SENIOR government officials from cotton regulatory authorities and research institutions and journalists from seven COMESA member States including Zambia have concluded a one week study tour of commercial farming of the genetically modified cotton in Sudan.
The study visit was conducted by the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA), a COMESA specialized agency, in collaboration with the Sudan National Biosafety Council.
It was aimed at sharing experiences on the insect- resistant cotton, also known as Bt-cotton and increasing the level of awareness amongst key stakeholders on starting field trials in respective countries.
In a press statement, the 12 officials and seven journalists drawn from Malawi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe participated in the visit. It covered biotechnology and bio-safety Research Centre, ginneries, seed processing units and several Bt-cotton farms along the Blue Nile River.
“The objective of the visit was to identify the opportunities and challenges that Bt-cotton production faces in Sudan and share the experiences with stakeholders from COMESA Member States,” Dr Belay Getachew, Senior Biotechnology Policy Advisor at ACTESA said.
Bt cotton is named after the bacteria from where the insect resistance gene, Bacillus thuringiensis was obtained and introduced into the cotton thus making it resistant to the African Boll worms which poses the greatest threat to cotton farming.
Sudan is the only state in COMESA to have commercialized the Bt-cotton technology (since 2012) with over 100,000 acres currently under cultivation and 97% of the farmers now growing the variety. Farmers whose Bt- cotton fields were visited expressed contentment in their crops especially for reducing the costs of pesticides.
The study visit was conducted within the framework of the COMESA regional policy on biotechnology and biosafety adopted by the Council of Ministers in February 2014. The policy provides for capacity building assistance to Member States in both research and product testing and the associated regulatory infrastructure.
“One of the means to achieve these objectives is through actual experience sharing visits to countries where Bt cotton has been commercialized,” Dr Getachew said.