Farmers around the country have urged government to hasten the process of availing the genetically improved Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) variety that is tolerant to drought and resistant to stalk borers. Speaking during a field visit to the WEMA experimental site at the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) Kiboko in Makueni County, eastern Kenya, on 24th August 2017, farmers expressed concerns about poor yields from their maize farms that are heavily infested with pests and lack adequate water to support a decent harvest. “We compete with insects for our food,” lamented Mr. Daniel Magondu, a maize farmer from Kirinyaga County, central Kenya, and the Chairman of the Society for Biotech Farmers of Kenya. “It is about time the government listened to our hungry cries” he added.

Guiding the visiting team to the field, Dr. Murenga Mwimali a KALRO scientist with the WEMA project pointed that the genetically improved drought tolerant/insect resistant (DT-Bt) maize had achieved a 40 per cent yield advantage over the non-GM maize in the first season of experimental trial. “The stalk borer pest causes over 13 per cent maize crop loss in this country, equivalent to 400,000 metric tons of maize every year” emphasized Dr. Murenga. “This yield loss is bound to increase with the advent of the fall army worm and the unpredictable rain patterns being experienced in the country” he added. When questioned on why the DT-Bt maize has not reached the farmers, Dr. Murenga stated that the approval process is being frustrated by politics and slow regulatory processes in the country. “It takes over 15 years to develop a genetically improved crop, the least the government can do is not add to this time” exclaimed the scientist.

The farmers in attendance pleaded with government to give them a choice to plant seeds that can address some of their challenges, and requested government to lift the ban on GM food imports that has been in place since 2012. “We have seen, we have learnt, now we want the GM seeds and we will not stop this call until we get, plant and harvest biotech maize” vowed the farmers. At the end of the field visit, farmers insisted that planting genetically improved varieties would enable them to provide enough for their families and produce surplus for the market to improve their livelihoods. “This country should be listed as a maize grain exporter and not an importer” said Mr. Magondu in his closing remarks.

The DT-Bt maize, developed by the WEMA project in partnership with, among others, CIMMYT and AATF is being tested for both drought tolerance and pest resistance in the country at two experimental sites in Kitale, western Kenyan, and Kiboko, eastern Kenya.

The event was organized by ISAAA AfriCenter under the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB-Kenya) program and the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS), in collaboration with KALRO and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). It brought together over 30 farmers from 16 maize-growing counties, journalists and scientists working on the WEMA DT-Bt maize.