.
It is now two years since local farmers started growing new seed cotton varieties in Malawi. The new cotton seeds that have replaced Makoka 78 and Tchureza are Bollgaurd2 and Mahycco and the other two.
Quton Malawi facilitated introduction of the new varieties under what is known as BT Cotton, with the backing of Seed Trade Association of Malawi-STAM.
STAM business development officer Supply Chisi explains opportunities of BT Cotton.
“The varieties are environmental friendly and we will ensure that more farmers plant them. They are also destined to alleviate poverty,” he says.
Interviews in Chikwawa have proved that farmers spend less on pesticides and that production is far much better that the previous varieties.
For example, father of 12 children France Thole says Mayhco variety records more than 100 balls unlike before when only four balls were recorded.
He adds that new varieties have proven to be good through 30 demonstrations in Paiva Village, Traditional Authority N’gabu, prompting more farmers to grow.
In this second year of embracing BT Cotton, 6006 farmers have grown the crop from last year’s 1000 farmers in the Central part of Chikwawa District alone.
Thole states that: “It has also been put on record that farmers used to spray the crop six times but with the adoption of BT Cotton, two years ago, spraying is done once, meaning less is spent on the procurement of pesticides.”
Thole, who is also chair of the Chikwawa Stakeholders Committee, says as for prices, current varieties are supposed to be sold at almost K700 per kilogramme as opposed to the previous K250 per kilogramme.
Other farmers such as Patuma Vita decry lack of competition because only one buyer is allocated per each zone by government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation.
“The price issue aside even with poor rains, I have harvested something as opposed to conventional seeds. My plea is that government should come in on prices, K340 per kilogramme is not good,” she complains.
It remains positive from farmers that BT Cotton has liberated them from social and economic woes they were subjected to before new varieties.
Although Yesaya Antonio, Chair of Nyasamba Cooperatives, asks government to provide subsidies to the crop and loans to cooperatives, his life has changed.
He notes: “This variety is good and I have managed to harvest more than what I expected. It is pest free. I harvested more kilogrammes than last despite poor rains.”
What is more worth understanding is that even in the Central Region district of Salima, farmers are appreciative of BT Cotton.
One of the farmers there, Kiliness Chisamba grew cotton on four acres and said the seed is performing. She has had high quality but complains of poor prices. Infact, she wanted prices between 400 to 450 Malawi kwacha, but sold at MK340.
“Farmers are let down. The market has been an issue for four years. No competition for buyers. BT cotton – the seed is good and is free from diseases. And I have sprayed three times and the yield was beautiful,” she says.
Chikwawa and others districts like Salima, through new varieties have produced more than 3.4 million kilogrammes, according to data from Capital Hill since two years ago. Data has, however, shown that Chikwawa has produced half of the total national production.
Malawi looks at cotton as such a crop that contributes to the economy through job creation, forex earnings through exports and production of any kind of textile and garments that are destined for the international market.
Apart from Malawi, other countries that have embraced these genetically modified cotton seeds include Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda and Nigeria.