Maize farmers in Kenya are now inching closer to growing genetically modified maize on their farms after concluding nearly a decade of research on the project.
This week, Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Organization (Karlo) harvested the first genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant maize this week at Embu national performance trial site. The move now paves the way for selection of the best maize variety for release and approval for commercial production.
The data collected from the first harvest will be used by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) to select the best variety for approval before release for commercialization.
The adoption of GM maize could be a significant step toward increasing food and animal feed production while reducing pesticide use on farms as the seed is resistant to the stubborn stock borer pest.
Kephis will prepare a report that analyses data collected during the trials for review by the National Performance Trial (NPT) committee and if the variety meets the release criteria, the team will recommend it to the national variety release committee.
NPTs are farm trials planned to test new crop varieties for performance, including agronomic potential and adaptability in the target geographic region compared to the seeds currently in use.
The Bt technology has been in use globally since 1997 but Kenya adopted it in 2010 and research has been ongoing until 2019 when Kalro started the trial in maize.
James Karanja, a scientist in Kalro in an earlier interview said the research involves the application of Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria which helps in the control of stalk borer in maize.
Karanja said, “the technology will boost food security by reducing the loss caused by pests which amount to about 20 million bags every year.” Kenya imports about 500,000 tonnes of maize, a volume which is arguably lost to pesticides in the country’s maize farms.
In light of the NPT phase of research, the Bt maize has been planted in six sites – Alupe, Embu, Kakamega, Kandara, Kibos and Mwea – that represent target agro-ecologies for candidate Bt maize hybrids.