Africa's top cotton grower looks to Bayer

(File, AFP)
(File, AFP)

Burkina Faso - Burkina Faso has asked Bayer CropScience to help produce genetically modified cotton even as the government decided to stop planting a variety introduced by Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company.

Africa’s biggest producer will only grow conventional cotton this season but doesn’t rule out a return to genetically modified cotton, according to Wilfried Yameogo, managing director of state-controlled Sofitex, the largest buyer in the West African nation.

Burkina Faso said in April it was completely phasing out Monsanto’s cotton because the length of the fibre degraded, which hurt revenue for three consecutive seasons. But if Monsanto can restore the quality of the crop, the government will tell farmers to resume planting genetically modified cotton, said Yameogo, who was appointed the same month.

"If we find an agreement with Monsanto we’ll go back to them," Yameogo said in an interview in Bobo-Dioulasso." 

"If we can’t find a solution, we’ll look for a different technology company to develop genetically modified cotton."

Burkina Faso’s request to Bayer CropScience, the agricultural unit of German chemicals company Bayer, is "under consideration,” company spokesman Richard Breum said in an e-mail.

Regional monopoly

Yameogo said the cotton industry continues to negotiate for compensation it seeks from Monsanto, as buyers and producers estimate they’ve lost 48bn CFA francs ($82m) during the past three seasons.

"The traders who buy our cotton had doubts about the length of the fibre and would always impose a discount," Yameogo said. "We were no longer able to make a suitable profit."

Sofitex is the largest of three cotton buyers in Burkina Faso that each hold a regional monopoly. The company buys from farmers in the west of the country and expects to purchase about 600 000 tons of the coming crop, forecast by the government to reach a total of 700 000 tons.

Burkina Faso, which has produced cotton developed by Monsanto since 2003, is the only country in West Africa to grow genetically modified cotton on a commercial scale. Farmers grew 630 000 tonnes of the fibre in the 2015 to 2016 season.

Neighboring Mali is the region’s second-biggest cotton producer, while Ivory Coast ranks third.

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