Burkina Faso and three other African countries, Chad, Benin and Mali, are known as the Cotton Four countries in the WTO that have pushed for changes in U.S. farm policies related to cotton. Burkina Faso is also the second country in Africa to grow biotech cotton and has positioned itself to be more economically profitable regardless of what happens to public policies in other countries.

In the 2008/09 growing and marketing year 4,500 farmers in Burkina Faso grew 21,000 acres of biotech cotton according to estimates by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Local scientists worked with Monsanto scientists to incorporate the Bollgard II Bt cotton gene for insect resistance into existing local varieties. Biotech cotton for the 2009/10 year is estimated at 280,000 acres, 25 percent of the 1.11 million acres harvested as estimated by the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of USDA. Seed supply is expected to be available for the 2010/11 season to plant over 900,000 acres if farmers continue rapid adoption.

Growth in cotton yield per acre harvested has been slow in Burkina Faso. Yields averaged 371 pounds per acre per year in 1980-89, 348 pounds per year in 1990-99 and 379 pounds per year in 2000-09. Yields in 2008/09 and 2009/10 were near the ten year average, but yield in 2007/08 was only 327 pounds per acre, the lowest since 1999/2000. World average yields have increased from about 400 pounds per acre in the early 1980s to 675 pounds per acre over the last four years, while U.S. yields have gone from 510 pounds per acre to 815 pounds per acre. India’s yields increased from 160 pounds per acre in the early 1980s to 470 pounds per acre in recent years.

Insect control is a key factor in yield. Farmers apply insecticides 6-8 times per year and yield reductions still average 30 percent most years and sometimes near 40 percent. The pre-commercial production trials and the 2008/09 yield comparisons showed Bt cotton yields 30 percent higher than conventional cotton and required only two applications of insecticides. Fewer applications of insecticides are important because insecticides account for about 30 percent of the cost of production. Reduced use of pesticides also reduces the work load for producers because most spraying is done by walking between the rows of cotton, and there are human health and environmental benefits.

A mutually agreeable seed pricing strategy has been established according to reports by the ISAAA. The government of Burkina Faso is a co-owner of the two biotech varieties with Monsanto. Technology fees are based on the increased income of farmers from higher cotton yields and savings in insecticide applications. Two-thirds of the total gain will remain with the cotton producers and one-third will be divided between Monsanto and the local seed companies that provide seed.
Brookes and Barfoot of PG Economics estimate that based on pre-commercial trials the main impact of the technology is a 20 percent improvement in yields and insecticide expenditure savings of $25 per acre. Depending on the price of cotton, the gain to producer before the technology fee would be about $67 per acre. If yields increase by 30 percent, the producer gains would total $87 per acre.

According to the World Bank, in 2008 cotton accounted for 32 percent of the value of exports by Burkina Faso and cotton was second to gold in 2009. Agriculture is also seen as a key industry for growth in exports. Cotton acreage peaked out at 1.5 million acres in 2004/05 and 2005/06 before declining to one million acres due to low cotton prices, drought and insect pressures. To the extent that the higher yields, less variability in yields and lower production costs improve the economic prospects for cotton production, some of that lost cotton acreage could be regained. Agriculture accounts for about 30 percent of the GDP, with industry at 20 percent and services 50 percent. About 90 percent of the nation’s jobs are associated with agriculture. The International Monetary Fund recently projected that the Burkina Faso economy will grow 4.4 percent in 2010 after 3.2 percent in 2009.

The U.S. Agricultural Attaché based in Senegal, has reported that Burkina Faso is the only country in the region with an operational regulatory framework for the production and marketing of biotech crops. Its national research institute spent four years field testing Bt cotton before the National Biosecurity Agency approved two Bt cotton varieties for commercial production. Several groups of countries are working together to develop biosafety policies and biotechnology applications to avoid duplication of effort. Senegal’s National Assembly and Senate approved its biosafety regulations in July of 2009. Benin has adopted the Cartagena protocol and established a biosafety committee, but still has a moratorium on biotech crops. Mali approved the Cartagena Protocol in 2002 and its Parliament approved a regulatory system for biotechnology in 2008. Chad has not signed the Cartagena Protocol and has no agricultural biotechnology regulations.

Recent strength in market prices for cotton may give added incentives to achieve higher cotton yields. The A-Index of international raw cotton prices bottomed out a year ago near $0.50 per pound and has recovered to $0.90 per pound. End of the marketing year worldwide cotton supplies on July 31 are expected to be 50.9 million bales, down from 62.7 million a year earlier. Carryover supplies for the U.S., the largest exporter, will be down 70 percent from the level two years ago. World consumption of 116.1 million bales in 2009/10 will exceed production of 101.7 million bales by a record large 14.4 million bales. Part of the production shortfall includes the French speaking countries of West Africa where production is estimated to have dropped to almost a 20-year low of 2.2 million bales.

As the largest cotton producer in French speaking West Africa, estimated at 880,000 bales for 2009/10, Burkina Faso has taken an important first step for its economy and the region with biotech cotton. Neighboring countries with an interest in working together can draw on the regulatory, production and seed pricing experiences to develop a framework for their own introduction of biotech cotton. Burkina Faso regulators are now studying Bt cowpeas as the next crop to field test.