The Striga Smart Sorghum for Africa (SSSfA) project is poised to develop Striga-resistant sorghum varieties thus providing a classic example of an application of genome editing tools for crop productivity enhancement in Africa. Striga, a parasitic weed, poses a significant threat to sorghum production in Africa, causing substantial yield losses. Genome editing offers a potential solution with the development of Striga-resistant sorghum varieties. However, ensuring the responsible use and long-term benefits of this technology necessitates a robust product stewardship (PS) program.

Product stewardship (PS) in agricultural biotechnologies, refers to a set of practices and principles that ensure the safe, responsible, and sustainable use of these technologies throughout their lifecycle. It is designed to be a proactive and collaborative effort involving various stakeholders, from developers and regulators to seed producers, distributors, and ultimately, farmers. By implementing a comprehensive product stewardship program, stakeholders can ensure the safe, sustainable, and responsible use of genome-edited Striga-resistant sorghum in Africa, thereby unlocking its potential to improve food security, livelihoods, and environmental sustainability.

The genome-edited SSSfA was exempted from biosafety regulations in Kenya, given that the product does not contain foreign DNA materials and as such, cannot be regarded as a genetically modified organism (GMO). However, as part of good research practice, the project partnership is committed to implementing good product stewardship to build trust and ensure sustainable and durable product development and deployment. It is pertinent to note that both regulated and stewarded agricultural biotechnology products undergo some level of oversight, but there’s a key difference in the scope and focus (Table 1). While regulation is like a traffic light, ensuring that basic safety standards are met before a product can enter the market, stewardship is like driving safely and goes beyond following the traffic light thus involving responsible practices to ensure a smooth and accident-free journey.

Table 1: Key differences between regulated and stewarded technology.

Feature Regulation Stewardship
Focus Safety and environment Responsible and sustainable use
Process Approval for commercialization Collaborative practices throughout the seed delivery chain
Outcome Meeting safety standards Safe handling, minimal risks, responsible use
Example The government approves a GM crop variety. Farmers receive training on proper handling and planting of the crop.

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) oversees product stewardship for the project. The SSSfA PS is predicated on minimizing risks, promoting responsible product use, enhancing transparency and communication, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the product. Minimizing risks involves identifying and mitigating potential environmental and human health risks that might be associated with gene-edited technology. Promoting responsible product use implies fostering the responsible development, commercialization, and use of the technology throughout the seed delivery chain involving proper handling practices, farmer training, and integrated pest management strategies. Enhancing transparency and communication points toward open communication with stakeholders, including farmers, policymakers, and the public, which is crucial for building trust and fostering informed decision-making. Ensuring long-term sustainability relates to practices that aim to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of the SSSfA products by promoting responsible use and minimizing unintended consequences.

The SSSfA technology is stewarded along the product life cycle from research and discovery, product development, seed production, marketing, and distribution, to crop production and utilization. Principles and guidelines for maintaining plant product integrity have been established and are currently implemented in the laboratory and containment facilities such as greenhouses and growth chambers at Kenyatta University and in field trials at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) research center in Alupe, western Kenya.

The stewardship principles and guidelines that have been developed include (1) A general stewardship plan that provides highlights on required leadership, training, documented information, stakeholder communication, corrective actions, continual improvement, and contractual obligations. (2) A material handling plan that defines best practices for receipt of plant materials, testing, disposition, record keeping, materials control and identification, inventory management, and research management. (3) Quality management systems that elucidate standards for quality assurance and quality control. (4) Guidelines for incidence response. These principles and guidelines are consistent with the guidelines established by the Global Stewardship Group (GSG) through its Excellence Through Stewardship (ETS) programs.  The GSG is a global organization that promotes the adoption of product stewardship programs and quality management systems for the full life cycle of agricultural biotechnology products. (

Finally, the SSSfA project partnership is committed to implementing best practices for stewarding the genome-edited Striga-smart sorghum in Africa. To this end, the project has organized stewardship compliance training for all research personnel and conducted compliance audits at both the Kenyatta University laboratory and containment facility and the KALRO research field. Striga weed resistance management strategy development is scheduled following successful field trials, and training for continuous improvement will effectively be enhanced.

Authors: Onyekachi F. Nwankwo and Lila E. N. Mwaniki, African Agricultural Technology Foundation