BY MWAKERA MWAJEFA
Cassava researchers have asked the government of Kenya to approve a genetically modified (GM) type that can protect farmers of this important crop from devastating losses.
In an internal memo (May 15, 2020) to the Ministry of Agricutlure, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation principal secretary Prof Hamadi Boga, Dr Margaret Karembu breaks the good news of Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) resistant cassava line 4046.
Through an application, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) give extensive information on the safety of this trait which has been accepted by the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) in Nairobi.
Currently, the CBSD resistant cassava line 4046 is undergoing a science-based review process together with relevant regulatory agencies and independent experts to ascertain that the GM produce is safe to human and animal health, and the environment.
In fact, public input is now being sought through the NBA’s website and other stakeholders’ engagement activities in Kenya.
Based on years of work in the laboratory, greenhouse and field trials, the application was jointly developed with KALRO, the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Uganda and the Donald Danforth Plant Secience Center.
Cassava is an important food and cash crop for small-holder farmers in Kenya, but plant diseases including CBSD can destroy up to 100 per cent of harvests, thus, threatening livelihoods and family welfare.
According to Dr Karembu CBSD resistant cassava line 4046 exhibits high levels of resistance to infection by the two plant viruses that cause CBSD through a well-known gene silencing mechanism (RNAi).
Farmers and consumers will benefit from CBSD resistant cassava as a result of increased cassava root quality and marketable yield.
The resistant cassava line 4046 was developed through the virus resistant cassava for Africa plus (VIRCA Plus), a consortium of Kenyan, Ugandan, Nigerian and American institutions to develop disease-resistant and nutritiinally-enhanced varieties to improve the livelihoods and health status of African farm families.
The entire VIRCA Plus project team is excited to reach this milestone in improving agricultural productivity for farmers in East Africa.
Says Dr Karembu: “A positive decision by the Kenya’s NBA would allow us to move ahead in brining disease-resistant versions of superior cassava varieties to breeders and farmers.”
Although based on a popular cassava variety, the specific line 4046 will not be made available as a stand-alone product.
Breeding work is already underway under confined field trials (CFTs) regulated by the NBA to develop individual varieties incorporating line 4046.
The CBSD resistant cassava varieties will be duly registered through the national variety registration system by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).
Those interested to support the application for environmental release (open field cultivation) of the CBSD resistant cassava variety are requested to offer input to the review process now underway.
They can contact the principal investigator Prof Douglas Miano (0780919259) or the KALRO director Dr Catherine Taracha (0722931158).
GM foods have been a battle for many an African countries with questions being raised whether they can help boost agricultural productivity and bring food scurity to the continent.
With scientists blaming low agricultural productivity on erratic weather patterns, drought, poor seed quality and outdated farming methods, most African countries suffer from perenniel food shortages due to declining harvests driven by such order of severity.
In its 2018 Global report on food crises, the Food Security Information Network notes that although 60 per cent of the world’s untilled arable land lies on the continent, Africa accounts for just four (4) per cent of agricultural output.