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GMO maize promises to triple farmers’ yields

Maize farmers in Kenya could produce 3.7 tonnes of maize per hectare (2.5 acre), almost three times the current capacity immediately the government approves commercialization of Bacillus Thuringiensis maize (BT maize), a  type of genetically modified organism (GMO) variety.
Currently, Kenya produces a paltry 1.6 tonnes per hectare which is more than three times below the global average of five tonnes per hectare, this according to Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) a nongovernmental body working with KALRO and African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) to introduce the maize in the country by the end of this year
If introduced, Kenya will be the second country in the continent after South Africa to legalize BT maize which has the potential to fix food situation in the country. Maize is the country’s staple food with the average per capita consumption estimated to be at 103kg per person. The crop accounts for 3 per cent of the country’s GDP and 21 percent of the total value of primary agricultural commodities according to a 2014 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data.
Pest resistant
The high demand and low production mainly due to bad climatic conditions, harsh pests and diseases like stem borers known to reduce maize production by up to 400,000 tonnes per year normally force the country into the expensive import market. South Africa which introduced biotech maize varieties in 2011 realized a national maize yield of 9.5 per cent the following year and is currently the net exporter of maize in the continent.
The BT maize being developed by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) in conjunction with other bodies like WEMA and AATF transfers its genes into the maize plant which upon eaten by stem borer cause it to ingest the encoded proteins through the gut suffocating the insect to death. The maize variety saves farmers the financial an health burden of using chemical pesticides which are expensive and unhealthy. The biotech maize if adopted will also limit the amount of chemical gas emitted to the air, hence environmental friendly.
Lifting the ban on GM
In August last year, Deputy President William Ruto said that the government was working towards legalizing genetically modified crop varieties in a bid to improve the country’s food security before the end of 2016. Mr Ruto, who was speaking at the fourth National Biosafety Conference, also urged stakeholders to roll out BT cotton to benefit from resources at the Ministry of Industrialisation set aside for cotton and leather tanning revival.
Even as the country prepare itself for GM takeoff, Francis Nang’ayo, Senior Manager for Regulatory Affairs at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation is warning of strong resistance from Anti GMO activists who links GMO Foods to increased cancer cases in the world. Protests by those activists for instance saw the country ban genetically modified seeds import and cultivation in the country in 2012. However, the World Health Organization has since confirmed that GM has no effects on human health.
Although the first maize trials with the Bt trait were harvested in Kenya in May 2013, its national rollout has received resistance from regulatory authorities including KEMRI, KEPHIS, NEMA and the National Biosafty Authority (NBA) which insist on further research to ascertain health safety. Bt maize is also drought resistant and can be grown in any soils.

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