Nelly Bassily | April 11, 2011
Production of organic cotton has increased in recent years, in line with international demand. At harvest, organic cotton is subject to a rigorous certification process controlled by independent and often international agencies. In return, cotton producers receive good prices. This may include a premium which is directed towards the community. In Burkina Faso, the Swiss NGO Helvetas links growers in Burkina Faso to European markets. See: http://www.helvetas.ch/wEnglish/organic_cotton/info_burkina_faso.asp?navtext=Helvetas%20Projects.
The price of a kilogram of organic cotton is much higher than conventional or GM cotton. However, yields of organic cotton may be lower. But organic farmers do not need to purchase expensive fertilizers and pesticides, and in the program in Burkina Faso, they are guaranteed a minimum price.
The expansion of GM cotton in Burkina Faso has been rapid. Genetically modified cotton was grown for the first time in 2008 on 8,500 hectares. Within one year, the area had increased to 115,000 hectares (see http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/agri_biotechnology/gmo_planting/257.global_gm_planting_2009.html).
With the expansion of GM cotton, the purity of the organic crop is in jeopardy. GM cotton is also having effects on the community, such as effectively excluding women from growing organic cotton. Helvetas recognized the potential problem of GM contamination early and started protective measures in 2008. Helvetas recommends buffer distances of twice the distance that insects can transport pollen. The trucks used to carry organic cotton do not transport conventional cotton. Samples are taken in-field and tested.
For more information on organic cotton, visit: http://www.organiccotton.org/ and
For other recent news and analysis:
-Malawian Cotton Farmers Ecstatic Over High Prices http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55049 –
–Cotton Farmers Urged to Hold On to Crop http://allafrica.com/stories/201104040020.html
-More African countries could turn to GM crops
-WEST AFRICA: Can organic cotton save the industry?
Previous FRW stories on cotton:
Malawi: Despite maize surplus, some farmers are hungry (FRW 84, October, 2009).
Burkina Faso: Cotton and shea producers satisfy Western taste for organic products (FRW 9, February 2008). http://weekly.farmradio.org/2008/02/04/3-burkina-faso-cotton-and-shea-producers-satisfy-western-taste-for-organic-products-agence-france-presse/
This Farm Radio International script on cotton was published in Farm Radio Weekly:
–Developing cotton organizations in Mali: From Village Association to cooperative (FRW 62, April 2009). http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/04/20/developing-cotton-organizations-in-mali-from-village-association-to-cooperative/
If you live in a cotton-growing region, this story could be part of an interesting and topical program. Find out which production methods are used: conventional, organic or with genetically modified seed. You could ask growers to look at the benefits and disadvantages of each. You may wish to begin by researching the following questions:
-Which production method is most common in your broadcast area? What reasons do farmers give for choosing organic, conventional, or GM? Do they consider, for example, selling price, labour required, costs of inputs, or potential effects on the wider community?
-What markets are available for each type of cotton?
-What laws has your country enacted to regulate biosafety and biosecurity related to GM crops?
-What information about GM crops is available to farmers in your area? Who provides this information? Are farmers aware of their rights in relation to GM crops?
-Which NGOs, industry groups, or other organizations in your area advocate for or against GM crops?