By Claire Wanja
Country delegates from five COMESA States that grow cotton have completed a one week experience-sharing and learning tour of biotechnology cotton farming, regulation and commercialization in India.
Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland and Zambia participated in the study tour which comprised of Members of Parliament, biosafety regulators, researchers and journalists.
The study tour is one of the strategic objectives of COMESA Biotechnology and Biosafety Implementation Plan (COMBIP) to support experience-sharing through peer-learning platforms within COMESA member States and beyond.
“The study tour was intended to equip key stakeholders from member States with knowledge and experience to better understand biotechnology for informed decision-making,” Dr Getachew Belay, the Senior Biotechnology Policy Adviser at theCOMESA Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) said.
The tour was jointly organized by the South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA, AfriCenter), and COMESA- ACTESA in an initiative dubbed “seeing-is-believing.”
It included onsite visits to public and private biotech Research development facilities, insect resistant genetically modified cotton farms, seed processing facilities and relevant cotton sub-sector players in Mumbai, Jalna, Aurangabad of Maharashtra States and Hyderabad of Telangana State in Central and Southern India.
The Founder Director of South Asia Biotechnology Centre Mr BhagirathChoudhary, who coordinated the tour, said the initiative was intended to showcase successful case studies thus creating a team of dedicated champions in support of the technology.
“This initiative will help build the necessary confidence among the African stakeholders on regulatory and commercialization processes, biosafety communications and trade issues of biotech crops,” Mr Choudhary said.
Among the public and private institutions visited were; the Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology (CIRCOT) in Mumbai and MahycoLifeScienceResearch Centre and Abhay Cortex, a cotton seed processing company in Aurangabad.
In Hyderabad, the team visited the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Bayer CropSciencePVT Limited and the JKAgriGenetics Company in addition to small scale cotton farms where they interacted with farmers.
In COMESA region, Sudan is the only State that has fully embraced biotech and commercialized the crop with over 100,000 acres currently under Bt cotton cultivation. Other States such as Kenya, Swaziland, Uganda, Malawi and Ethiopia are at the Green House to Confined Field trial stages for the cotton and other crops.
India was chosen owing to its long experience of over 14 years of cultivation of Bt- cotton (named after the bacteria from where the insect resistance gene, Bacillus thuringiensis was obtained) the with an adoption rate of 95%.
In 2015 India grew 12 million hectares of Bt- cotton and has benefitted by an enhanced income of US$ 16.7 billion in the twelve year period 2002-2013. Bt-cotton production is mainly carried out by small scale farmers thus making India a suitable learning experience for African stakeholders. Since the introduction of Bt-cotton, India has transformed from net importer to net exporter of cotton.
The lawmakers from Ethiopia and Swaziland that participated in the study tour described the experience as an eye-opener that will help them make well informed contributions when legislating on biotechnology in their respective countries.