By Mathieu Bonkoungou
OUAGADOUGOU, April 4 (Reuters) - Burkina Faso's cotton association is seeking 48.3 billion CFA francs ($83.91 million) in compensation from U.S. seed company Monsanto after it said genetically modified cotton led to a drop in quality, association members said on Monday.
Cotton is the second-biggest source of revenue for the impoverished West African country after gold.
In an effort to increase yields, the Inter-professional Cotton Association of Burkina (AICB) began introducing Monsanto's Bollgard II trait into Burkinabe cotton varieties beginning in 2009 as protection against caterpillars.
However, the AICB, which groups together Burkina's three cotton companies and the national cotton farmers union (UNPCB), believes the trait has increased levels of short fibres in its cotton, reducing its market value.
The association said it met with Monsanto representatives last month, but the parties failed to reach an agreement on its financial claim. It also said it was asking farmers to stop using GM seeds until the technology is improved and fibre lengths are restored.
"We went from 39.2 billion (CFA francs) in losses to 49.3 billion in just one harvest. If we continue like that we'll just dig the hole deeper," said Wilfried Yameogo, managing director of SOFITEX, one of the cotton companies belonging to the AICB.
Monsanto said the Bollgard II varieties had consistently delivered increased yield potential since they were launched.
The company acknowledged that recent changes concerning fibre length had been observed, but added that fibre quality is influenced by both environmental conditions and genetic background.
"This variation exists between all cotton varieties (conventional or biotech) and is independent of the Bollgard II trait," spokesman William Brennan said in a reply to Reuters.
He said Monsanto would continue talks with its partners in Burkina Faso.
Yacouba Koura, vice president of the UNPCB farmers union, said growers should be able to replace the GM varieties with conventional cotton seeds for the 2016/17.
"There's no worry. If the conventional cotton seeds are available, if the farmers are trained and there is quality fertiliser, then there's no problem," he said.
($1 = 575.6000 CFA francs) (Additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Leslie Adler)