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GENETICALLY MODIFIED SWEET POTATO LAUNCHED IN KENYA



GENETICALLY MODIFIED SWEET POTATO LAUNCHED IN KENYA
August 19, 2000
Africa News Online
The Nation
Zipporah Musau
Nairobi - 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 Moi.
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.

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.