[Background] Since the commercial release of Bt cotton in Burkina Faso in 2009, the issue of seed purity in producers’ fields has rarely been addressed in an unbiased and objective manner. The potential for contamination of conventional seed varieties with Bt traits and the consequent threat to the continuation of organic cotton production has been documented. However, studies are rare on the varietal purity of Bt cotton seeds, despite the implications for the effectiveness and sustainability of their use.
This paper compensates for the lack of research on the varietal purity of cotton seeds in Burkina Faso by reporting the results of Enzyme linked immunosorbent assay tests collected in 2015 on samples of both conventional and Bt varieties from 646 fields.
[Results] According to the conservative criteria used to declare the presence of a Bt gene in a given variety (more than 10% of seeds of conventional variety exhibit Bt traits, and at least 90% of seeds of Bt variety exhibit Bt traits), seed purity was very questionable for both types of variety. For the supposedly conventional variety, the Cry1Ac gene was observed in 63.6% of samples, the Cry2Ab gene was observed in 59.3% of samples, and both genes were detected in 52.2% of the seed samples. Only 29.3% of the seeds that were supposed to be of conventional type contained no Bt genes. Conversely, for the labeled Bt variety, the Cry1Ac gene was found in only 59.6% of samples, the Cry2Ab gene was found in 53.6% of the samples, and both genes were found in 40.4% of the samples. Finally, for the seeds that were supposed to contain both genes (Bollguard 2), both Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab genes were found in only 40.4% of the samples, only one of the genes was found in 32.4% of the samples, and 27.2% of the seeds in the samples contained neither.
Two factors are responsible for the severe lack of seed purity. First, conventional varieties are being contaminated with Bt traits because of a failure to revise the seed production scheme in Burkina Faso to prevent cross-pollination. Second, the original Bt seeds provided to Burkina Faso lacked varietal purity.
The organic sector plays a very minor role in the cotton sector of Burkina Faso (production of organic cotton totaled 453 t in 2018/2019, out of national cotton production of 183 000 t). Nevertheless, the lack of purity in conventional seed varieties is a threat to efforts to expand certified organic cotton production. The poor presence of Bt proteins in supposed Bt varieties undermines their effectiveness in controlling pests and increases the likelihood of the development of resistance among pest populations.
[Conclusion] Our results show the extent of purity loss when inadequate attention is paid to the preservation of seed purity. Pure conventional seeds could vanish in Burkina Faso, while Bt seeds do not carry the combination of the expected Bt traits. Any country wishing to embark on the use of Bt cotton, or to resume its use, as in the case of Burkina Faso, must first adjust its national seed production scheme to ensure that procedures to preserve varietal purity are enforced. The preservation of varietal purity is necessary to enable the launch or the continuation of identity-cotton production. In addition, the preservation of varietal purity is necessary to ensure the sustainable effectiveness of Bt cotton. In order to ensure that procedures to preserve varietal purity are observed, seed purity must be tested regularly, and test results must be published.
[Title] Bt cotton seed purity in Burkina Faso: status and lessons learnt
[Authors] BOURGOU Larbouga, KARGOUGOU Ester, SAWADOGO Mahamadou and FOK Michel
Journal of Cotton Research 2020, 3: 30