GM technology can address farm problems

By Fatma Abdu

July 07, 2017

The use of GM crops is among methods of improving food security and nutritional status in low- income countries by increasing food productivity.

According to 2016 Global Status report on Biotech crops, Tanzania planted its first ever confined field trial – drought tolerant maize under the WEMA (Water Efficient Maize for Africa) project at Makutupora in Dodoma Region WEMA is a public-private partnership project operating in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique and South Africa. The project aims to develop drought tolerant and insect protected maize using conventional breeding, marker assisted breeding and biotechnology.

Tanzania Local government officials inspect a maize farm. Photo by Fatma Abdu

Its goal is to make these varieties available royalty free to smallholder farmers in sub-sahara Africa through seed companies, with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) based in Nairobi as a cocoordinating agency.

Dr Alois Kullaya, Technical Advisor of WEMA project in Tanzania said the implementation of GMO maize in Tanzania started in 2008 to January 2013 as the first phase and from February 2013 to January 2018 is second phase of project that developed under WEMA project at Makutupora in Dodoma Region.

Dr Kullaya added that the use of GM would help farmers as the way to improve their crops to keep them alive and increase yield, adding the reasons why government through researchers modify plants are drought, bad soil, reduced fertilizer, herbicide and harsh environments.

“Without these modifications, crops would die and people would not get enough food,” Dr Kullaya said. Some 300 million Africans depend on maize as their main food sources, but the crop is frequently harmed by drought, leading to hunger, poverty and human suffering.

WEMA, a pioneering initiative that pools NGO, corporate and philanthropic resources seeks to reduce crop failure by developing conventional and GM maize hybrids for smallholders farmers in sub Saharan Africa.

The Technical Advisor said that government in collaboration with researchers continues to provide knowledge to farmers and consumers towards the potential use of GM technologies to improve their food security and nutritional quality of their diets.

A training to Agro Extension Officers (AEOs) held in Geita Region last month on the potential advantages of GM biotechnology, to enable provision of better information to both farmers and non-farming members of farming communities is an appropriate way in which to tackle issues of food security, provide improved health and drive development in their country.

The use of GMO technology is among strategies to make the country an industrialised nation as insisted to the fifth phase government of President John Magufuli. Farmers in the region were not able to access fertilizers, to access the seeds that were not attacked by diseases and to acquire drugs that were resistant to diseases.

The United States is among the top five countries planting biotech crops. It continues to be the lead country with 70.9 million hectares. The US government ap proved GM animal food products for human consumption for the first time in 2015.

It is true that the US is among countries in the world where people benefit from agriculture using biotechnology. When the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock, Dr Charles Tizeba, visited the Makutupora field trials centre he said, Tanzania has delayed to use the technology, especially at this time when the country is on the road to industrilisation.

“We want to see GMO technology is implemented in our country, Dr Tizeba said. Dr Tizeba said that the government in collaboration with researchers will amend some procedures and rules that govern the implementation of GMO maize in the country in order to fast track the adoption of the technology.

Despite the continent recording a drop to two countries – South Africa and Sudan that planted biotech crops in 2016 due to the temporary setback in Burkina Faso and Egypt, a new wave of transformation is emerging.

Three of the crops under advanced research in Africa – banana, cowpea and sorghum are new and primarily for food security, with an implication of expanding the global biotech basket with more choices beyond the big four (cotton, soybean, cotton and canola).

Another trend is the South-South collaboration and diversification of technology providers with a number of Asian companies collaborating with several African research organizations to share technology and expertise, according to 2016 global report on Biotech crop.

This is expected to boost confidence in decision-making and with public-private partnerships due to similari ties in geographical and socio-economic conditions in the two continents of Africa and Asia.

The endorsement of GM foods by the reputable Nigeria Academy of Science as beneficial for crop improvement and improving the overall agricultural sector will also build courage among policy makers and end-users in making sound science-based decisions about the technology for Africa’s benefit.

Future generations will benefit more from wide choices of biotech crops with improved traits for high yield and nutrition as well as safe for food use and environment. Three countries transitioned from conducting experimental research or confined field trials to granting approvals for environmental release. These were Kenya (maize and cotton); Malawi (cotton) and Nigeria (cotton).

This could lead to commercial planting in the next one or two years after varietal and national performance trials are completed. Supportive policies are essential to make this happen.

Dr Kullaya however adviced farmers in the country to avoid using replant materials that had already been affected by pests and diseases, leading to low food of production. WEMA Technical Advisor pointed out that farmers should stick on better farming methods instead of practice traditional agriculture that led to low yield and hunger.

Dr Kullaya said that the government has in a pipeline to start research on BT maize that is tolerant to ‘bungua’. The maize is resistant to ‘bungua’ itself and drought tolerant.

Commenting on the ongoing research of GM Maize at Makutupora confined field trials in Dodoma Region, Dr Kullaya said that in the first trials of GM maize the result is good and they expect in the next year to see the satisfaction of the research.

Mguha Myala, a farmer at Kakumbi village in Geita Region pointed high cost of input and pests and diseases as the biggest challenges facing agricultural activities in the region.

“We are happy to hear from you (scientists) that working on GMO maize that will need less spraying as the crop is self protected against droughts and diseases. We ask the government to hasten delivery of these GMO seeds, as they will help us save on cost of production and increase income to smallholder’s farmers across the country.

Dr Ammerold Mneney, Biotech researcher said that “We are working to ensure that farmers get the GE pests and diseases resistant as soon as possible, urging the government to continue providing an enabling policy environment and Tanzanian to support the government efforts in order to achieve the goals.

This entry was posted in Kenya, Maize, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), Tanzania, WEMA. Bookmark the permalink.