Thursday, October 14, 2010

Field trials for drought-tolerant transgenic maize

Red Orbit: Crop specialists in Kenya and Uganda have laid the groundwork for confined field trials to commence later this year for new varieties of maize genetically modified to survive recurrent droughts that threaten over 300 million Africans for whom maize is life, according to a speech given today by the head of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) at the World Food Prize Symposium.

Scientists working with AATF believe it's important to explore the potential of biotechnology to maintain and increase food production in Africa, given the large number of families dependent on maize, and warnings that maize yields could drop dramatically as climate change increases drought frequency and severity across the continent.

There is preliminary evidence that the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) varieties, which were developed through a public-private partnership, could provide yields 24-35 percent higher than what farmers are now growing.

The process for testing the WEMA varieties has been informed by a series of "mock trials" conducted in 2009 in Kenya and Tanzania. The mock trials carefully simulated field conditions, procedures, and regulatory oversight that will occur in the actual trials.

…Drought is the most important constraint to African agricultural production, and its effects are particularly severe on maize, which is the most widely-grown staple on the continent. For millions of small-scale farmers who rely on rainfall to water their crops, risk of crop failure from drought is a major barrier to the adoption of improved farming practices….

From Anga Bottione-Rossi's Histoire naturelle, agricole et economique du maïs Paris: Madame Huzard; Turin: Bocca, 1836


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