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A Black (White) Hole in the Global Spread of GM Cotton

Date : 30 March 2016

Genetically modified (GM) cotton is the third largest biotech crop, occupying around 70 percent of the global cotton area, mostly involving insect-resistant Bt varieties. Bt cotton is particularly popular in developing countries such as China, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Burkina Faso, and others. In these countries, Bt cotton is grown by over 15 million smallholder farmers, contributing to significant economic, social, and environmental benefits. However, several low-income and important cotton producers do not use Bt technology. None of the Central Asian cotton producers – such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan – have yet adopted Bt cotton.

In a recent study, Saule Burikbayeva and Jo Swinnen from KU Leuven and Matin Qaim from the University of Goettingen have analyzed possible reasons, including low acceptance levels, regulatory issues, or trade-related constraints. Yet, none of these typical political-economy arguments was found convincing. Instead, the most likely explanation is limited demand for Bt in Central Asia owing to low insect-pest infestation. This would imply that global Bt cotton adoption rates may already be close to 100% when considering real demand for insect-resistant varieties. The study was published in the April issue of Trends in Biotechnology.

The free link to the article, valid until 12 May is available at the Science Direct website