ZIMBABWE has been urged to embrace genetically modified (GM) crops to improve harvests and reduce production costs as production in cotton declines, with projections that 32 000 tonnes would be produced during the 2015/2016 agricultural year.
The country had produced 90 000 tonnes the previous season.
Although genetic engineering has made a rapid entry into agriculture in countries like South Africa in the past decade, Zimbabwe has banned GM crop production and importation.
With the nation facing a severe drought and food shortages, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made, emphasised: "The position of the government is very clear, we do not accept GMOs as we are protecting the environment from the grain point of view."
But a high-level stakeholder validation workshop on agricultural policy in Harare last week organised by the National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF) in conjunction with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) showed that GM crops, especially in cotton production, would increase national income by US$50 million.
"National saving for bollworm control will be US$12 million and if the yield increase per hectare is 400 kilogrammes, like in India, the national income benefit would be over US$90 million,"said Idah Sithole-Niang, an expert who presented a paper on GM varieties in Zimbabwe.
Niang added that if Zimbabwe was to adopt Bt Cotton (GM cotton), the country may not lose its export market because the world leading cotton producing countries adopted 90 percent of Bt cotton.
"Over 70 percent of cotton traded in the world is GM cotton. Europe uses GM stock for their livestock and Denmark uses GM soya in pigs that produce Danish ham traded globally," Niang said.
The 2016 Mid Year Fiscal Policy showed that cotton production for 2016 had declined from 90 000 tonnes to 32 000 tonnes despite government and private sector efforts in funding production.
Seed cotton production declined by 34 percent from 136 000 tonnes in the 2013/2014 season to 90 000 tonnes in the 2014/2015 season.
The 32 000 tonnes is far below the 60 000 tonnes harvested during the 1991/92 season, which experienced severe drought conditions.
At peak production in 2012, small-scale farmers produced 350 703 tonnes of cotton, which translated to 143 788 tonnes of lint and earned the country over US$200 million.
Despite farm productivity being key to reviving the country's cotton sector, farmers have been making huge losses from cotton production.
Although the safety of GM foods have always been questionable, Niang said over 1,4 million tonnes of edible oil from Bt cotton is consumed annually and for the past 14 years, no adverse effects have been recorded.
In livestock, 10 million tonnes of cotton seed cake for dairy cows are consumed and no adverse effects have been reported.
"In fact, cotton seed cake is preferred as it increases milk fat content."
In poultry production, without the use of GM stock feeds, South African poultry producers have a competitive advantage over Zimbabwean producers.
In 2014, Zimbabwe imported 3 988 tonnes of chicken from South Africa and South Africa exported 66 355 tonne to regional markets.
South Africa produces 82 percent of GM maize, 95 percent soyabeans and 95 percent Bt cotton.
The experts recommended that government should lift the ban on GM stock feeds.
"Government should allow confined field trials of GM cotton and other GM crops and align the National Biosafety Framework to international best practices. Zimbabwe should also take a cautionary approach to regulate GM crops as opposed to the precautionary principle that will completely halt progress," Niang said.
Biotech crops in Africa include potatoes, sugarcane, maize, cotton cassava, rice, bananas, cucumber, wheat, sorghum and melons.
Proponents of GM crops claim that the new transgenic crops improve yields, reduce pesticide use and increase food security especially in developing countries, a promise that most countries facing food shortages want to believe.