African Journal of Biotechnology

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Developing Bt maize for resource-poor farmers – Recent advances in the IRMA project

S Mugo, H De Groote, D Bergvinson, M Mulaa, J Songa, S Gichuki


This paper presents an overview of the advances in the IRMA project, which develops insect resistant maize varieties for resource-poor farmers, using both conventional breeding and genetic engineering. The project started in 1999 and is active in product development, impact assessment, and
communication, all within the Kenya regulatory framework. So far, four application for introduction of tissue or commencement of field research were made to and approved by the National Biosafety Committee (NBC), and Bt maize leaves or seeds genes imported for testing against different stem borer species in bioassays on cut leaves in a biosafety laboratory, in potted plants in a Biosafety Greenhouse, and as whole plants in confined field trials in the Open Quarantine Station (OQS) at KARI Kiboko. All these biosafety facilities were specially built by the project for these evaluations. So far, good control has been realized against four of the five major stem borer species: Chilo partellus, Chilo orichalcociliellus, Eldana saccharina and Sesamia calamistis. Economic  impact assessment demonstrated that stem borers are major constraints and cause substantial losses. Resistant maize
varieties are likely to be adopted and to provide major returns to the investment if resistance against the economically most important species, Busseola fusca, can be found. Otherwise, returns would still be positive but small. Environmental impact research indicate that build-up of resistance against the Bt genes has not developed after that sufficient natural refugia exist in most areas, but suitable strategies acceptable to farmers need to be developed for some. Surveys, stakeholders meetings and other communications indicate that farmers, consumers and other stakeholders are cautiously optimistic about technology. Frequent interaction with the stakeholders and regulatory agencies assures a participative decision-making process and compliance with the strictest scientific and regulatory

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