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Farmers ready to embrace BT once ban on GM is lifted

Farmers from Makueni County are ready to embrace BT maize once the ban on Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) is lifted.

Winfred Maingi, a farmer from Nguumo ward, Muuni sub location says the poverty index in the County is very high because they rarely harvest anything in spite of investing huge sums of money to plant maize.

“The last time we had a good harvest was way back in 1999 and the invasion of bore weevil commonly referred to as “scania” has proved very destructive,” she said during a site visit to the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) confined field trials at Kiboko area.

KALRO together with other partners has been carrying out research on BT maize for the last 10 years and according to the scientists, the research has proven that BT maize is both pest and drought resistant.

According to Maingi, several regions in the County suffer from acute drought and the only way to ensure food security is to introduce BT maize.

“With the little rain we get in this part of the Country, we would be very grateful if we could get a variety that is insect and drought resistant,” she said

Maingi says the protected maize yields are high due to their resistance nature while ordinary varieties can’t survive pest invasion.

Job Kituku also from Nguumo ward Kibwezi West on the other hand said it was unfortunate that leaders had politicized the debate on GMOs and urged them to stop misleading farmers.

Kituku said they have been taught about GMOs and learnt that it has no negative effects to the health of farmers and consumers.

He however urged the stakeholders involved in trials to ensure that the varieties are made available to farmers once they have met the necessary standards as required by law.

“Makueni county remains poor due to lack of enough rainfall and if we are allowed to plant BT maize, I am sure we will be able as farmers to reduce hunger in the region as well as enhance food security,” Kituku said.

He called on the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization to keep on sensitizing farmers on BT maize to help create awareness and allay fears that it’s harmful for consumption.

Boniface Mwakiu Mwavula, Taita Taveta County Agriculture and Irrigation Chief Officer urged Kenyans to get the truth before condemning BT technology.

“There is a lot of hearsay about this technology. The truth is, if we can adopt this technology, we can alleviate food poverty in our country,” Mwavula said.

George Osure, the Regional Director Syngenta Foundation East Africa said it will however be important to consider that the movement of the trials to commercialization, to the shelves goes through a process of National Performance Trails, and to do this, there is need to weigh the benefits of the science against immediate commercial returns.

“Besides passing through the NPT, it is also important to note which ecological zones can be taken advantage of. Our rainfall is not as good as it was. So if it’s going to help farmers in non-traditional maize growing areas, that’s an advantage,” he said.

Osure emphasized that commercialization would be the final arbitrator in this technology because if they sell it at an expensive price, the farmers will go back to the cheaper options.

“The cost is very critical at the end of it, as this may limit the accessibility or adoption of the technology,” he said.

Betty Kosgei from the Seed Trade Association of Kenya, an association that brings together seeds companies in Kenya said seed companies will take a neutral stand.

She said the varieties by KALRO are doing well at the research stage and this would be good for the farmers. However, she explained that seed companies can only commercialize the seeds if farmers take up the technology.

“If the government can approve the use of GM, then seed companies would have no problem in investing in the technology. This is because farmers are the major clients for seed companies and as long as the farmer is happy, we are happy,” Kosgei said.

Farmers in the country have been incurring losses in planting due to the high prices of pesticides and also getting low yields due to rainfall failure.

According to the scientists the BT technology under trials demonstrates the potential of hybrids against stem borer and also the Fall army worms.

By Wangari Ndirangu

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