GENETICALLY ENHANCED

State to introduce Bt maize to boost yield, food security

Biotechnology variety, known as Tela, is drought-tolerant and cannot be easily destroyed by insects.

In Summary

• Its commercialisation in the country will significantly boost production, according to Crops and Agriculture Research PS Hamadi Boga.

• PS Boga says the variety has been derived from the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project where new varieties that can withstand harsh climatic conditions and pest infestations have been bred.

Crops and Agriculture Research PS Hamadi Boga inspects a Bt maize farm at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation station in Kandara, Murang'a, on Monday.
HIGH-YIELDING: Crops and Agriculture Research PS Hamadi Boga inspects a Bt maize farm at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation station in Kandara, Murang'a, on Monday.
Image: John Kamau

Maize farmers are set to reap big once they adopt a new genetically-modified variety to be introduced by the government.

The government seeks to increase production and enhance food security. The biotechnology Bt variety known as Tela is drought-tolerant and cannot be easily destroyed by insects, including stem borers and fall armyworms.

Its commercialisation in the country will significantly boost production, according to Crops and Agriculture Research PS Hamadi Boga.

Principal Secretary Boga on Monday said the variety has been derived from the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) project where new varieties that can withstand harsh climatic conditions and pest infestations have been bred.

He said the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) is currently conducting national performance trials for the variety in Murang’a, Embu and Kirinyaga.

Boga spoke during the open field trial of the variety at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) in Kandara, Murang’a. He was accompanied by officials from Kephis, National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and National Biosafety Authority (NBA).

He said the adoption of the variety will see the country’s maize production shoot from 42 million bags last year to 80 million bags this year without increasing the area under production.

“We successfully commercialised Bt cotton and farmers across the country are excited. We are now looking forward to commercialising Bt maize and we’ve so far made significant progress. This adoption of the technologically enhanced variety will improve production and enable Kenyan farmers to reap big from their farms,” Boga said.

Kenya still trails countries like South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda in terms of maize production, with the PS blaming this on the country having huge arid and semi-arid land.

“We are confined to certain areas for production and that’s why we are still producing less. However, this new maize variety, once adopted, will boost our production considerably,” he said.

The PS said that once the variety is approved by the Cabinet—having been given the green light by other regulatory authorities, including Nema, Kephis and NBA—the government will sensitise farmers and Kenyans to its benefits through village-based advisors.

Bt maize farm at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation station in Kandara, Murang'a, on Monday.
HIGH-YIELDING: Bt maize farm at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation station in Kandara, Murang'a, on Monday.
Image: John Kamau

He allayed fears that Bt maize is not fit for humans, saying it has been thoroughly researched and bred and is not different from conventional maize varieties.

Boga said the adoption of Bt technology in crops, especially maize, will bridge the yield gap by mitigating losses in farms occasioned by drought and pests.

“Attempts to improve plants is a global enterprise and every country is seeking to improve its production systems so their farmers can earn more and produce more with less input and to feed the ever-growing population,” he said.

"Addressing the yield gap is key to the food and nutrition security pillar and is key to increasing production for farmers and supporting agro-processing in the country, so processors cannot struggle while looking for maize.”

Dr James Karanja, a breeder at Kalro who has been working on trials of the variety on Kalro land, said that adoption will improve production from seven bags per acre to more than 20 bags.

“It will also ensure we don’t rely on importing maize as a country. It will also enhance our health because there will be minimal use of chemicals on the farms because the maize can withstand pests,” he said.

Karanja said if the variety is approved, farmers will start growing the maize before the year ends.

Bt maize farm at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation station in Kandara, Murang'a, on Monday.
HIGH-YIELDING: Bt maize farm at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation station in Kandara, Murang'a, on Monday.
Image: John Kamau