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Ethiopia plans to use GM seedling to boost cotton industry

YarnsandFibers News Bureau 2014-01-31 17:30:00 – Addis Ababa

Ethiopia exports both cotton fabric and garments made of cotton. Government in a move to boost textile and garment exports plans to use genetically modified (GM) seedlings. The Ethiopian farmers are preparing to plant genetically modified cotton seedlings when the rainy season gets underway in June.

In early 2013, the Ethiopian parliament had ratified a proclamation stating that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be imported if the environment ministry approves their compliance with bio-safety and public health guidelines.

The government was planning to use GM cotton crops last year as part of a strategy to boost the country's textile sector, although testing had yet to start said Ethiopia's Minister of Industry Ahmed Abtewe.

The East African nation has embarked on an ambitious five-year economic plan to boost exports from the textile and garment industry to meet a target of $1 billion by 2015. But so far it is struggling, as the domestic supply of cotton lags behind demand from industry.

Officials hope that planting GM cotton will achieve higher yields than conventional varieties. But so far, there are no plans to introduce other GM crops in Ethiopia. But environmental activists who oppose the use of GM technology in food production fear the policy shift on cotton could open the door to more GM crops.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), a pan-African network of NGOs and farmers' groups covering around 50 countries, is working on an action plan to safeguard African nations' right to define and manage their food and agriculture systems. It aims to prevent foreign firms from patenting locally used seeds and to control the spread of GM crops.

Within Africa, South Africa has the most open attitude to GM crops, and is the only country to grow them on a commercial scale. But an increasing number of African states have GM research and development (R&D) capacity, including Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Egypt and Uganda.

The GM story is being pushed around nowadays because it's beneficial to a few companies, AFSA coordinator Million Belay told Thomson Reuters Foundation. Around 10 seed companies - including Dupont, Monsanto and Syngenta - account for 70 percent of the global seed market, and that they are working on to control the rest.

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