By George Munene
The Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has concluded trials for stem borer-resistant maize varieties that will potentially double the country’s maize yield while greatly reducing production costs in pesticide application.
The Kenyan government is now looking to commercialise the genetically modified Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) maize after a ten-year trial phase ran across the country. it hopes this sets the country on course to becoming a net maize importer by doubling its production potential as has been the case with countries that have already adopted the technology.
The stem borer pest which is the most widely distributed and injurious cereal insect causes annual maize yield losses of about 500,000 metric tonnes to Kenyan farmers. This represents 13.5 per cent of the total maize produced, valued at Sh 6.5 billion.
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“Kenya imports 0.5 million tonnes of maize annually, which is equivalent to the amount of maize lost to the stem borer pest every year,” explains Dr Stephen Mugo KALRO’s project consultant officer.
The national performance trials for Bt maize have been conducted across the country in the six main maize growing regions. These trials, Mugo says, have proven that the improved maize varieties are well suited to these regions.
James Karanja a maize breeder at KALRO elaborates that genetically modified organism (GMO) technology, in use with Bt maize production harnesses bacterium naturally available in soils and is already in use as a biocontrol and pesticide in the control of the stem borer pest.
The national performance trials of improved maize have been greenlit by the National Biosafety Authority—the body charged with exercising general supervision and control over the handling of GMOs in the country.
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In its various centers, KALRO is running farmer sensitisation programs on Bt maize where they get to learn of its various benefits. They are also schooled on the efficacy of GMO crops; having unfounded fears such as that they cause cancer allayed. This is hoped will make them more comfortable with the technology’s adoption.
KALRO Food Crops Research Institute: +254-0203509161
KALRO Embu Contacts: +254 727444608 / 727444638