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October 17, 2010

GM maize trials to begin in East Africa

by Katy Migiro




 Confined field trials of genetically modified maize will begin in Kenya and Uganda this year, the U.S.-based non-profit African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) said.

Scientists from Kenyan and Ugandan government research bodies, Monsanto and research body International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) developed the 12 varieties of Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) due to be planted.

Maize is the most widely grown staple food in Africa and is badly affected by drought. The scientists aim for the drought-resistant GM maize to increase yields by 24 to 35 percent.

"Everything we have seen in the simulated trials shows that we can safely test transgenic maize varieties in carefully controlled and confined field trials in Africa," James Gethi, the WEMA-Kenya country coordinator, said in a statement.




Scientists conducted mock trials in simulated conditions in Kenya and Tanzania in 2009. The transgenic maize will now be planted in 1-2 hectare confined fields in Kenya and Uganda, which have already given regulatory approval.

The world's poorest continent, where agriculture contributes up to a quarter of GDP in some countries and is an important source of foreign exchange, is increasingly turning to genetically modified crops to bolster food supplies.

But critics and consumers, mostly in Africa and Europe, have questioned the safety of GM foods and have banned their import or cultivation due to fears they could harm humans and wildlife.

If the maize is approved, it will be licensed to AATF, which is funded by the United States and British governments.

"The expected WEMA transgenic drought-tolerant maize seed will be sub-licensed to local seed companies royalty-free for a term or duration to be determined based on future product deployment agreements," AATF Communications Officer Grace Wachoro said in a statement. "The confined field trials will enable the project to address safety issues."

AATF said the resulting trial maize crop will be destroyed in accordance with Kenyan and Ugandan research regulations.

Trials are also planned for South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania.

More than 30 countries, including all of the European Union, have restricted or banned the production of GM crops because they are not considered proven safe.

Reuters

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