A team from NEPAD Agency ABNE and Michigan State University carried out a field visit to Bt cotton confined field trials at Werer, in the Afar region, East Ethiopia, on November 21, 2016. Here, in a zone of vast plains in the Rift Valley and its endless chains of mountains, the country is testing its first Bt cotton seeds in the field concomitantly with 5 other sites across the country.
Agriculture in Ethiopia employs around 85% of the population and the country strives today to cope with periodic droughts and soil degradation caused by overgrazing, deforestation, and high population density. The Government of Ethiopia has seen cotton as a strategically important commodity crop to supply raw material for the rapidly growing textile sector. However, the cotton sector is undermined by pest attacks, and the production of conventional cotton, despite intensive use of pesticide, could not meet the needs of the flourishing textile industry.
Ethiopia, therefore, has been looking at other production methods in the last few years and is particularly interested in plant breeding techniques and biotechnology solutions experimented in other parts of Africa and the world.
“Cotton is becoming very important in Ethiopia because of the expanding textile industry. However cotton production is facing a major problem due to pest attacks mainly by the African bollworms and other sucking insects” affirmed Dr. Endale Gebre, Director for agricultural biotechnology research in the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research (EIAR).
“Bollworms being the major threat on cotton production in the country, we are now trying to screen varieties that are resistant to this pest thanks to the Bt trait incorporated in the plant. We are doing that under rainfed and irrigated conditions across the country. We are trying to see how the insect resistance is effective under field conditions here at Werer. It will be very important because if we can have good efficacy in the Bt trait incorporated varieties and hybrids, it means it will be possible to significantly reduce insecticide use,” he added.
NEPAD Agency ABNE has been engaged in the biosafety process in Ethiopia. ABNE especially partnered with Ethiopian stakeholders and other organizations on biosafety capacity building and because of these joint and successive efforts, the country has revised its biosafety proclamation and worked on improving its biosafety directives. As these biosafety instruments have been put in place, now Ethiopia has been able to introduce Bt cotton technology from different sources and has started testing the technology in six different agro-ecological zones.
“We can say that NEPAD Agency ABNE has a productive partnership with Ethiopia and this has started bearing fruit. It is amazing that Ethiopia has made so much progress in such a short period of time,” said Dr. Woldeyesus Sinebo JINORE, Senior Program Officer at NEPAD Agency ABNE.
At the Werer agricultural research center, seven cotton varieties are being tested; two from Ethiopia as local checks, three from Sudan with Bt gene, and two from India also with Bt gene. NEPAD Agency ABNE and MSU have been working together to build the capacity of Ethiopian experts to effectively conduct the CFTs following international norms and standards.
“This has been a great partnership between the government of Ethiopia and Sudan and also the private sector from India. We believe in south-south collaboration. This is a perfect example of how countries in Asia and countries in Africa are working together, with also the support of institutions like the NEPAD Agency,” said Karim Maredia, Director of World Technology Access Program at Michigan State University.
If the CFTs show good results, Ethiopia plans to release Bt cotton in the near future. “We have started this activity for about five to six months now. So we will analyze our records on the different sites to understand what has happened and how good are those parameters we are interested in, in terms of yield, in terms of resistance, in terms of lint quality and so on. If the data show good results in the different research centers, we might apply for release in the next year but if there is a need for additional re-testing of the variety, we might go for another season of multi locations trials,” said Dr. Endale Gebre.
NEPAD Agency ABNE and its partners will continue to build stakeholders’ capacities in the country especially in the safe technology release process to support the country in its attempts to effectively harness opportunities from science, technology and innovation for the development of the country.