Approval for trials of genetically modified (GM) maize has been granted by the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, Daily Monitor has learnt.
The confined field trial is to test whether the GM maize can withstand adverse climate conditions as well as diseases.
When contacted on Monday, Dr Godfrey Asea, the project implementer, confirmed the developments. He explained that the trial, which is due to start soon, will focus on the tolerance of GM maize varieties against insects and drought.
Emanuel Ber, 5, plays with yellow maize at their home in Rachuonyo, Homa Bay County, on January 19, 2016. National Biosafety Authority has approved cultivation trials for GMO maize. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
A public-private consortium behind the scientific development of drought and pest resistant high yielding maize varieties says last week’s approval for national field trials is the way to go.
Acting Kenya Agricultural Livestock and research Organisation (Kalro) Director General Eliud Kiplimo, and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Executive Director Denis Kyetere said they would immediately embark on the next step of identifying suitable varieties for various regions that are adversely affected by stem borers.
Acute food shortage has threatened the forty eight countries which make up sub-Saharan Africa. The reasons have been many, starting from climate change, government policy and farming practices like generations of subsistence farming which has depleted the nutrients in soil and made it less fertile. The region is becoming more arid, adding difficulty to the growing season.
The sixth of 10 children, Florence Wambugu knew at an early age there must be a better way to ward off pests than mixing ashes and soot. Her mother sold the one cow from their family farm to send her daughter to school and test the theory.
Wambugu would go on to receive a scholarship from the United States Department of Agriculture to spend time at Monsanto, the biotechnology powerhouse in St. Louis, Missouri, where she studied genetic engineering for the sweet potato.
Since returning to Kenya, where she is CEO of Africa Harvest Biotech International, she has extended technologies such as tissue culture for bananas to rural smallholder farmers.
The 48 countries that make up sub-Saharan Africa have increasingly acute food needs as climate change turns the region’s growing seasons more arid. The drought now devastating southern and East Africa, which threatens 50 million people with famine, is just the start, climate forecasters say. The World Bank projects that, given present trends, about 40 percent of the land used to grow corn in sub-Saharan Africa will no longer be suitable for current varieties by 2030.
Monsanto says it has part of the solution. On small plots of land in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda, the company—in collaboration with, among others, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—is testing corn varieties that hold up better against dry weather and insects. Monsanto’s Water Efficient Maize for Africa project is as much about doing well as it is about doing good. “The long-term growth has to be looked at as a business opportunity,” says project director Mark Edge, whose work involves hybrid seeds rather than the genetically modified varieties Monsanto produces, which are controversial on the continent. “The short-term challenge is creating the market and understanding what investments can do that,” he says.
Today, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) released its annual report detailing the adoption of biotech crops, “20th Anniversary of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops (1996-2015) and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015,” showcasing the global increase in biotech hectarage from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015. This 100-fold increase in just 20 years makes biotechnology the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times, reflecting farmer satisfaction with biotech crops. Since 1996, 2 billon hectares of arable land – a massive area more than twice the landmass of China or the United States – have been planted with biotech crops. Additionally, it is estimated that farmers in up to 28 countries have reaped more than US$150 billion in benefits from biotech crops since 1996. This has helped alleviate poverty for up to 16.5 million small farmers and their families annually totaling about 65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world. READ MORE
A principal state attorney in the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs has called for flexibility in the drafting of the National Biotechnology & Biosafety Bill 2012.
The bill that has already been tabled in Parliament is still under scrutiny, with groups calling for amendments especially in relation to fines and penalties.
Harriet Ityang was presenting a paper ‘Understanding the Scope and Relevance of the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill’ at a media BioCafe at the Uganda National Farmers Federation conference hall in Nakasero. READ MORE
Three new varieties of conventional maize tolerant to drought and insects will be released later this year, the Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique (IIAM) to extend the range of seeds available in the domestic market.
The seeds are being selected in a range of seven under evaluation under the project “Maize Water Efficiency for Africa (WEMA),” which is being implemented by IIAM since 2009.