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2-Plants: GE sweetpotatoes launched in Kenya

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TITLE:  Genetically modified sweetpotato launched in Kenya
SOURCE: Daily Nation, Kenya, by Zipporah Musau
DATE:   August 19, 2000

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Genetically modified sweetpotato launched in Kenya

Genetically modified foods are finally here. The Kenya Agricultural 
Research Institute yesterday launched the first such sweet potato 
variety in the country. It is genetically engineered to make it 
disease-resistant and is expected to increase yields by up to 60 per 
cent. No pesticide is required. Sweet potatoes are mostly grown in 
the densely-populated Western Province, as well as Nyanza, Central 
and Eastern provinces. Unfortunately, more than half of the crop is 
destroyed by a virus which causes black marks on the tubers.

Kari and Monsanto, an American chemical transnational, initiated the 
efforts to apply genetic engineering nine years ago.

The launch, at Kari's Nairobi headquarters, was attended by the 
founder of Goodworks International, Ambassador Andrew Young of the 
US. Mr Young, whom became the first Afro-American representative to 
the UN in Mr Jimmy Carter's presidency, is now a goodwill ambassador 
promoting American science and technology, especially biotechnology. 
"Africa is on the verge of a tremendous revolution," said he, 
quipping: "With biotechnology, we are going to make a green 
revolution in Africa, not through pharmaceuticals but through 
nutroceuticals." The ambassador, Ministry of Agriculture officials 
and Monsanto representatives also paid a courtesy call on President 

The sweet potato project was approved by the Kenya Biosafety Council 
seven months ago and mock-trials have been going on in Kakamega, 
Kisii, Muguga, Mtwapa and Embu, where farmers are now able to produce 
up to 56 tons an hectare. Scientists believe genetically modified 
organisms will improve food security in Africa and thus help 
alleviate poverty. Kari's acting director, Dr Richard Kiome, says 
agriculture is the fourth largest income-earner and that more 
research needs to be carried out. "Agriculture is the backbone of 
this country's economy as well as of human development," he said. 
"That is why Kari, with the US support, researched on a sweet potato 
variety that is disease-resistant."

Chipping in, Agriculture Permanent Secretary Shem Migot-Adhola said 
biotechnology was important in poverty eradication and sustainable 
development. "Biotechnology is not our problem in Kenya right now, 
poverty is the problem. The quest to increase agricultural produce is 
our challenge," said Prof Migot-Adhola.

Genetically modified organisms have become of great environmental 
concern. There are fears that some multinationals are using the so-
called "Green Revolution" to "colonise" Africa by controlling food 
production and marketing in the world. However, Monsanto's government 
and public affairs manager-Africa, Mr Kinyua M'Mbijjewe, defended 
genetic modification of organisms, saying that the technology has 
been declared safe by the World Health Organisation, the UN Food and 
Agriculture Organisation, the International Lifescience Institute 
and, lately, the European Union. "The technology is useful. Several 
African countries are looking into ways of using biotechnology to 
increase their crop production," said Mr M'Mbijjewe.

Other African countries in support of biotechnology include Nigeria, 
Ghana, Zambia, South Africa and Egypt. Cote d'Ivoire and Uganda have 
also showed some interest. South Africa has genetically modified 
maize and cotton while trials are being carried out in Zambia.



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