KENYA – The Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) is set to avail 11 metric tons (MT) of genetically modified (GM) Bt maize for planting on 500,000 acres in 2023.
With the help of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, the seeds will be distributed to farmers for free to plant in mid-altitude agroecological zones, such as areas of Western Kenya, Nyanza, the South Rift, Central, and Eastern Provinces.
These will function as test plots until private enterprises can fully commercialize Bt maize.
“After a decade of successful research three Bt maize varieties; WE1259B, WE3205B, and WE5206B were recommended for release by KEPHIS.
“All that was pending for their final release and placement to the market was the cabinet’s approval we now have,” read part of a statement by KALRO’s Director General Eliud Kireger.
KALRO claims that maize commercialization will help Kenya attain food and feed security and environmental protection.
According to Kireger, climate change, the severity of drought, and the emergence of new pests such as Fall Army Worms and maize stalk borer and diseases such as Maize Lethal Necrosis pose a real threat to food, feed, and nutritional security.
“They contribute to low production, currently at seven to 10 (90kg) bags against the potential of 22 to 35 bags per acre. Farmers lose about 13 million (90kg) of maize to stock borers alone annually valued at Sh32.5 billion. Maize borer attacks also increase aflatoxin contamination, which is a health hazard.”
“Currently, farmers spend up to Sh12,000 an acre on pesticides alone which are harmful to the environment, especially our water systems,” he pointed out.
According to research by the Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), the stem borer alone destroys 12 percent of the nation’s maize production, while the fall armyworm causes an average maize loss of 60 percent.
Kireger assured Kenyans that GMOs have been grown for over 30 years in over 70 countries and have thus far been scientifically proven to be safe for human and animal consumption.
Bt is a species of bacteria that lives in soil and makes proteins that are toxic to specific insects when eaten.
It has long been popular with organic farmers because it is considered a “natural insecticide” hence aids in curbing environmental pollution.
The Bt maize research is part of Kenya’s 10-year Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS), which is intended to build on previous strategies to revitalize the country’s agricultural sector by 2029 and make it a regional powerhouse.
The country recently gave a greenlight for the commercialization of GM crops, permitting farmers to cultivate and import food crops and animal feeds that have been genetically enhanced through biotechnology.