BOBO-DIOULASSO, Burkina Faso (Reuters) – In 2000, farmers in Burkina Faso, Africa’s top cotton grower, were desperate. Their cotton fetched top prices because its high-quality fiber lent a luxurious sheen to clothing and bedsheets. But pests – bollworms – were threatening the crop.
Even when you dropped the bollworm larvae into a bucket of poison, farmers said, they kept swimming.
U.S. seeds and pesticide company Monsanto proposed an answer: a genetically modified strain of cotton called Bollgard II, which it had already introduced in America and was marketing worldwide. GM was established in large-scale farming in South Africa, but not among the smallholders who produce most African cotton. The Burkina farmers agreed to a trial and the country introduced seeds with the gene in 2008.
The resulting cotton was pest-free, and the harvest more abundant. By 2015, three-quarters of all Burkina Faso’s production was GM, and it became a showcase for the technology among smallholders in Africa. From 2007 to 2015, delegations from at least 17 different African nations visited Burkina to see it.
But there was a problem. While the bug-resistant genes produced more volume, the quality fell. Last season, the cotton farmers of Burkina Faso abandoned the GM varieties.