The Sudanese Ministry of Agriculture's acknowledgement of the failure of genetically modified cotton is a late attempt to contain the farmers’ anger about the government's disastrous policies, according to El Gezira and El Managil Farmers Association.
El Jak Mohamed Abu Shama, senior member of the Association, told Radio Dabanga that the former Minister of Agriculture, Abdelhalim El Mutaafi, insisted on the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) cotton three years ago, without conducting the required research. “However, reports proved its harm to humans and to the other crops.
“The negative effects of the GM cotton emerged in El Gezira state already during the first year of cultivation. We experienced significant problems with the other crops. In addition, the number of cancer cases in the state witnessed a steady increase.”
The new Minister of Agriculture, Ibrahim El Dikheiri, acknowledged the “non-conformity of Chinese 2 GM cotton with the environment in Sudan” in a report to the national Parliament on Monday. The cotton turned out to be non-resistant to a number of pests and diseases. The Minister announced a ban on the cultivation of GM cotton in central Sudan.
Mohamed Ali Nimir, MP for El Gezira constituency, confirmed that the farmers suffered significant losses because of the diseases that hit the crops.
“We experienced significant problems with the other crops. In addition, the number of cancer cases in the state witnessed a steady increase.”
Genetically engineered or modified cotton is currently grown on 25 million hectares around the world. The most commonly grown type stimulates the plant to produce a toxin that kills the boll worm, one of the crop’s primary pests. This cotton is engineered with a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thurengiensis (Bt). Over the past 10 years, however, data show that pesticide usage has stayed the same or increased across the cotton belt, owing to insects that developed resistance to Bt cotton, and the increase of secondary pests.
El Gezira Scheme, located between the Blue and White Niles south of Khartoum, is a vast region irrigated through gravity by the waters of the Blue Nile. Through the cultivation of cotton, it was the sole source of hard currency for Sudan for nearly eighty years.
Late last year, President Al Bashir described the Scheme as not feasible and a burden on the country’s budget.
Early September, the Agriculture Ministry decided to replace the farmers' unions with 'work associations'.
According to Dr Mohamed Yousef of the University of Khartoum the decision can be seen as a prelude to the sale of the farmers’ agricultural land shares at the stock market. “The government is betting on the weakness of the financial, administrative, and logistical capabilities of the farmers' unions – and their failure in the end, to grant the lands to the affiliates of the National Congress Party.”
Abu Shama confirmed to Radio Dabanga at the time that the government intends to sell the Scheme. He explained that the recent amendment of El Gezira Scheme Act aims at transferring the land ownership to the private sector and to foreign investors by targeting the small-scale farmers of El Gezira and El Managil. “This will affect the livelihood of eight million people.”