The family of Meda Ko Francois moved to Djinkargo in 1997 to extend their farming operation. While Meda Ko Francois lives in the village his two sons build a compound in the middle of their 100 acre cotton fields to stay in during the harvest.
One of Meda Ko Francois’ sons feeds the dogs on the compound the family build in the middle of their cotton fields in Djinkargo. They decided to live here during the harvest season when long hours of work are required to bring in the crop.
When genetically modified Bt-cotton under the brand name Bollgard II was commercially released in Burkina Faso in 2008 its introduction was hailed as a success with farmers enthusiastically adopting the technology. The main reason farmers liked the new technology was its ability to resist the two mayor pests in Burkinabe cotton production: Lepidoptera and the devastating bollworm. Of the six sprays conventional cotton requires the initial four target lepidoptera. So the total number of sprayings per cotton season went down from six to two, resulting in significantly reduced human pesticide exposure. Early studies from 2009 also showed that Bt cotton increased the yield by 18.2 % and boosted farmers profits by roughly the same percentage. While the seed was significantly more expensive ($62.36 per ha vs. $8.88 per ha on conventional cotton) the cost was offset by the savings on insecticide input costs of $52.58 per ha. Follow up studies surveying 160 households three years later confirmed the yield increase and reported that in average farmers got 50% more profit from Bollgard II than from conventional cotton. There was just one problem: The studies had calculated the yield differences by comparing Bt cotton with refugia planted with conventional cotton. Refugial areas are planted around GMO fields as a refuge for bollworms to reduce the development of resistance. Most farmers don’t pay a lot of attention to refugia, expecting a reduced yield there anyway. So what do these scientific and peer reviewed studies – published by the AgBioForum, which is financed by the Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology Alliance whose purpose is to fund biotechnology research... directed at expanding the volume of profitable businesses in the US food and agricultural sector“ – really tell us about the yield advantage of Bt-cotton?
When genetically modified Bt-cotton was commercially released in Burkina Faso in 2008 it all seemed like a great success story. By 2014, more than 140,000 smallholder farmers were cultivating Bt cotton, representing 70% of the total production in one of Africa’s largest cotton producing nations. Many farmers were enthusiastic about Bt cotton, because of its ability to resist the devastating bollworm pest without the use of expensive and harmful pesticides. After pests and droughts had led to widespread crop failures that ruined the livelihoods of thousands of cotton farmers in the 1990s, Burkinabè's cotton sector signed a deal with Monsanto in 2003 to backcross the Bt-gene onto local varietals. The Bt-gene produces a toxin - Bacillus thuringiensis - that kills one of the most harmful cotton pests, the bollworm. In doing so it reduces the amount of pesticides needed to keep the crop healthy. Subsequently the total number of sprayings per cotton seasoned has gone down from six to two, reducing exposure of damaging chemicals and saving valuable labour time at critical moments in the growing season. Early studies showed that many farmers earned higher profits from reduced costs and higher yields. Overall Burkina Faso’s total cotton production doubled from 2007 and 2014. But then the often repeated success story of Burkina Faso’s Bt-cotton adoption ended with a big bang: In 2016, Burkinabè cotton officials announced a complete phase out of BT cotton, claiming that it produced lint of inferior quality. While neighboring Mali was able to sell its entire production within a few month on the international market, Burkina Faso was stuck on its record crop, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in lost revenues. The country had become the largest cotton producer in the region at the cost of undermining its global reputation of high quality cotton lint.