Kenya a step closer to gene-edited cassava open field trials

Kenya is inching closer to planting genetically modified disease-resistant cassava after the country’s National Biosafety Authority approved environmental release of the variety.

The release of the GM cassava, event4046, which is resistant to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), signals a major step towards increasing the country’s food and animal feed production capacity while reducing the use of pesticides.

The approval also paves the way for conducting national performance trials of the crop varieties before registration and release of the seed to farmers.

With this latest development, Kenyan farmers are now closer to growing GM cassava on their farms.

The disease-resistant cassava was developed by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO).

Through a decision document dated 18 June 2021, NBA board approved the application following necessary review in accordance with the country’s Biosafety Act.

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Kalro scientists have been developing Cbsd-resistant cassava varieties using event4046 under regulated confined field trial conditions authorized by the biosafety agency. The approval is valid for five years from the date of authorization.

According to NBA’s Chief Executive Officer, Prof Dorington Ogoyi, the decision was arrived at following a rigorous review, taking into account food, feed, and environmental safety assessment as well as consideration of socio-economic issues.

The review also factored a 30-day public participation window, in line with the Constitution that calls for public participation.

“This is a welcome decision and a significant step to getting disease-resistant cassava into the hands of Kenyan farmers to address food security challenges. We thank the NBA and all those who participated in the review for their diligent consideration of the Application,” noted Prof Ogoyi.

The approved cassava event4046 was developed using modern biotechnology and evaluated over a period of five years in confined field trials in three different locations – Mtwapa (Kilifi), Kandara (Murang’a) and Alupe (Busia).

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It has shown high and stable resistance against Cbsd, a disease that can result to 100 per cent loss of usable storage roots in severe infection.

The extensive review by the NBA, including input from public consultations and relevant government agencies as mandated by law, confirms that the GM cassava is as safe as conventional varieties for food, feed, and the environment.

The disease-resistant cassava was developed under the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa Plus project, a collaborative program between Kalro, the National Crops Resources Research Institute of Uganda, and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

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