Agriculture

Insect-Resistant (GMO) Maize Increases Food Production In Kenya.

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Insect-Resistant (GMO) Maize Increases Food Production In Kenya. Photo Courtesy

Insect-Resistant (GMO) Maize Increases Food Production In Kenya.

Demonstration plots in Kenya show that genetically modified (GM) maize varieties are simpler in controlling insect attacks than their conventional counterparts without the utilization of pesticides.

As a result of the pest protection provided by the Bt gene, the GM maize outperformed conventional varieties three-fold per hectare, consistent with the post-harvest evaluation of TELA Project demonstration plots in east Kenya and the Rift valley.

Insect-Resistant (GMO) Maize Increases Food Production In Kenya. Photo Courtesy

TELA maize also provides drought tolerance. However, these demonstrations showcased the consequences of the Bt trait.
‘‘The results are appealing,” James Karanja, principal investigator of the Kenya TELA maize project, told the media during a science journalists training in Nairobi. “In Kiboko, as an example, we’ve seen Bt maize yielding 10 tons per hectare, as compared to non-Bt yielding between 3 and 4 tons per hectare.’’

‘‘Scientists are coming up with technologies which will contribute to food security and prosperity among Kenyans,” said Dr. Stephen Mugo, a maize breeder and Kenya country representative with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

“If farmers grow maize with this technology, it’ll help reduce the utilization of pesticides, which have how of stepping into waterways,’’ adds Mugo.
The results have significant implications for Kenya, where maize production has been severely curtailed by drought and bug pests, especially fall armyworms.

If those two factors were controlled, Kenyan farmers could have harvested 60 million bags this year, “meaning we would be food secure and have a surplus of 6 million bags,” Karanja said. “Instead, they’re projected to reap just 35 million bags this year”, added Karanja.

“In addition to achieving higher yields and reducing pesticide use, the Bt TELA maize also was freed from the mold that produces Aflatoxin, a present cancer-causing toxin frequently found in grain products in tropical regions”, explains Karanja.
“Pests and drought damage are the 2 major factors resulting in high levels of aflatoxin”, Karanja said.

Bt technology has demonstrated its efficacy in combatting two serious insect pests stem borer, fall armyworm, and mycotoxin accumulation, he added.

The Bt maize cobs had no molds and minimal insect damage, while the non-Bt cobs were damaged with quite 40 percent mold.

Insect-Resistant (GMO) Maize Increases Food Production In Kenya. Photo Courtesy

“The increased mold growth was related to a high insect damage score, which paved the way for fungal penetration to the grains,’’ Karanja explained.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KBS) recently suspended five maize licenses over the sale of aflatoxin-contaminated flour that exceeded minimum levels of 10 parts per billion.

In addition to being safe for humans, Bt maize is additionally good for the environment because it reduces chemical use, especially in controlling fall armyworms, said Dr. Regina Tende, a plant breeder and entomologist at KALRO.

Tende agrees with Karanja that aflatoxin might be reduced by Bt technology, as insects create an entry point into the maize for the fungi that cause aflatoxin accumulation, which adversely affects human health.

The technology embraced will help farmers beat the persistent maize pests that contribute to low crop productivity and reduce their production costs, Tende confirmed.
Researchers have used the TELA demonstration plot to assist the general public to understand GM crops. Church leaders, including assistant pastor Benson Maasai, are among those viewing the Kiboko and Kitale demonstration sites. Maasai recalled his misunderstanding about GMOs before visiting the demo plots.

‘‘I had been having a really negative attitude towards GMOs, but I used to be misinformed,” he said. “After hearing from experts, and seeing for myself the crops, I am surprised to find out that Bt may be a natural soil-dwelling bacteria which we’ve been using to regulate insect pests and it’s not harmful to the citizenry, birds, animals and therefore the environment.”

GM maize research will help farmers reduce production costs, Maasai said, adding that there’s a requirement to teach the churches that scientists don’t have a nasty intention when they develop GMOs products.

‘‘Scientists are our youngsters, too, and that they wouldn’t wish to do something which will hurt their parents back reception,” he observed.

Mercy Tyra Murengu
A multi-award-winning journalist accredited by the Media Council of Kenya.

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