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New genetically modified maize seed to be launched in November

By Linah Benyawa | Published Mon, August 3rd 2015 at 00:00, Updated August 2nd 2015 at 20:05 GMT +3

A genetically modified drought-tolerant and insect-resistant maize variety is set to be launched in Kenya.

The GM maize (WEMA Bt maize) developed locally under Kenya's biosafety regulations is said to be safe for human and animal consumption.

A senior research fellow with the Agricultural Biotechnology Programme at the University of Nairobi's College of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences Joel Ochieng said in Mombasa on Saturday that the lead partners in the development of the GM maize had made an application to the National Bio-safety Authority (NBA). He added that performance trials will be done and a decision made before November this year.

"The lead partners in its development, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation and African Agricultural Technology Foundation have made the application to the biosafety regulator to have performance trials for the GM maize," said Dr Ochieng.

He added that once adopted, it would improve food security and household incomes through better harvests.

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Ochieng, who is also the secretary general of Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium, said the maize variety had undergone a series of section breeding for tolerance to drought.

No sprays

He said once the maize variety is adopted, the cost of farming would be reduced since there would be no need to spray insecticides, adding that WEMA Bt maize could also reduce the aflatoxin menace.

"We want a speedy approval by the NBA for the environmental release of the first ever GM maize variety in Kenya, which we believe, if endorsed, could see farmers reap the benefits of a more productive and resilient crop," he added.

He expressed optimism that the production cost farmers incur from the impact of the stem-borer would drastically go down once the WEMA Bt Maize variety is adopted.

"Stem borers are known to reduce maize yield by an average of 13 per cent (400,000 tonnes). And once this variety is commercialised, the battle against the stem borer will be brought to a halt as this maize is resistant to attacks, making life easier for farmers who are unable to buy insecticides," he explained.

Ochieng said Kenya had legal, human and infrastructural capacity to develop, detect, test and assess the safety of GM foods, adding that four regulations that implement the Biosafety Act of 2009 had been gazetted to ensure compliance.

"GMOs are monitored from development to consumption, and NBA has inspectors in all key areas such as ports of entry, field trials, and along product value chains to ensure compliance," he said.