[Editor’s note: Mark Lynas is an author and journalist who reports on crop biotechnology around the world.]
Tanzania’s first-ever genetically modified crop — a field trial of drought-tolerant maize intended to benefit small-scale farmers suffering the effects of climate change — is proceeding well and will be harvested imminently, according to scientists overseeing the trial for the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project.
[Dr. Alois Kullaya, technical advisor to the WEMA project in Tanzania, is] confident the added drought gene will perform as intended. However, he cautioned that a definitive conclusion will need to await scientific data produced by the trial.
[The researchers] expect the overall yield to be higher from plants with the drought-tolerant gene than those without the added trait.
Until recently, researchers were unable to conduct field trials in Tanzania because of restrictive legislation termed “strict liability,” which effectively blocked scientific research.
Genetically modified WEMA hybrids could be in the hands of Tanzania farmers by about 2021, Kullaya said, although he emphasized the nation’s strict liability laws would need to be further amended before environmental release could take place.
The drought-tolerant gene added to the genetically modified maize originates from the soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis. Future GM WEMA hybrids will also carry the insect-resistant Bt gene stacked alongside the drought gene, helping farmers to protect against corn borer attacks without applying insecticides to control the pest.
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