Kenya inches closer to GM maize as hunger looms

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022 03:30 | By
Maize plantation PHOTO/Courtesy

Kenyan farmers will soon start to grow Genetically Modified (GM) Bt maize on their farms if the Cabinet approves the variety for commercialisation.

James Karanja, Principal Investigator of the TELA maize project said that Bt maize has completed national performance trials conducted by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis).

Three varieties were recommended for approval to commercialisation by the National Variety Release Committee. National Biosafety Authority also approved the three varieties subject to Cabinet approval since they are as safe as the conventional counterparts.

The TELA partners, Karanja said are prepared to avail the Bt seeds to farmers as soon they are fully approved for commercialisation. TELA, is the brand name Bt maize varieties that will be marketed.

“These varieties are set to increase production from the current national average of eight bags per acre to an average of 22 bags per acre, translating into more than 52 million bags of maize harvested annually, from the current 40 million bags,” he said in Nairobi during the African Seed Trade Association (AFTSA) meeting on genome editing for the seed sector. Karanja said approval of the Bt maize for commercialisation by relevant government agencies shows the government commitment to adopt GM technology as a way of realising the food and feed security.

Target insect pests

As of February this year, Kenya Food Security Steering Group annual Short Rains Assessment reported that there are around 3.5 million food-insecure people in pastoral and marginal agricultural areas, a 48 per cent increase since August 2021. Bt maize was developed using a soil dwelling bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that has a long history providing protection against the target insect pests, it help farmers improve yields and control pests without use of chemical insecticides.

Karanja estimated that the country is losing about 40 per cent of the potential 67 million bags of maize produced annually to the stem-borer and Fall Armyworm and other challenges, forcing the government to import maize to bridge the gap.

“We laud the approval of the commercialization of Bt maize since it will help the country save all those bags that are lost every year to pests,” he added.

 – Milliam murigi

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