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Experts develop disease resistant cassava after 9-year research

By Ignatius Odanga

Genetically modified disease resistant and high yielding cassava variety in Confined Field Trial at the Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization (Kalro) in Alupe, Busia. [Ignatius Odanga/Standard]

After nine-year research, a team of scientists from the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (Kalro) has developed new cassava seeds that are genetically modified.

Farmers in Western, Coast and Central regions may soon start planting the disease resistant and high yielding variety should the government adopt Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) crops.

Alupe in Teso South Constituency is one of the three research centres where confined field trials have been taking place.

Director-General of Kalro Eliud Kireger and Lead Scientist for the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa Project (Virca Plus) Dr Douglas Miano led a team of experts in inspecting the trials in Alupe over the weekend.

Cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak are the most common diseases that affect the leaves and roots of the particular crop respectively thus reducing the yields.

Miano said research on genetically modified variety started in 2011 and assured that it was safe both for human and animal consumption.

According to him,  they are waiting is the approval of the biotechnology crop by the National Biosafety Authority and other regulatory agencies.

 “We have assessed the new technology and concluded that it is working, the crop is safe for consumption and environmentally friendly,” said Dr Miano.

He continued,” The team took the disease-prone cassava seeds that is commonly planted in Kenya and added in some modern technology to make it resistant to diseases.”

Many cases of people who died after allegedly eating cassava or being admitted for consuming the cassava have been reported in different places.

Miano said should farmers in Western, Central and Coast regions embrace the new variety then such cases may no longer be witnessed.

The government’s ban on GMO crops remains the biggest challenge to the new development.

“The government should lift the ban so that we can roll out the new variety to farmers. One acre can produce 30 tonnes as opposed to the old variety where the farmer gets at least nine tonnes per acre,” said Miano.

The Director-General of Kalro Eliud Kireger there is a need for the government to lift the ban.  “We shall continue to convince the policymakers why genetically modified crops are good for farmers,” said Kireger.

He said Coast, Central and Western will have their own varieties due to different climates in those regions.

Tangakona Commercial Group chair Cathrine Otaga hailed the modified variety of the cassava and noted that farmers are bound to benefit immensely due to its high yields.

The group owns a factory which mills cassava, packages and sell the flour to local consumers. “As processers, we are keen on seeing farmers who sell cassava to us start planting disease-resistant crops,” said Ms Otaga.

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