Rays from the just risen morning sun permeate through rural villages illuminating and exposing a scenery clothed beautifully with cotton. The brightness of the sun beams on scheme farms that explicitly tell a story of jubilation and prosperity. This is Sudan where the prospects of Bt cotton is engraved in the faces of her citizens.
Sudan is one of two African countries that are commercially cultivating Bt cotton. According to an ISAAA global biotech report, the country’s Bt cotton adoption rate stands at 95% with an estimated 90,000 farmers growing the crop in over 192,000 hectares. Notably, the number of farmers growing the insect-resistant cotton increased by 300 percent and the land under the crop more than doubled in just three years. The biotech cotton was developed to control the African bollworm and Sudan approved it for commercial planting in 2012.
Farmers’ experiences with the biotech crop are a moving testimony of how cotton has remarkably transformed their lives and those of their family members. For 63-year-old farmer Ahmed Ibrahim Elarabi from Rahad Scheme, adoption of Bt cotton resolved a myriad of challenges that characterized his cultivation of conventional cotton. Elarabi, who has a sizeable family, started growing cotton in 1979. He says farming the conventional varieties was a hell on earth as it involved regular spraying of highly toxic chemicals, was too expensive and production too low due to many other opportunistic pests like jassids and the white fly. “Adoption of Bt cotton in 2013 marked an end to my miseries as benefits accrued from the crop exceeded my expectations, leading to total transformation of my family living standards. Production increased threefold compared to conventional varieties,” the veteran farmer remarks. He reveals that his income has increased four to five times since he embraced biotech cotton. “With enough income from biotech cotton sales, I have improved the health standards of my family members and workers. This has motivated me to increase the land size under the crop from 25 to 107 feddans (44.94 hectares) and I even intend to scale it up to 240 feddans (100.8 hectares) in the coming season,” Elaraba says.
The story of success with genetically modified cotton reverberates across the farming communities of Sudan. In Central Block of Barakat region in Gezira Scheme, 35-year-old Jauaher Hamid Balwla takes delight in narrating how the crop has changed her fortunes. “My yields from Bt cotton have increased four times compared to what I used to record from conventional varieties. The cost of production has also reduced since the insect-resistant cotton can still do well without much chemicals,” she explains.
Balwla grows 8 feddans (3.36 ha) of biotech cotton and looks forward to increasing acreage in the new season. “The price of Bt cotton has increased due to high competition attributable to availability of many buyers and facilitation of contract farming,” she observes. “I appeal to agricultural cooperatives in the country to finance smallholder farmers so that they can access and expand Bt cotton farming,” the farmer sums up. Sudanese cotton farmers can now afford quality education for their children thanks to increased income from Bt cotton.