RWANDA – Rwanda is contemplating the adoption of genetically modified (GM) maize crop varieties as a strategic response to combat the relentless onslaught of destructive pests such as the fall armyworm.

As Rwanda’s third largest crop, maize plays a pivotal role in the nation’s agricultural landscape, primarily sustained by smallholder farmers. However, the persistent menace of pests like the fall armyworm poses a significant threat to maize production, prompting Rwanda to explore innovative solutions in the realm of genetic modification.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as defined by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), entail crops imbued with gene(s) from the same or unrelated organisms through genetic engineering techniques. These genetic modifications confer a spectrum of beneficial traits, ranging from pest resistance and tolerance to adverse environmental conditions to enhanced nutrient profiles.

Rwanda’s proactive stance towards GM crop adoption is rubberstamped by the recent enactment of biosafety legislation, aimed at ensuring the safe handling, transfer, and utilization of genetically modified organisms within the country’s borders.

With a robust legal framework in place, Rwanda is poised to navigate the complexities of introducing GM maize varieties into its agricultural landscape.

Telesphore Ndabamenye, Director General of Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), outlined a comprehensive strategy for the phased introduction of GM crop varieties. The strategy commences with confined trials for cassava crops before transitioning to maize and, subsequently, Irish Potatoes.

Emphasizing the adaptability and resilience of GM crops in the face of climate change-induced challenges, Ndabamenye affirmed the pivotal role of partnerships and stakeholder engagement in driving this transformative agenda forward.

The urgency for GM maize varieties is fueled by reports of Fall Armyworms developing resistance to conventional pesticides, posing a grave threat to maize cultivation. Evariste Tugirinshuti, President of Rwanda Maize Farmer Cooperatives Federation, highlighted the devastating impact of pest infestations, with farmers experiencing significant yield losses ranging from 20 to 40 percent.

Regional success stories and future prospects

Across the region, countries like Malawi and Ethiopia have made significant strides in harnessing the potential of genetically modified crops to mitigate pest pressures and enhance agricultural productivity.

Malawi’s successful trials of Bt maize and cotton accentuate the transformative potential of GM technologies in bolstering food security and livelihoods.

Kenya lifted a 10-year ban on cultivating and importing GM crops in October 2022.

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