Organic Consumers Association

Ending U.S. Cotton Subsidies, Not GE Cotton, Key to Reducing Poverty of African Farmers

>From <>
Feb 3, 2004

Dear Friends and Colleagues

The GM industry along with USAID are pushing hard for Bt cotton to be grown
in West Africa, where cotton is one of the main export crops. Mali is the
next country in line to begin converting their cotton industry to GM, and
there are plans to start trials soon. Burkina Faso already started this
process last year.

It is feared that cotton is being used as a "Trojan horse" to get GM into
Africa. Once cotton has gained commercial approval, it will be harder to
put precautionary barriers up against other GM crops, even for food or

There is plenty of evidence that Bt cotton is not needed in West Africa; it
will not address the problems facing cotton farmers, and there are much
better options for cotton farming available. An effective, low-cost
programme of Integrated Pest and Production Management (IPPM) has
successfully shown how cotton pests can be dealt with, without the need for
hi-tech, imported, chemical-dependent GM seeds.

But the IPPM programmes have not had the financial backing to spread the
information to farmers. Meanwhile, GM technology is backed by millions of

West African cotton farmers are facing spiralling debts because the huge
subsidies to US farmers have pushed down the price of cotton on the world
market. Bt cotton will only reduce the price of the cotton product further,
while the patented seeds are more expensive. This will truly be a disaster
for West Africa's cotton farmers.

Please see the attached "Bt Cotton at Mali's Doorstep: Time to Act!" , a
4-page summary of a study by Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN),
which will be published in its entirety in March. And for further links and
information about the pressures facing West Africa and the cotton industry
there (also available in French) please visit:

Best wishes,


1. GM Cotton to Invade West Africa
Press Release from Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN).
Date: 2 February 2004

2. GM: The Wrong Answer to Cotton Dumping

Opinion Column from One World Africa. Date: 24 October 2004
Nessie Golokai, Consumers International
ATTACHMENT. Bt Cotton at Mali¹s Doorstep: Time to Act
PDF Summary from GRAIN. Date: 2 February 2004

1. GM Cotton to Invade West Africa

Press Release from Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN).
Date: 2 February 2004

Cotonou, Benin, 2 Feb 2004

The world's biggest agrochemical companies and the US government are rushing
to introduce genetically modified (GM) crops into West Africa, starting with

A new report [1] from GRAIN [2] shows that Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow
AgroSciences, supported by USAID, are finalising plans with the Malian
government to convert the West African country's cotton crop to transgenic
varieties over the next five years. Cotton is Mali¹s number one export. Yet
local farmers and the general public are in the dark about this.

"Bt cotton is the biotech industry's trojan horse for bringing patented GM
crops into West Africa," says Jeanne Zoundjihékpon of GRAIN in Benin. "The
infrastructure for cotton is well established and they want to take
advantage of this. But cotton is a critical crop for the region. It is
shameful for public researchers to play with the livelihoods of their
people, when the technologies they are bringing in offer nothing to farmers
but greater dependence on foreign companies."

In 2003, before the country adopted any biosafety law, Burkina Faso imported
two varieties of Bt cotton from the US, one from Monsanto and the other from
Syngenta. Field trials are now underway at research stations of the Institut
Nationale de l'Environnement et de la Recherche Agronomique in Farakoba and

The same haste is now gripping Mali. Researchers with the Institut
d'Economie Rurale are finalising a five-year project with USAID, Monsanto,
Syngenta and Dow Agrosciences to develop and commercialise transgenic
cotton. Under the terms of the draft agreement2, field tests of imported
transgenic Bt cotton will begin in 2004. The plan is being negotiated
without consultation with Malian cotton farmers, those most at risk from the
impending conversion to GM technology.

"Just two weeks ago the Expert Group of the African Union's Scientific,
Technical and Research Commission expressly recommended the need for its
member states to consider a moratorium on GMO introduction," says Mariam
Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety in South Africa. "But GM continues
to be pushed into Africa through the back door, putting the whole continent
at risk. African governments need to address this at the upcoming meeting of
the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in Kuala Lumpur,

In a collaborative study of the implications of Bt cotton for West Africa,
GRAIN found that this is a totally inappropriate technology for the region's
farmers. Contrary to what its proponents claim, Bt cotton is not likely to
reduce pesticide use and will not provide any economic advantages to
farmers. Local cotton farmers, scientists and NGOs consulted for the study
say it would be far more effective for public institutions to focus on
supporting pesticide reduction programmes that have already proven
successful and that do not depend on foreign technologies, such as the
targeted application, threshold application or integrated pest and
production management programmes. While these approaches reduce pesticide
use by 70-100%, they are practiced on less than 10% of the cotton area of
Mali. The limitations are not technical but financial, as the budgets for
these programmes continue to be cut. Meanwhile, the US government is
promising millions of dollars to Mali if it chooses GE technology instead.

In the West African context there is simply no way to guarantee that
transgenic cotton, once it is introduced, will not contaminate the
conventional cotton supply. Already West African cotton farmers can't
compete against the heavily subsidised producers in the US. The switch to GE
will only make things worse.



Jeanne Zoundjihékpon ­ (GRAIN) 06 BP 2083 - Cotonou ­ BENIN, Tel: 229 33 79
50, Fax: 229 33 79 15, E-mail:, (Language: French)

Robert Ali Brac de la Perrière ­ (BEDE) in Kayes, Mali: Tel/Fax GRDR: 223
252 29 82, (Languages: French or English)

Mariam Mayet ­ (Head of African Centre for Biosafety, 13 The Braids Road,
Emmarentia, 2195, South Africa) Tel: 27 11 646 0699, (Language: English)

Devlin Kuyek ­ (GRAIN) Tel: +1 514 270 10 83, E-mail:,
(Languages: English or French)


[1] The full report, "Bt Cotton on the doorstep of West Africa", will be
published in March 2004. A synopsis, "Bt Cotton at Mali's Doorstep: Time to
Act!" along with other supporting documents is now available at:

[2] GRAIN is an international non-governmental organisation which promotes
the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on
people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge.


