Bt Cotton Variety Release trial sites

NCST visits Bt Cotton Variety Release trial sites

The Bt Cotton Research Programme has made significant progress. After three years of successful Confined Field Trials (CFTs) at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), an application for environmental release was made to the National Biosafety Regulatory Committee (NBRC) and approval was granted in April 2016. Bt Cotton was deregulated and the next stage of the process was for the Ministry of Agriculture, through its Department of Agriculture and Research Services, (DARS) to carry out trait registration trials on the open fields. The trials will be conducted for three years after which Bt Cotton will be commercialized. This places Malawi among the few countries in Africa on a steady path of commercialization of GM crops.

bt cotton bush

Encouraged by the promising results from the CFT trials which were conducted by LUANAR, DARS convened a stakeholders meeting in November 2016 to appraise them of the results of the CFTs and inform them of its intent to move to Variety Registration Test trials (VRT). Stakeholders unanimously endorsed DARS request to proceed to the VRT trials. In line with the recommendations, DARS is currently conducting trials in 9 sites at their research stations; 3 in the north namely Mbawa in Mzimba, Baka and Lupembe in Karonga and 2 in the center Chitala in Salima and Chitedze in Lilongwe, 2 in the eastern region namely Makoka in Zomba and Toleza in Balaka and 2 in the south Ngabu and Kasinthula in Chikwawa.

NCST, which is responsible for the implementation of the biotechnology policy, has been a firm supporter and promoter of biotechnology research in the country due to its mandate. Through its partner, Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS), it has provided technical and financial support to LUANAR throughout the confined field trials. With this background, NCST decided to visit the trial sites to appreciate the progress of the trials and also to hold meetings with the research trial teams to obtain an overview on progress and the challenges surrounding the conduct of the trials. In addition, the visit was important to ensure that research protocols are conducted in line with terms and conditions stipulated in the license for the trials as issued by the Biosafety Registrar and with internationally accepted standards and best practices.

healthy bt cottonThe visits were planned in such a way that before touring the trial site there were discussions with the trial managers and their research teams in their respective research stations. During the discussions the team asked a set of prepared questions to assess the adherence to the protocols and also to see all the paper work and the data collection tools used. The visit assisted NCST to assess the capacity gaps within the different teams and to get informed on training needs for the members conducting the trials.

NCST was impressed with the way the trials are being conducted and also the way the cotton is generally being cared for in all the stations. Although some of the teams have a few challenges, it is interesting to note that together with the core team, based at Makoka Research Station, they are finding solutions to the challenges.