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Opening doors to GM maize vital to improve yields, curb hunger

TANZANIA’s second year of confined field trials of genetic modified maize is bearing fruit, as the crop has significantly shown signs of withstanding stem borer and fall armyworm attacks, compared to conventional maize varieties.

The confined field trials (CFT), which started in April 2016, are located in the semiarid area of Makutupora in Dodoma Region, to assess the potential of maize varieties to produce high yields in semi-arid conditions.

Speaking to reporters and farmers who recently visited CFT site, Senior Agricultural Research Officer, Dr Justin Ringo said that the genetic modified organism (GMO) maize that is resistant to drought and insects would benefit Tanzanian farmers, if the government reviews laws and regulations to allow the commercialisation of Biotech maize seed in the country.

“A maize test that endures average drought and stem borer was planted on the 16th and 17th of August 2018, the test consists of 16 species of maize as follows: 7 varieties are GMO maize and 7 varieties are non- GMO maize, and 2 types are maize certified in agriculture in the country.

In order to ensure that maize is attacked by pests, 20 stem borers of maize were introduced twice (3 and 5 weeks after planting).

In addition, he said, another experiment involving infected maize and spraying seven times to control pest damage, where the evaluation of the amount of pests made by insects was held on the 1st and 2nd of October this year (7th week after planting). Transgenic hybrids showed higher yields to 8.3 -58.0 per cent than their conventional counterparts.

The gene had positive and significant effect under drought without significant yield penalty, under optimum-moisture condition despite excessive stress, the GMO maize rate was similar to the rate shown by the pneumatic bacteria sperm.

Dr Ringo pointed out that the trial was in the final stage of tests of both drought tolerant and insect (stem borer) where the technology will continue with other procedures, by adhering to all laws and regulations before commercialisation.

The Senior Researcher added that both insect resistant and herbicide tolerant crops have helped to improve yields, cut costs, and enable more targeted pesticide applications.

Not only does that improve farmers’ bottom lines, but it also helps lessen agriculture’s impact on the environment. He pointed out that overall, pesticide applications have decreased, largely due to the adoption of insect-resistant genetically modified crops.

In fact, over the last 20 years, GMOs have reduced pesticide spraying by 8.1 per cent. As a result, the environmental impact associated with pesticide use on biotech crops has decreased by more than 18 per cent.

Since 1996, the environmental impact associated with pesticide use on biotech crops has decreased by more than 18 per cent. Farmers need to use pesticides to stop predatory insects and invasive weeds from destroying their crops.

BT has been used in organic farming for nearly 100 years as a pesticide spray, Dr Ringo clarified. Why pesticides?

According to Crop Life International, more than a third of the world’s potential crop production is lost each year to pests, such as weeds, insects and diseases. Farmers use pesticides to stop predatory insects and invasive weeds from destroying their crops.

Just as gardeners deal with caterpillars that can wreak havoc on their fruits and vegetables, farmers manage for a variety of pests that interfere with crop production, reducing yield and increasing costs to the farmer and consumer.

Access to agricultural technologies, like pesticides and GMO crops, help farmers minimise yield loss from pests, and grow more food without bringing more land into production.

GMOs reduce pesticide applications Several GM crops have been developed specifically for insect resistance or herbicide tolerance. Insect resistant BT (bacillus thuringiensis) crops have been genetically engineered to produce a protein that kills specific target insects – like the European corn borer – when they attack the plant.

These proteins only affect specific receptors in the gut of certain target pests and are harmless to humans, mammals and most non-target insects.

Did you know that the same BT pesticide you may use in your home garden and is used on organic crops is what helps insect-resistant GM crops fight pests?

Dr Ringo went on saying that as a result, farmers are able to apply pesticides in a more targeted way to get rid of the insects that would otherwise damage their crops and decrease yield. Indiana farmer Brian Scott explains that by using BT crops: said Dr Ringo, “We won’t have to come in during the growing season to make a blanket pesticide treatment across the entire field.

This means a sprayer is kept out of the field -- meaning it did not need fuel to power the sprayer or water to carry the chemical.

“Fewer passes across a field also mean less soil compaction in the wheel tracks, and don’t forget I didn’t buy any chemical or pay an application fee to a custom sprayer.

Because BT targets specific pests, we are not spraying insecticides on the beneficial insects in our fields.” he explained. Additionally, with farmers planting herbicide-tolerant crops, the volume of herbicides used in GM corn crops decreased by nearly 226.3 million kg from 1996 to 2015.

That is more than an eight per cent reduction. Herbicide tolerant crops enable farmers to till — or turn over and break up the soil — less often.

This has increased nutrient-rich organic matter up to 1,800 pounds per acre per year, which has numerous benefits, including better moisture retention, decreased erosion Both insect resistant and herbicide tolerant crops have helped to improve yields, cut costs, and enable more targeted pesticide applications.

Not only does that improve farmer’s bottom lines, but it also helps lessen agriculture’s impact on the environment. Tanzania revised its law on genetically modified organisms, allowing scientists to carry out confined trials on crops such as maize and cassava.

The commercialisation of GMO crops in Tanzania is not legal. Researchers, through Tanzania Commission of Science and Technology, have already gathered evidence on GM maize.

Other procedures remain in the hands of responsible authorities to review laws and regulations to allow the implementation of biotech crops in Tanzania.

Drought is the most devastating constraint to African agricultural production, and its effects are particularly severe on maize, which is the most widely grown staple on the continent.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation recognises biotechnology as a powerful tool in efforts to develop drought-tolerant crops.

And, their use in Tanzania will go a long way in improving yields and ending poverty.

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Author: FATMA ABDU

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