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December 14, 2018

GM maize resists pest and drought

Karlo maize breeder, Dr Murenga Mwimali and Dr Stephen Mugo from CIMMYT who are the lead scientists in the Wema project on GM maize research in Kenya on December 7,2015./FILE
Karlo maize breeder, Dr Murenga Mwimali and Dr Stephen Mugo from CIMMYT who are the lead scientists in the Wema project on GM maize research in Kenya on December 7,2015./FILE

Scientists in the country have successfully tested genetically modified maize samples that are resistant to stem borer and are drought tolerant.

The scientist said the maize developed resistance against fall armyworm.

The project, developed under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa, has been tested for two planting seasons in Trans Nzoia and Makueni counties.

The testing entailed inducing a gene from a bacteria known as Bacillus thuringiensis that produces a pesticide that kills the stemborer upon consumption.

However, a ban on importation and use of GM crops that came into force in 2012 will hamper the approval of the corn seed to benefit farmers.

Speaking in Nairobi yesterday, WEMA scientist Murenga Mwimali said a lift on the ban will be a milestone to commercial maize farming as it would improve yield.

Murenga said tests conducted in the new variety proved to increase yield by more than 40 per cent, improve the grain quality and reduced negative environmental impact due to reduced use of pesticides.

In Kenya, stemborers lead to the loss of 13 per cent maize yield every year, accounting for close to Sh9 billion.

“This crop will produce a more reliable harvest," Murenga said.

Growing and consumption of GMO food remains a controversial subject globally due to concerns over the possible negative health impact on human beings.

Some of the possible health impacts have been documented in the infamous Seralini Paper, which claimed that genetically modified food cause cancer.

“I know there have been a lot of concerns over the possible health effects of GMOs out there. But I want to assure the public the process is rigorous. It takes about 10 years to develop a GMO seed and we as an authority do a lot of checks to ensure public safety, so there is no need to doubt a process that has been fully vetted and thoroughly monitored,” Mwarenga said.

GMO food is widely consumed in countries such as the US and South Africa, where it has helped to boost food sufficiency.

Such food is packed in clearly marked containers to give consumers the freedom to choose.

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