Kenyan scientists seek approval to release insect-protected maize variety to farmers to boost food security

  

PRESS RELEASE

If approved, Kenyan farmers could reap the benefits of a more productive and more resilient crop, protecting families from the economic burden that pests inflict on their farms.

Nairobi, Monday, 27 July 2015: Scientists from Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO) and their partners are optimistic that the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) will approve their application for environmental release of the first ever Genetically Modified (GM) maize variety in Kenya.

The insect-pest protected GM maize variety, known worldwide as Bt maize, will help farmers in Kenya increase their yield by reducing damage caused by stem borer insect pests thus contributing to improved livelihoods. With Bt maize, farmers can improve yields while reducing the use of insecticide sprays, thereby benefiting the environment.

The scientists made their statements as the NBA published public notification on Friday 24 July regarding the application for regulatory approval of insect-protected Bt maize. The public is invited to send their comments to NBA.

According to the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy, Kenyans depend on maize for their daily food and are too often threatened by hunger due to a number of constraints including insect pests. Stem borers are known to reduce maize yield by an average of 13 per cent or 400,000 metric tonnes, equivalent to the yearly amount of maize imported by Kenya, amounting to KES 7.2 billion.

Speaking during the press conference on the application, KALRO’s Director General, Dr. Eliud Kireger, said the adoption of the maize variety which has been developed through biotechnology will directly contribute to Kenya’s national aspirations and goals of improving the agricultural sector through application of innovative technologies to address national food security challenges.

Dr. Kireger expressed confidence in the NBA as the competent authority for the regulatory process to authorize release of this GM maize. “We are hopeful that NBA will approve the application to release the maize variety to allow farmers access better seed choices to help them produce more reliable harvests,” he said.

Speaking at the same forum, Dr. Denis Kyetere, Executive Director of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), one of the KALRO partners, noted that approval of the Bt maize would bring gains in the agricultural sector through embracing technology to mitigate challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Kenya. “With this application, KALRO is set to lead the country into the league of over 25 countries that are benefiting from Bt technology world-wide,” he added.

Approval of the Bt maize will pave the way for variety release and registration through the National Performance Trials and eventual delivery to farmers through seed companies in the same manner as any other crop variety.

The adoption of Bt technology has been proven to work in other countries and farmers are already benefiting from the technology with maize yields doubling annually in countries like South Africa.

“We look forward to seeing Kenyan farmers benefit from this technology like their counterparts in other countries,” said Dr. Kireger.

The Bt trait is being incorporated into the drought-tolerant maize being developed by the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project to help farmers reduce the damage caused by insect pests. During drought, maize is particularly susceptible to pests and farmers can experience complete loss. The project aims to develop and avail to farmers drought-tolerant and insect-pest protected maize varieties using a range of approaches including conventional plant breeding and genetic modification. These varieties will improve yields under moderate drought and protect maize from insect-pest damage.

The WEMA project is a public-private partnership project coordinated by the AATF and brings together seven partners including national agricultural research systems of Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda; the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT, by its Spanish acronym), an internationally funded, non-profit, scientific research, training, and development organization; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a private philanthropic organization; USAID, Howard Buffet Foundation and Monsanto, a US-based agricultural company. Each of the WEMA partners contributes their technology, time, and expertise to the project.

The first conventional non-GM drought-tolerant maize under the name DroughtTEGO or simply TEGO is already in use by farmers in Kenya and Uganda.  As Dr. Kyetere of AATF concluded: ‘’The success of TEGO shows that farmers in Kenya are eager to adopt new varieties of maize that can deliver better yields both under tough conditions such as drought and under normal conditions. I hope all Kenyan stakeholders appreciate the importance of farmers having access to new innovations delivered through plant science."

Ends

For more information, please contact:
Nancy Muchiri 
Senior Manager Communications & Partnerships
Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation
P.O. Box 30709.Nairobi 00100 Kenya
Tel: 254-20 422 3700

Virginia W. Ndungu
Manager, Corporate Communications
Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation
P.O. Box 57811, Nairobi, 00200, Kenya
Tel: 254-20-4183720, 0722 206986/8,0733 333223

About AATF

The African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) is a not-for-profit organisation that accesses, develops, adapts and delivers appropriate agricultural technologies for sustainable use by smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa through innovative partnerships and effective stewardship along the entire value chain. AATF provides expertise and know-how that facilitates the identification, access, development, delivery and utilisation of appropriate agricultural technologies. AATF works towards food security and poverty reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa, and its structure and operations draw upon the best practices and resources of both the public and private sectors. AATF is a registered charity under the laws of England and Wales and has been given a tax-exempt status in the USA. It is incorporated in Kenya and in the UK and has been granted host country status by the Government of Kenya where it is headquartered and is registered as a charity in Nigeria.

About KALRO

The Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation is the national institute responsible for agricultural research, knowledge and technology generation, dissemination and impact assessment for improved productivity, commercialisation and competiveness.

About WEMA

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) is a public-private partnership that is developing drought-tolerant and insect-pest protected maize hybrids, with the aim of improving yields under moderate drought stress and protecting it from insect damage. The long-term goal is to deploy these new varieties and make them available to smallholder farmers royalty-free through local African seed companies.

About the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.

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