Researchers urged to ensure improved seeds they produce reach farmers

By Daniel Semberya

Africa is a drought-prone continent, making farming risky for millions of smallholder farmers who rely on rainfall to water their crops. Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa – more than 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source – and it is severely affected by frequent drought. Drought leads to crop failure, hunger, and poverty.

Climate change will only worsen the problem. Like drought, insects – particularly stem borers – present a challenge to smallholder farmers in Sub–Saharan Africa, as they have little to no resources to effectively manage them. This can have a negative impact on yields, particularly during times of drought.

At last Tanzanian scientists have been allowed to release confined field trials of transgenic, marking a new turn is the raging debate over adoption of biotechnology plants.

Speaking when officiating a three day Regional Review and Planning Meeting for the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project in Dar es Salaam yesterday the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries Dr Florence Turuka after long discussions with researchers and environmentalists on the pros and cons of Biotechnology on environment, animals, and its benefits to the nation, the government has now allowed researchers to carry on with the confined field trials of transgenic drought tolerant and stem borer resistant maize.

Dr Turuka said that he was aware of the challenges led to delay of the testing of genetically modified maize germplasm in confined field trials in Tanzania. In 2015 the Government amended the Environmental Management (Biosafety) Regulations of 2009 by removing strict liability for research to provide better environment for conducting transgenic research in the country.

“I am extremely delighted and encouraged to note that the WEMA project will implement, starting this year, the confined field trials of transgenic drought tolerant and stem borer resistant maize in order to get even more resilient maize varieties for our farmers,” he revealed.

He reiterated that the revised regulations are a first step towards a more fundamental reform of the regulatory framework, which will become more enabling over time. Therefore, the implementation of transgenic research in Tanzania will produce science-based evidence on the benefits of the technology.

Meanwhile, Dr Turuka has called upon researchers in collaboration with seed companies to ensure the improved seeds they produce which are resistant to drought and insects, and give high yields are distributed to farmers, so that they can give them good income and eventually change their lives.

“I urged researchers to together with seed producing companies to establish a system that would ensure the improved seeds they research reach farmers timely,’ he urged.

He said the goal of the WEMA Project is to improve food security and rural livelihoods among African small scale maize producers through improved drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize varieties by using conventional breeding techniques and modern biotechnology tools; and to make the seed available to small scale farmers in sub-Saharan African countries royalty-free. “This is a very noble goal, because maize is one of the most important food security crops in most sub-Saharan African countries.”

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