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Authority Unveils Disease Resistant Cassava Variety

The Kenya National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has approved the release of genetically modified (GM) cassava that was resistant to common diseases in the tropical environment.

The new species dubbed ‘event 4046’that was developed by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and found to be resistant to Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) during the trials.

The new variety hits the market after NBA Board approved the use on the 18th June 2021 upon completion of the mandatory requirements and reviews in accordance with the country’s Biosafety Act.

KALRO, Director General, Eliud Kireger in a press statement said Kenyan scientists developed the CBSD-resistant cassava varieties using event 4046 under regulated field trial conditions authorized by NBA.

“The approval paves way for conducting national performance trials of these varieties before registration and release of the new variety to farmers”, he said.

The DG explained that the approval was valid for five (5) years from the date of authorization.

According to NBA’s Chief Executive Officer, Prof. Dorrington Ogoyi, the decision was arrived at following a rigorous and thorough review, taking into account food, feed, and environmental safety assessment as well as consideration of socio-economic issues.

“The review process also factored public input during a 30 days’ collation of views, in line with the Kenyan constitution that calls for public participation”, he said.

Dr. Kireger said this is a welcome decision and a significant step to getting disease- resistant cassava into the hands of Kenyan farmers to address food security challenges.

“We thank the NBA and all those who participated in the review for their diligent consideration of the Application”, the DG said.

The approved cassava event 4046 was developed using modern biotechnology and evaluated over a period of five years in confined field trials in three different locations including Mtwapa (Kilifi), Kandara (Murang’a) and Alupe (Busia).

According to KALRO, the new variety has shown high and stable resistance against CBSD, a disease that can result to 100 per cent loss of usable storage roots in severe infection.

Dr. Kireger noted that the extensive review by the NBA, including input from public consultations and relevant government agencies as mandated by law, confirms that the GM cassava is as safe as conventional varieties for food, feed, and the environment.

The disease-resistant cassava, he explained was developed under the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa Plus (VIRCA Plus) project, a collaborative program between KALRO, the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) of Uganda, and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (DDPSC).

Last year in November, Kenyan farmers finally started planting biotech cotton after the Cabinet approved the commercial cultivation of Bt cotton in an effort to revive the cotton industry, boost textile and apparel manufacturing.

The Bt maize is also expected to be commercialized by 2022 if it is approved by Kenya’s relevant government agencies, this is after its trials were finalized.

By Wangari Ndirangu

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