NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Modified Cotton Boosts Yields in Kwazulu

March 14, 2003

The first genetically-modified (GM) crop to be grown commercially in subsaharan Africa has proven a great success. According to Stephen Morse of the University of Reading (United Kingdom), this was the first study in subsaharan Africa using real farm data. They studied the records of 1,300 South African farmers.

  • The GM cotton boosted the yields of farmers in the Makhathini region of KwaZulu-Natal by 50 to 89 percent compared to its conventional counterpart.
  • The yield per kilogram of seed was up to 129 percent higher for the GM variety compared to conventional crops.
  • Furthermore, the crops required less labor.

Yield increases in the developing world now appear to be many times higher than the 10 percent for GM cotton seen in the developed world, says Morse. Importantly, there were fewer poisonings because of the reduced use of pesticides.

The farmers planted "Bt cotton" which contains a gene for a bacterial toxin that kills bollworms, a major cotton pest in the developing world.

  • In 1997-98 there were 51 reported cases of pesticide poisonings in the area.
  • If all farmers in the Makhathini region used Bt cotton, the number would fall to two a season, say the researchers.

Use of the GM variety grew from only 0.1 percent of farmers in the Makhathini region in 1997-98 to over 90 percent of farmers by 2001-02. The farmers, 60 percent of whom are women, typically have between two to seven acres.

Source: Shaoni Bhattacharya, "KwaZulu farmers boosted by GM cotton," New Scientist Online News, March 7, 2003.


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