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Kenya approves cultivation of world’s first disease-resistant GM cassava

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By George Munene

The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has approved the cultivation of disease-resistant genetically modified (GM) cassava.

This approval, the agency stated, makes Kenya the first country globally to consider a request for the environmental release of the new cassava line dubbed ‘Event 4046’. 

The improved cassava is resistant to Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD); a devastating viral disease present in Kenya that is spread by whiteflies and infected cuttings.

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It is estimated that African farmers collectively lose up to Sh10 billion annually due to CBSD. The virus cuts harvest by 70 per cent and tuber marketability by 90 per cent.

In Kenya, cassava is the second most important food crop to maize for Coastal and Western regions contributing immensely to the country’s food security. The crop is a key source of carbohydrates–it is the most exceptional food plant in terms of starch production per unit area. It is also hardier than any other major plant food crop, able to tolerate seasonal drought and poor soils (it grows in extremely poor, acidic soils).

According to National Biosafety Authority (NBA’s) Chief Executive Officer, Prof. Dorington Ogoyi, the decision was arrived at following a rigorous and thorough review, taking into account food, feed, and environmental safety assessment as well as consideration of socio-economic issues.

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The new cassava variety has been in development by KALRO since 2011. After years of laboratory, greenhouse, and confined field trials at Mtwapa, Alupe, Kandara, and Nairobi, NBA has approved its environmental release.

The GM Cassava was developed using RNA interference (RNAi) technology; a naturally occurring biological mechanism that regulates gene expression. This technology has been in use globally in the modification of other commercialized crops like papaya, squash, and plums. 

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