Kenya has the potential to produce 80 million bags of maize annually if only we could adopt new technologies.
Currently the Country is able to produce only17 million bags against the potential of 80 million bags.
According the Principal Secretary State Department of Agriculture and Food Crops, Prof. Hamadi Boga, production of 80 million bags would see the country able to feed itself.
“The scientific technology on BT maize is complete and it is time for the country to embrace it, the PS said adding that the BT (Bacilus Thuringiensis) technology on maize has been proven and the concept is there.
Scientists in the Country have the last 10 years conducted trials on various varieties of BT maize that is drought and pests resistant and the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
What remains is getting approvals for National Performance Trials (NPT) and finally the release of BT maize and also commercialization.
“The science part is ready and concluded since 2016. what is remaining is only a matter of convincing some few stakeholders to accept the technology and we move together”, the PS said adding that citizens, church leaders and farmers are ready and they want it like yesterday”, he said
Boga who was speaking during a recent field visit to Kenya Agriculture Livestock Research Organization(KALRO) Kitale to witness demonstrations on BT maize in a confined field said the National Performance Trials (NPT) that is still to be approved and is required, hopefully might happen soon.
“The obstacle has been the processes that we need to conclude for BT maize and we are hoping to start NPT in the coming long rains. Once we conclude within one year, then we will have the technology”, he said.
When it comes to the ban in place on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods, the PS said the technology is being opposed by skeptics because of the fear of the unknown saying that as far as technology is concerned, the information is in the public domain, it’s clear and consistent.
“In the African society, if one does not understand something it is attributed to certain powers. So let us base our facts on the basis of knowledge and not conspiracy theories”, he said
The PS noted that its seems the country is not moving forward considering there is enough science to engage in objective debate on GM and thus critics and private sector should not worry on the BT technology.
The Modern agriculture requires technology and if it has to be commercial then it require genetics and the GE technology that is both drought tolerant and insect resistant,
The BT maize will allow one to have multiple traits in one hybrid and that is a competitive advantage the government is looking for to give to farmers and move away from subsistence farming, he explained.
He noted that the country has superior genetics from institutions such as KALRO, CIMMYT, and CIAT that deal with technology and therefore the whole of African continent can advance instead of waiting for technology to come from somewhere else
The PS added, “what is clear in the demonstration at this field shows that without protection from pesticides, crops loss by farmers will be as high as 50 to 60 percent and at the same time using a lot of pesticide is something that farmers are struggling with”, he said.
Prof. Boga added that high cost of production is also very high and that the technology will reduces cost of production and ensure farmers get high yields.
The PS who was accompanied by stakeholders from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), National Bio Safety (NBA), National Environment Management Authority (NEMA among others said they were at the ground to be able to see and demystify the notion of whether the technology works .
In science, Boga insisted one needs to be exact and that the GMO being a broad concept needs to be dealt with on case by case.
“No publications in the internet or anywhere says Bt maize causes cancer, as people are saying we are dealing with BT and there are no issues with it, we only need to overcome our inhibitions especially when it comes to health issues
The PS gave an example of antibiotics and in particular insulin used by diabetics which has BT bacteria and yet it has since 1982 been used to treat diabetics.
He noted that he has been listening to all arguments on the issue of GMOs but sees a lot of hypocrisy in the conversation around it. We should put issues on the table and discuss them openly and objectively so that all can access the technology.
He clarified that the ban in place on GMO food was not meant for the research and the ministry is talking to stakeholders such as NEMA and Public health as part of the conversation to unlock the myth. “the ban on GMO was not about research but on importation of food “, he said
Prof. Boga confirmed that the ministry is working together with the regulatory agencies involved on the issue of the NPT trials for BT and also working together to reach a consensus on the lifting of the ban on GMO so that as they reach out for the cabinet approval, they are speaking in one voice.
Joseph Katuna, a farmer from Trans- Nzoia said looking at the technology being introduced by KALRO, he was convinced that it was the right one for farmers and for the country to embrace
“What i have realized, I have left no doubt that there are politics out there that had made people withdraw the concept of GM which is working properly
He appealed to politicians to be genuine and give the right information saying initially after listening to people he had gotten misleading information on what was happening but visiting the site , he now knew the truth
If we continue farming using the old methods , we will not be able to have enough produce for farmers and also country’ I want to appeal to politicians to come to the ground and see for themselves instead of being swayed by others with wrong information “ Katuna said
Farmers, he also said should continue having this field days so that they can gain information and also good certified seeds instead of using other methods on trial and error.
Kenneth Kaigai , from Department of Agriculture in Trans-Nzoia county and in charge of crops said the technology being carried out by KALRO works and if farmers were to embrace it, it would have 50 percent of their yield increase
“From the observation, we clearly need this technology like yesterday if we have to increase our production. It will be a better option for our farmers and would have an effect all the way up in the value chain”, he said
Kaigai explained that technologies, innovation and best management practice for maize producers is key and thus the trials that have been going on every year and getting better every day is what farmers require to be able to make extra income.
He added that one can see in the maize plots an implication of up to post harvest where cobs that are protected by BT are cleaner compared to the conventional meaning there will be lower post-harvest losses, increase in quality of maize and also what one would take to the market.
According to scientists the BT research outcome will contribute to food availability and affordability and also bridge the country maize production gap as well as assist farmers when it comes to pest control.
By Wangari Ndirangu