Biotechnology

Boosting Food Security In Kenya Via Biotechnology.

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Boosting Food Security In Kenya Via Biotechnology. Photo Courtesy

Boosting Food Security In Kenya Via Biotechnology

Maize, as Kenya’s staple food, is failing. Productivity in Kenya of 1.6 tonnes per hectare is already well under the worldwide average of 5.0 tonnes per hectare hence the reduction of production.

Unless these trends are reversed, and Kenya’s production can begin to extend again, the country’s food security is in danger.

In January 2019, the Kenyan government announced the plans to import three million 90-kilogram bags of maize to cater for shortfalls before subsequent harvest.

A lasting solution can only dwell on the event and adoption of technologies that improve agricultural productivity. Science and technology can help tackle challenges like increasingly erratic weather, including prolonged drought, which are exacerbated by global climate change. Modern technology also can help farmers improve yields and combat pests.

Boosting Food Security In Kenya Via Biotechnology. Photo Courtesy

Pest Damage
In Kenya, the damage the stem borer pest inflicts on maize crops is bigger than nine billion shillings per annum. Stem borers reduce maize production by a mean of 13 percent or 400,000 tonnes of maize per annum, though this will double during drought years or when proper measures are not taken to manage the pests.

The 400,000 tonnes of maize lost annually to stem borer damage is like Kenya’s normal imports. In other words, if stem borer damage might be controlled, Kenya could become self-sufficient in maize.

For the past five years, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), in collaboration with the national and international research organizations through the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project, has been conducting trials on a GM maize that’s immune to stem borers. Bt maize is resistant to pests because it contains a gene derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacteria that’s naturally present in the soil.

The Bt gene protects the plant from stem borers because it produces a protein that can’t be digested by the insects, but is harmless to human consumption.
In addition, the maize reduces the necessity for frequent drenching with expensive chemicals that are harmful to humans and therefore the environment.

Yield Increase
Results from tests administered in Kenya show that the WEMA Bt maize effectively controls stem borers without the necessity for insecticides. The even better news is that the varieties also recorded a yield increase of three .7 tonnes per hectare above the simplest commercial hybrid utilized in the trials.

Following these impressive results, KALRO in collaboration with the Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation made an application to the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) to approve the cultivation of the WEMA Bt maize. The NBA has consequently invited the general public to submit their comments on the appliance.

Bt maize will enhance food security for farmers in Kenya by helping them protect their crops against stem borers without the use of insecticides.

This project is in unison with the second Medium Term Plan (2013-2017), which places a high priority on farmers using GM technologies. With the approval and introduction of Bt maize Kenya, we’ll be closer to achieving this goal.

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

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