The Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Ethiopia have approved the environmental release of insect resistant genetically modified cotton varieties for cultivation.
The Swaziland Environment Authority (SEA) and the Ethiopian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change granted the landmark approvals in May and June respectively.
The Bt-cotton varieties approved, one in Eswatini (JKCH 1050) and two in Ethiopia (JKCH 1050 and JKCH 1047), are hybrid types. Both varieties JKCH 1047 and JKCH 1050 were previously approved for cultivation in Sudan. Ethiopia has also granted a five-year special permit for confined field trials for drought tolerance and insect resistance maize varieties (Water Efficient Maize for Africa).
The adoption by Ethiopia and Eswatini brings to three the number of COMESA member States including Sudan that have adopted biotech crop varieties out of a total of four in the African continent.
“It is gratifying to see that the demand-driven support from COMESA and its implementing partners finally came to bear fruit in Eswatini and Ethiopia,” said Dr. Getachew Belay, formerly Senior Biotechnology Policy Advisor, and now African Plant Biosecurity Network Coordinator at COMESA Secretariat.
COMESA, through its specialized agency, the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) supported both Eswatini and Ethiopia in biotechnology/biosafety policy formulations.
In the past six years, COMESA conducted awareness and capacity building trainings and experience sharing visits (mainly to Sudan, South Africa, Burkina Faso and India) for parliamentarians, regulatory authorities, researchers, farmers, private sector, media and civil society organizations. It also played a leading role in coordinating activities of other biotechnology/biosafety service providers in these two and other member States.
“It was not easy; however, we knew all along that COMESA has been the most trusted partner to the member States and other biotech stakeholders in handling this controversial and emotive issue of introducing GMO-products in the region,” Dr Belay remarked.
Dr Belay observed that the same varieties are being approved in different countries thus creating a good platform for COMESA member States to exchange data and share experiences amongst themselves without looking too far.
Cotton industry has been one of the leading industries driving Eswatini’s economy. However, production has been dwindling because of insect (bollworm) attack. Small-scale farmers, mostly women, are involved in cotton production and this technology is expected to raise their income earnings.
In Ethiopia, the government has identified the textile industry as one of the priority areas for industrial development and job creation where increased supply of cotton raw material with competitive price is needed. The country expects to gain one billion dollars export earnings from textile and garment industry by the end of the second Growth and Transformation Plan in 2020.
Sudan commercialized Bt-cotton in 2012, and is now reaping the benefits by doubling productivity. More than 95 per cent of the cotton produced in Sudan is insect resistant biotech (Bt) cotton. Research trials on biotech maize, banana, cassava, cowpea, enset, and potato have also been underway in other COMESA member States including Malawi, Kenya, Egypt and Uganda.
Dr Belay underscored the importance of documenting the socio-economic changes that will take place after the adoption of such “new” technologies to ensure that countries at field-trial stages gain more confidence to make well informed decisions.