Cotton is predominantly a smallholder crop and represents a crucial source of income for millions of farmers and their families in more than 20 countries across all regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite its economic potential, the cotton industry is subject to a number of risks, such as price fluctuations of both inputs and cotton on the world market, changing weather conditions, and damages by an extraordinarily wide range of insect pests, which cause significant losses to cotton production and fiber quality. All these risk factors threaten the sustainability of cotton production in Africa. Due to strong insects’ pressure, cotton is heavily sprayed with chemical pesticides. This poses significant health hazards for many farmers and generates extensive environmental pollution. In 2016, a total of 8 African countries either planted, actively evaluated field trials or moved towards grant approvals for the general release of insect-resistant Bt cotton. In South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan, Bt varieties spread rapidly because they provided a significant reduction of insecticide use and bollworm damage, an increased yield and higher farmer profits. They also allowed conservation of beneficial natural enemies. However, in 2016, the government of Burkina Faso temporarily suspended the growing of Bt cotton to address a concern about fiber length observed in the varieties farmers have successfully grown over the last eight years.
The Facts Series “Cotton in Africa” reviews the impact of Bt cotton on African agricultural systems. It highlights the importance for donors and governments that invest heavily in the hope that GM crops will bring significant improvements to the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers to first paying attention to the fundamental institutions that support broader agricultural development and technology generation (with or without GM crops).
Some Facts and Figures
Cotton is mainly grown on small family farms of less than 4 hectares in more than 20 countries across all regions of Sub-Saharan-Africa.
During the decade of 2004-2014, the African continent contributed 6% to the world’s total seed cotton production.
In most Sub-Saharan African countries, yields of 500-700 kg/ha of seed cotton produced under rainfed conditions are typical for varieties with yield potential close to 3000 kg/ha
The larva of the cotton bollworm is the main cotton pest throughout Africa, causing damage in up to 90% of bolls when untreated, leading to lost cotton production.
Half of the insecticides used in Africa are sprayed on cotton, posing significant heatlh hazards for many farmers and laborers and causing extensive environmental pollution.
In 2014, cotton was planted on 35 million hectares globally, 64% (22.3 million hectares) of which was insect-resistant genetically modified cotton, referred to as “Bt” cotton
In 2016, a total of 8 African countries either planted, actively evaluated field trials or moved towards grant approvals for the general release of Bt cotton (Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland).
In 2016, the government of Burkina Faso temporarily suspended the growing of Bt cotton to address a concenrn about fiber length observed in the varieties farmers have grown over the last eight years.
Smallholder cotton growers often lack access to productivity-enhancing inputs such as improved seed, fertilizers, water and information, and credit needed to finance investments in these inputs is the major constraint.