From Burkinabe with hope, fear amid cotton crisis


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BabuK

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BabuK

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The tale of Tanzanian cabinet ministers, scientists and media adventure in Burkina Faso




We came, we saw and believed. This could sum up the collective joy of a Tanzanian delegation of policy and decision makers, researchers and media who this week toured Burkinabe cotton farmers to learn the success story of genetically modified cotton known scientifically as Bt cotton.
"I'm doing fine here in the village … I do not intend to migrate into town … to look for a job," declares Kakuy Ouanko, 33, already father of four and husband to two wives, at his Dankari village, some 300km to the southwest of the capital, Ouagadougou.
Kakuy's ready smile is an embodiment of confidence; shared by many Burkinabe cotton farmers we've had opportunity to meet thus far. One of them is Sanou Zessouma, 42, a father of six who lives an hour's drive apart at the village of Yegueresso, also a comfortable cotton farmer.
These men literally live a decade or so ahead of their Tanzanian opposite numbers who still work the land with crude tools and have yet to gain access to agricultural biotechnology – even though Burkina Faso stands third from the bottom heap of the world's poorest countries.
"I meet all my basic needs from farming cotton … it pays well," he says, smiling away a question about his real income from tilling the land.
"I apply less fertilizer now … since I started growing Bt Cotton I do not have to worry about pest infestations as well … " he adds, conveniently forgetting I had asked him about his earnings.
Dr. Makame Mbarawa Mnyaa, Tanzania Minister for Communication, Science and Technology was in Burkina Faso this week, leading a team of policy and decision makers, scientists and the media on a five-day study tour of the country's cotton industry – small-holder and resource poor farmers in particular.
"We're here to learn … this is the first time I've (personally) seen Bt cotton … so yours is a very special lesson … accumulated over many years of experience," Hon. Makame told Sanou Zessouma, the villager picked to brief him and his entourage.
"Earlier, we had planned to visit China or India … but we chose to come here because we can best identify ourselves with you … there's no way that we could have positively learned anything from China or India … better than here," he added.
But even as the minister warmed up to our hosts, the Tanzania jinx of talking and refusing to walk the talk still refused to go and threatens to render a well intended ‘study tour' a pitiful waste of time and tax payers' money, the Guardian on Sunday can report.
The visit is overcast by thinly veiled sector ministry ‘interests' that hover around in much the same way soccer zealotry divides wife from husband, brother from sister, nephew or cousin. Even though we all came to Burkina Faso, met and talked to the same Burkinabe people – the name of their country means "land of honest people" – not all of us are agreed on, and seem deeply divided over, the full import of this expensive expedition.
That we've come to engage on a truly expensive tour cannot be measured purely on the basis of the amount of money spent sending us over here; rather, the final tally will be determined by the fact that some of us we still afford to laugh at the expense of someone else -- the people we represent and the reason for our respective jobs.
At issue is our country's regulatory regime, in particular, the so-called ‘strict liability' clause (yet again!) -- damn our flabbergasted hosts – which has engaged science and policy corridors over the past decade with precious little movement forward in harnessing the vast opportunities that agricultural biotechnology has provide to those who dare to experiment – including tiny Burkina Faso.
Now, nearly five years since debate began on how we could farm GM (genetically modified) crops, the Ministry of Science, Communication and Technology is being asked to write a letter to the National Environment Management Committee to justify why that ‘offending' clause should be ‘deleted' from the country's biosafety rules.
"We should forget what happened in the past … it's time to move ahead … look at this small country (Burkina Faso) … they are as poor as we are … but they are way ahead of us … we should change …," Dr Mbarawa told the Guardian On Sunday here.
To date, Tanzania can only coax a miserly 500kg of cotton per hectare about a half of what our West African sisters and brothers in Burkina Faso now harvest from their Bt Cotton plots but on relatively less endowed soil types than Tanzania's.
"That's exactly how India's cotton farmers used to harvest in 2002 … just ten short years ago … from small-holder units similar to ours," says Marco Mtunga, director general of the Tanzania Cotton Board.
"We people are lucky … we can afford to fly all the way to Bobo-Dioulasso … eat nice food … but we're holding my poor cotton farmers to ransom … they too deserve to live modestly, marry many wives … and enjoy life," quips Mark Mtunga lightheartedly.
These seemingly light moments now mask some running acrimony that defies logic; the real meaning of those oft-vile vibes flying between senior government mandarins does not lie in what is being said rather than on what isn't being spoken openly – and many well meaning people are finding themselves at the receiving end of nasty barbs. Hon Charles Kitwanga, the current deputy minister in charge of the environment at the Vice President's office, is one of them.
Having been removed from a science brief under Mbarawa (where he was a spirited GM science activist) to the VPO where he has been assigned an anti-GM czar as his personal assistant, Hon. Kitwanga suddenly finds himself between pincers.
"We're all working for and serving the interests of the same boss … the poor farmers of our country … I'm surprised that you've not done any research on this yet … what's holding you …?" He queries.
Could he have possibly forgotten – so soon? Indeed, his was a lame, hoary question-at the very least. As a former promoter of agricultural biotech, he knows-or should know better-why not: no investor in their rights minds would put in hard earned investment money, then face punitive sanctions from their beggars who may have embraced the ‘strict liability' stinker in their biosafety regulatory regime!
Hon Kitwanga's predicament was best summed up by Hon. Adam Kighoma Malima, his erstwhile colleague at Central Bank and now also a deputy minister but in a ministry with a docket full of food biotech, who quipped:
"Monsato are in business to make money … they've no business with the Vatican or some Muslim charity … they will eat you alive if you aren't careful … so why should they give you money and stand liable for our ‘stupid' actions?"
For over a decade now Tanzanian scientists, policy and decision-makers have remained sharply divided over what works-or doesn't work-in the country's bid to harness biotechnology in agriculture and industry.
At present, only three African countries – Egypt, South Africa and Burkina Faso – commercially grow |GM crops. In 2009, South Africa planted its first Bt maize, Roundup Ready soybean and Bt cotton on an estimated 2.1 million heactares, and registered a 17-percent increase over the previous year; Burkina Faso followed suit the same year – and planted 115,000 ha of Bt cotton while Egypt planted almost 1,000 ha of Bt maize, both representing significant increases over previous years' harvests.
The rapid adoption of GM crops outside of Africa to date has been attributed to a number of factors, including predictable on-farm profits, increased income stability, ease of operations, savings on labour and pesticide use – and less exposure to toxic chemicals.
Yet despite such rapid grow, the industry still suffers from wide-ranging and often emotionally charged debate on issues pertaining to the environment, human health, economics, ethics and politics.
The socio-economic concerns include dependence of farmers on large corporations for seed; unaffordable planting materials; possible unsuitability of GM crops to small-scale farm operations and for resource-poor farmers.
Interestingly, over 90 percent of GM crop farmers are small-scale and resource-poor farmers in developing countries such as the Burkinabe.



SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
 
K

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KVM

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It seems Tanzanian leaders have decided that they will follow the wave of agricultural technology and innovation from behind rather than move with it. It is incredible that very well learned people in our country cannot overcome the powers of mediocrity once they cross over into high office. Talking about the cotton industry, which Tanzania president did not promise to revive it but never did? Kikwete's presidency is coming to an end but we still remember his promises about the cotton industry.
 

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