Kenya moves closer to GMO ba­nanas with field tri­als

Business Daily (Kenya) - - TOP NEWS -

FROM PAGE 1 re­sis­tant to the Xan­thomonas Wilt dis­ease – also known as Bac­te­rial Wilt. “That’s an on­go­ing pro­ject at the KALRO Cen­tre in Alupe, Bu­sia,” said Willy Tonui, the NBA chief ex­ec­u­tive.

“Ba­nanas are vul­ner­a­ble to a lot of dis­eases, es­pe­cially in West­ern Kenya and parts of Uganda and these tri­als have been go­ing on for about six months now, and do­ing very well,” he 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 causes can­cer.

Dr Tonui, how­ever, says the field and lab­o­ra­tory tri­als are ex­pected to ad­dress the health and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns be­fore fi­nal ap­proval of the tech­nol­ogy.

“I know there have been a lot of con­cern over the pos­si­ble health ef­fects of GMOS out there. But I want to as­sure the pub­lic that the process is very 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,” Dr Tonui said in an in­ter­view.

GMO ba­nana re­search has been go­ing on for years, tar­get­ing the bac­te­rial wilt dis­ease.

The pro­ject started in Uganda where re­sis­tant BT ba­nanas were de­vel­oped and tested. Kenyan sci­en­tists are us­ing Uganda’s suc­cess as the proof of their con­tention that the tech­nol­ogy pro­tects ba­nanas against bac­te­rial wilt. The dis­ease causes some yel­low­ish dis­charge from the ba­nana plant, dis­colours the fruit at all stages and some­times pre­ma­turely ripens or rots fruits as well as causes the leaves to wilt.

Farm­ers across East Africa have re­ported up to 100 per cent yield losses to the dis­ease.

Be­sides ba­nanas, Dr Tonui said the author­ity had granted the Bio­sciences East­ern and Cen­tral Africa hub at the In­ter­na­tional Live­stock Re­search In­sti­tute

ap­proval to con­duct con­trolled lab­o­ra­tory and glass house tri­als for ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied sweet pota­toes.

The pota­toes will be mod­i­fied us­ing the RNA In­ter­face tech­nol­ogy, which is also known as se­quence spe­cific gene si­lenc­ing to make them re­sis­tant to the African wee­vils. Ap­proval for this re­search was granted in May this year.

Yes­ter­day, it also emerged that the NBA has al­lowed Na­tional Per­for­mance Tri­als of GMO maize, the Kenyan sta­ple food, mark­ing the first time that test­ing of the biotech­nol­ogy will oc­cur in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions around the coun­try.

The tests are be­ing done at six lo­ca­tions, all of which are KALRO Cen­tres. Con­fined field tri­als for GMO maize started in 2014 when the first seed – MON 810 – was planted at the KALRO Ki­boko Cen­tre. That pest re­sis­tant seed is mainly tar­geted at the stem borer pest. Sci­en­tists have since mod­i­fied the seed to in­clude drought tol­er­ance to shield farm­ers against losses when rains fail.

Ap­provals for Na­tional Per­for­mance Tri­als were first granted in Novem­ber last year, when KALRO and the African Agri­cul­tural Tech­nol­ogy Foun­da­tion ap­plied.

It was, how­ever, quickly re­voked, when the Min­istry of Health said the sci­en­tists had not shown suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence that the trans­genic maize would be kept safely away from non-gmo maize crops.

“What hap­pened is that the con­cerns about health came up again, and other so­cio-eco­nomic fac­tors, so we had to go slow on those ap­provals and wait a lit­tle bit. But this time around, the ap­proval will not be re­voked,” said Dr Tonui.

Con­cern has also been raised over the max­i­mum dis­tance be­tween BT and non-bt crops, in or­der to pre­vent cross pol­li­na­tion. The NBA, how­ever, said that while iso­la­tion dis­tances ex­ist to pro­tect the farmer who may not want any­thing to do with a trans­genic crop, re­search has proved that there is noth­ing wrong with BT-NON-BT cross pol­li­na­tion.

RE­SEARCH Mr Tom Ch­e­sire, a ba­nana farmer at Kolol in El­geyo-marak­wet County, The gov­ern­ment has ap­proved GMO ield tests on ba­nanas. -JARED NYATAYA

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