2. GM: The Wrong Answer to Cotton Dumping

Opinion Column from One World Africa. Date: 24 October 2004
Nessie Golokai, Consumers International

Burkina Faso is considering the use of genetically modified (GM) cotton to
boost production and improve yields. Researchers at the National Institute
of the Environment and Agricultural Research are reportedly experimenting
with GM cotton in collaboration with Monsanto, the world¹s leading developer
of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and may soon also work with Swiss
firm Syngenta.

The backing of these two multinationals will place Burkina Faso at the
forefront of GMO research in West Africa. Hamidou Boly, director of the
National Institute for Agronomic Research, was quoted as saying that the
move would enable Burkina Faso to resist imported GM products and help
prevent GM plants being smuggled into the country.

Burkina Faso spends 30 billion CFA (US $52.6 million) on crop additives,
including 10 billion CFA ($17.5 million) on pesticides. Monsanto says that
Bt cotton, which has Bacillius thurengiensis (Bt), an insecticidal gene
resistant to pests, would reduce the use of, and spending on, pesticides.
Monsanto also claims that this would lessen risks to the environment and
human health. At present, farmers spray eight to ten times per season yet
still lose up to 50 per cent of their crops to insects. With Bt cotton,
yields are estimated to increase from 1.2 to 1.5 tonnes per hectare.

Subsidies are the real issue
Is GM cotton really the answer to improving the livelihoods of Burkina¹s 2.5
million cotton farmers?

In the run-up to last week's World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial
conference, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Benin spearheaded an initiative to
eliminate cotton subsidies worldwide. President Compaore of Burkina Faso
spoke to the Trade Negotiating Committee of the WTO in June. With President
Toure of Mali he co-authored a letter to the New York Times condemning the

The facts are startling. US cotton farmers receive subsidies worth $3.7
billion a year, Chinese cotton farmers $1.2 billion, and European cotton
farmers $700 million. These subsidies have been devastating for West African

Falling cotton prices have meant falling incomes for Burkinabe farmers. In
neighbouring Chad, whereas ten years ago farmers could afford to pay for
goods and services with revenue from cotton sales, they now have to buy on
credit against next year's harvest. Farmers are locked into a cycle of
poverty as each successive crop fails to generate enough to pay off debts
and cover needs.

Children, especially girls, do not go to school. Shrinking government
revenue and lost export earnings have meant less money for infrastructure
such as water provision, schools and health centres.

Unfair prices and glutted markets
The primary problem faced by Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Benin is not one
of low crop yields due to insect attack but the absence of an equitable
price for the cotton they produce. Despite a 14 per cent increase in cotton
yields, export receipts of countries in West and Central Africa have fallen
by 31 per cent in recent times.

Producers now earn only 60 per cent of their costs, although they can
produce a kilogram of cotton at half the cost of their competitors in the
developed world.

Will the introduction of Bt cotton in Burkina Faso improve livelihoods? No.
It will make matters worse. An increase in yield would contribute to the
worldwide market glut and further depress prices. The major problem is not
low productivity but inequitable trading practices.

Estimates by the International Cotton Advisory Committee indicate that the
withdrawal of US subsidies would raise world cotton prices by 11 US cents or
26 per cent - more than offsetting the loss of export earnings suffered by
Burkina Faso as a result of falling world cotton prices precipitated by US

Africa's agricultural development does not rest on a technological fix, and
GM seeds are not the miracle they are claimed to be. In India, despite
promising results in Monsanto-sponsored field trials, when Bt cotton was
commercially released it failed in several states, resulting in lower
yields, lower quality and increased pesticide use.

In the USA, despite a reduction in pesticide use in dry states such as
Texas, pesticide use has risen in the Mississippi delta. Clearly, Bt cotton
does not necessarily benefit farmers.

In addition, patents protecting GMOs would raise the price, making Bt cotton
seeds too costly for poor farmers. And the link between GMOs and
environmental protection has not been adequately studied.

What could be Burkina Faso's interest in experiments in GM seeds when
natural cotton cannot sell? Bt cotton is being pushed in Burkina Faso in the
absence of a regulatory framework, leaving government, farmers and consumers
exposed. If it fails, who will compensate farmers? Failure will drive
Burkina Faso into further poverty and worsen its battered economy.

Consumers International is calling for all African countries to adopt the
African Union Model Law on Biotechnology to ensure the safety of people and
the environment from the risks of GM products.

Rather than adopting the GMO technological fix, what is needed is the ending
of the massive cotton subsidies which have had a devastating impact on the
lives of millions of cotton farmers and consumers in Africa. That is the
message we took to the WTO in Cancún.

Nessie Golokai is Trade Officer at Consumers International Africa Regional
Office (CI-ROAF), Harare, Zimbabwe.

Home | News | Organics | GE Food | Health | Environment | Food Safety | Fair Trade | Peace | Farm Issues | Politics
Español | Campaigns | Buying Guide | Press | Search | Donate | About Us | Contact Us

Organic Consumers Association - 6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland MN 55603
E-mail: Staff · Activist or Media Inquiries: 218-226-4164 · Fax: 218-353-7652
Please support our work. Send a tax-deductible donation to the OCA

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.