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Economy

Agency approves field trials for genetically modified cassava varieties

cassava flour
Mhogo Foods cassava flour. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NMG 

Kenya has moved closer to adopting genetically modified cassava varieties after the sector regulator approved field trials to start after public participation.

National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has accepted the application by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) to conduct national performance trials (NPTs) of the varieties.

The cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) — a resistant variety which has been undergoing research by Kalro — is ready for large scale trials after which it will assessed on the attributes given by scientists before being approved for commercialisation.

“An application from Kalro containing extensive information on the safety of this trait has been accepted by NBA and we are asking the Kenyan government to approve Cassava Line 4046, which can protect farmers from devastating losses,” said Kalro.

The application is undergoing a science-based review by the NBA, together with relevant regulatory agencies and independent experts, to ascertain that it is safe for humans and animals.

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Cassava is an important food and cash crop for small-holder farmers in Kenya, but plant diseases including CBSD can destroy up to 100 percent of harvests.

In 2016, scientists pushed for adoption of GMO maize but this was stopped by the government. However, this year, the State approved commercialisation of GM cotton.

CBSD-resistant Cassava Line 4046 type 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 nutritionally-enhanced cassava varieties.

“The entire Virca Plus project team is excited to reach this milestone in improving agricultural productivity for farmers in East Africa. A positive decision by the Kenya NBA would allow us to move ahead in bringing disease-resistant versions of superior cassava varieties to breeders and farmers,” said Kalro.

In 2009, scientists realised that Cassava Brown Streak Disease was causing much more damage than the Cassava Mosaic disease and that it needed urgent intervention because it had no cure.

Since 2009, the Kalro team has conducted tests, under the Virca Plus Project. There are three test sites in Kenya: Kandara in Kiambu County, Mtwapa in Kilifi and Alupe in Busia.

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