Regulators in Kenya certify safety of GMO disease-resistant cassava

Nicksonn Muturi cassava

After a decade of toil, Kenyan researchers have developed a disease resistant cassava tipped to raise food security and create wealth for rural families.

The researchers are hoping for a smooth sail against regulatory hurdles that have slowed the roll out of other Genetically Modified (GMO) crops such as cotton and maize. The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has certified the safety of the new variety that is resistant to the cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). It is also nutritionally enhanced.

This is after the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) made an application to NBA seeking environmental release (open field cultivation) that would allow farmers to grow it. NBA has now invited public comments after which national performance trials for the variety can start.

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Kenya imposed a GMO ban in 2012 following a controversial study that alleged GMOs cause cancer. Since [2019], the Cabinet has been expected to give a verdict on whether to lift the ban. Instead, the government has adopted a case-by-case policy with focus recently being put on BT cotton and now cassava.

Improved awareness

Lead scientist Douglas Miano, who is in charge of developing the tuber under Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA plus project), told Financial Standard that awareness of GMO crops has improved. “Cotton and maize have created a lot of awareness and the discussions have advanced. For this reason, we expect things will be different.”

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