Burkina Faso: Farmers seek compensation from Monsanto

| April 18, 2016

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Ousmane Tiendrebéogo is a man on a mission. For several years, he has led a bitter fight against genetically modified or GM cotton in Burkina Faso. Mr. Tiendrebéogo is the chairman of the National Union of Agropastoral Workers. He says, “For years, we were treated as liars when we denounced the misdeeds of genetically modified cotton.”

After nearly a decade of planting GM cotton, farmers in Burkina Faso have decided to stop. The reason? The global price of Burkinabé cotton has fallen because of one key characteristic of GM cotton: its shorter fibre length. Shorter cotton fibres weigh less. And lighter harvests mean reduced income for cotton farmers.

The three Burkinabé cotton companies that purchase cotton from farmers for resale on the world market have registered huge losses in recent years. Wilfried Yameogo is the CEO of SOFITEX, one of the three companies. He explains, “Our losses increased from 39.2 billion CFA francs ($66 million US) to 49.3 billion CFA francs ($83 million US) in the course of a single harvest. If we continue like this, the losses will only increase.”

Now, the Interprofessional Cotton Association of Burkina—which brings together the three cotton companies and the Federation of Producers—wants Monsanto to pay 48.3 billion CFA francs ($82 million US) in compensation for damages caused by growing GM cotton. Monsanto is the US-based company that supplies the GM cotton seeds, which were genetically modified to deter caterpillars from damaging the crop.

Mr. Tiendrebéogo is proud of the fight against Monsanto, but says the struggle for compensation should not neglect the cotton producers. He says the situation should serve as a reminder that farmers should never be used to introduce GM crops—because it is always the farmer who loses out. He adds: “What I hope is that we are fair with farmers. Cotton companies added together all their losses in order to present this ‘invoice’ to Monsanto. But those with the heaviest losses are the farmers. Some farmers have lost livestock and plowing oxen.”

In fact, some producers claim that their animals have been harmed or have died because they ate GM cotton, though their claim has not been scientifically proven.

Mr. Tiendrebéogo concludes: “There are producers who for decades lived only from cotton production. With GM seeds, they were forced to abandon this crop, and this has completely immersed them in misery. There are farmers who have committed suicide. There are families who have been torn apart because of the losses they incurred with GM cotton. All this should be recognized as part of the wrongs created by Monsanto. I think we should make Monsanto pay for all of this. It is necessary that justice is done for all.”