RWANDA – Scientists in Rwanda have proposed the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops, specifically Irish potatoes resistant to late blight disease, as a potential remedy to the declining bee population in Rwanda.

This initiative not only aims to address the ecological concern but also has the potential to boost honey production in the country.

Late blight disease, a menace affecting potatoes and tomatoes, is a threat to crop yield, leading to total failure if left untreated.

The proposed GM potato, modified to resist late blight without the need for pesticides, holds promise for both agricultural sustainability and honey production.

Rwanda Agriculture and Animals Resources Board (RAB) scientist Athanase Nduwumuremyi revealed plans for “confined trials” of the GM Irish potatoes in the Northern Province during the 2024/25 fiscal year, pending approval from the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA).

This move follows parliamentary approval of a law governing genetically modified crops in December 2023.

Farmers have witnessed a drastic decrease in honey production due to the application of pesticides to combat late blight disease, devastating Irish potatoes.

The International Potato Centre (CIP) estimates that the disease can destroy 60-100% of the crop in East Africa, costing farmers USD 3-10 billion globally annually.

Jean Damascene Ntaganda, Head of the Beekeepers’ Federation in Rwanda, emphasized the connection between crop protection and bee decline: “Diseases and pests that attack crops triggered the use of pesticides which killed so many bees and thus reduced honey production from over 6,000 tonnes officially recorded, to 2,000 tonnes, per year.”

Confirming the need for GM crops, RAB scientist Nduwumuremyi stated, “Farmers in regions growing tomatoes and Irish potatoes are reporting a decline in bee population and honey production due to pesticides, and therefore GM crops that do not require pesticides are needed.”

Addressing safety concerns, Nduwumuremyi outlined the various stages of GM crop production, emphasizing the biosafety law that governs their use.

The International Potato Centre has bioengineered locally grown potato varieties with resistance genes, targeting East African potato-growing countries.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), pollinators like bees contribute to 35% of the world’s total crop production.

The decline in bee populations, attributed to factors like pesticide use and habitat loss, necessitates sustainable solutions.

Agriculture scientist Pacifique Nshimiyimana highlighted GM crops as one such solution, stating, “GM crops that do not require the use of pesticides are one of the solutions.”

Meanwhile, another approach to combat late blight disease involves sustainable control measures. Scientists propose forecast modeling and disease-resistant plants as effective solutions.

Matthias Trapp, a senior agriculture scientist, explained that forecast modeling considers temperature and humidity indices to predict disease occurrence, providing precise estimates for pesticide application.

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