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Lack of legislation curtails Zambia’s GM cotton trials

A lack of legislation has curtailed trials for genetically modified (GM) cotton, said the Cotton Development Trust (CDT), the country’s premier researcher for the crop.

Agricultural researchers have meanwhile decried the legal vacuum that will make Zambia fall behind with biotechnology.

According to CDT, its plan to conduct trials in Mazabuka in Southern Province, for Bacilillus Thuringiensis (Bt) cotton that is resistant to African Bollworm attacks, is in disarray because biosafety laws don’t make provision for such research.

“Bt cotton is very profitable because it is free from pests, but it will take up to six years for government to approve the testing,” said Martin Simasiku, a cotton breeder at CDT.

Cotton is one of Zambia’s major commercial crops. Annual production varies between 100 000 and 200 000 tons and is driven mainly by an estimated 200 000 smallholder producers engaged in various out-grower schemes.

Lackson Tonga, acting registrar for the National Biosafety Authority, said there is no legislation to allow CDT to conduct GM cotton trials. “For the trials to begin there must be an amendment to the Biosafety Act, particularly the liability clause,” he said.

Tonga said before starting trials, the CDT must set up a biosafety committee consisting of scientists and other cotton experts. It must also create awareness at farmer and community level.

Meanwhile Patrick Chikoti, a researcher with the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, says Zambia will continue to miss out on GMO opportunities, especially in managing pests.

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