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Kenya farmers pray for Genetically Modified seeds to fight drought

by Ronald Njoroge KITALE (Xinhua) -- Margaret Simiyu, a 43 year old small scale farmer in Kenya’s northwest region, the country’s breadbasket, is staring at a blight future in farming as a result of the ongoing drought that has led to crop failure.

The mother of three, who has been cultivating Kenya’s staple crop for more than two decades, is set to have another year of losses as the maize seeds she planted failed to germinate due to failing rains.

To remain a viable small scale farmer, she is seeking solutions in science and technology in order to beat the recurrent drought.

"I hope the government will soon allow the commercialization of Genetically Modified (GM) maize that is drought resistant," Simiyu told Xinhua in Kitale.

Simiyu together with millions of other small scale farmers are banking on biotech maize seeds to increase their farm productivity.

The East African nation is currently facing a drought that has resulted in low maize production leading to biting shortages of the vital commodity.

The shortage has pushed up the retail price of maize flour to beyond the reach of low income earners.

As a mitigation measure, Kenya is set to import millions of bags of maize in the next two months to bridge the local maize production deficit.

Kenya’s journey to adopt GM food crops was enhanced when in 2009, it established the National Biosafety Authority to regulate GM in the country.

So far it has approved controlled GM trials on a number of varieties of cotton, maize and sorghum.

Research is being spearheaded by a number of organizations including the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organization, African Agricultural Technology Foundation as well as International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

However, despite the experiments have started over seven years ago, none of the GM crops is yet to be made available commercially in the country.

In 2012, Kenya also imposed a ban on the importation of GM food.

So far in Africa only South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan have approved the commercialization of GM crops.

Another farmer eager to adopt the use of transgenic maize seeds is Gilbert Bor, a farmer in the key maize growing region of Uasin Gishu County.

Bor, who farms on a 25 acre piece of land, hopes to use GM maize seeds to improve production in his farm.

"I am also hopeful that other farmers in Kenya will take up the technology once the government approves the release of the GM maize," Bor told Xinhua.

He said that in his many decades of farming he has witnessed the growth and adoption of hybrid maize.

"I have seen maize production increase every year to the extent that in my own family and neighbors, it was rare to find families without food.

"However the recurring drought calls for the adoption of even better seed varieties," he added.

"So, when there is a new technology in the market, we would like to move along with it as we trust science as farmers," Bor noted.

This year, the farmer has been forced to plant twice because rains did not come as expected.


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