Kenya is planning to green-light the cultivation and sale of genetically modified cassava in a move to improve food security in the country.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) is working to introduce a GMO variety of cassava reported to be more disease resistant than traditional strains.
“The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) announces to the public the receipt of an application for consideration for a possible environmental release (open cultivation) and placing on the market of genetically modified cassava that is resistant to Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), a common viral disease present in Kenya,” said the NBA in a notice in part.
KALRO says the GMO cassava strain has high levels of disease resistance and will result in more marketable yields for farmers.
“Farmers and consumers will benefit from CBSD resistant cassava as a result of increased cassava root quality and marketable yield,” said the notice in part.
Last year Kenya produced 973,000 tones of cassava all of which was sold and consumed in the country.
According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), cassava is a crucial food crop for African countries since the crop is hardy and can be cultivated without mechanization or costly inputs like fertilizer.
Nigeria currently leads the continent in cassava production with Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana and Uganda rounding up the list of top producers.
NBA says the government is considering the nutritional composition and safety of new proteins in the safety assessment before granting approval for the crop.
“The environmental safety evaluation of the cassava looks at its potential to become a weed or invasive to natural habits, the potential impact of cross-pollination with conventional cassava as well as wild relatives, altered production potential and potential impact on non-target organisms and biodiversity,” states the NBA in its notice in part.
If approved, KALRO’s application will see GMO cassava included in the list of genetically modified crops currently awaiting legalization.
In 2016, global agricultural producer Monsanto applied to the Kenyan government seeking to conduct limited national performance trials on the genetically modified BT cotton.
The approval permitted Monsanto to test the performance of BT cotton against local strains for two to three years to determine of the crop poses unacceptable risks to human or environmental health.