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GMO-FREE PRODUCTS & SEEDS: WEMA Project announced non-GE drought tolerant maize hybrid for end of 2013





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TITLE:   DROUGHT TOLERANT MAIZE HYBRID TO BE READY END OF THE YEAR

SOURCE:  Standard, Kenya

AUTHOR:  Bernard Muthaka

URL:     http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=2000078511

DATE:    03.03.2013

SUMMARY: "Five years into the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) Project, the partners now report that by the end this year maize hybrid will be available for commercial planting in Kenya. [...] Under moderate drought, the conventional and genetically engineered varieties are expected to increase yields by 20 to 35 per cent over current varieties [...] The Wema field trials for the genetic engineering varieties are still going on under confined conditions. The confined field trials - small, restricted experimental trials ? are a precursor to regulatory approval and subsequent commercialisation."

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DROUGHT TOLERANT MAIZE HYBRID TO BE READY END OF THE YEAR

In normal circumstances, only the most drought resistant of crops have a chance of flourishing in the blisteringly hot fields of Kiboko in Makindu District, where rain is more precious than diamond.

It is from this forsaken land that scientists have been experimenting with a new maize hybrid that requires less water and which they say may give Kenya an 18 per cent increase in annual yield.

Five years into the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) Project, the partners now report that by the end this year maize hybrid will be available for commercial planting in Kenya.

Partners in production

Started in 2008 and led by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Wema is a public-private partnership funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and USAid. It involves national research institutes in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Other partners are the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and Monsanto.

Researchers in the five African countries have been using conventional and advanced techniques, including marker-assisted breeding and genetic engineering to develop hybrids that use water more efficiently during moderate drought. Under moderate drought, the conventional and genetically engineered varieties are expected to increase yields by 20 to 35 per cent over current varieties.

?This means an additional two million metric tons of maize will be available during drought years, to feed between 14 and 21 million people,? says Sylvester Oikeh of AATF.

Maize yield

In the bulk of maize growing areas of Kenya, the yield of maize ranges between 1.1 and 2.5 tonnes per hectare, with the yield being determined by factors such as availability of water and nutrients, and the presence of pests and diseases.

A recent study done by CIMMYT says that drought-tolerant maize can bring sub-Saharan Africa?s farmers cumulative economic benefits of nearly a billion dollars in the next five years.

Most maize in the developing world is grown under rain-fed conditions and with the proportion of maize grown in marginal areas increasing, breeding for tolerance to drought has become a major focus of research. It is estimated that every year, 24 million tons of maize are lost to drought.

The Wema field trials for the genetic engineering varieties are still going on under confined conditions. The confined field trials - small, restricted experimental trials ? are a precursor to regulatory approval and subsequent commercialisation.

It is clear how the decision by the outgoing cabinet to ban GMO products will impact on the pace of current GM research. So far, the National Biosafety Authority has given approval for GM trials on cassava, sorghum and maize, all of which are being done by Kari. The Kari cassava trials, being conducted under the BioCassava Plus, provide hope for an alternative to Kenya?s obsession with maize. Current estimates say each Kenyan consumes about 98Kg of maize every year.

BioCassava Plus is looking for more nutritious, higher yielding, and more marketable varieties, especially those containing beta-carotene.

Though not as popular as maize, cassava is still consumed by more than 250 million people in Africa. However, a cassava-based diet does not provide complete nutrition and those who depend on it for food often suffer from chronic malnutrition, or insufficient intake of essential nutrients and vitamins including pro-vitamin A and iron.