Cottoning on to the lie: the introduction of genetically modified cotton in Africa will harm, not help, smallholder farmers

By Haidee Swanby

Cotton is cultivated on about 2.5% of the world’s arable land across 80 countries which, after wheat, rice, maize and soybeans, makes it one of the most important global crops in terms of land area. It is grown mainly for lint, which can be spun and woven to make cloth. The seeds also yield edible oil used in a variety of foodstuffs and industrial products. Once the oil is extracted the dry meal is used to produce animal feed. One hundred countries are involved with cotton imports and exports. China, India, the USA and Pakistan are the major global cotton producers, followed by Brazil and Uzbekistan. Together these countries account for 80% of the world’s cotton, while 28 African countries contribute about 5% to global production. The top five producers on the African continent, between 2007 and 2011, were Burkina Faso, Egypt, Mali, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, who together accounted for 54% of Africa’s total production? Most of Africa’s cotton is produced by smallholder farmers for whom the cotton sector is a vital source of employment and income.