Mar 18, 2024  Mike Kalumbi  Agriculture  0

Scientists at Lilongwe University of Agriculture  (LUANAR) say trials have shown that Genetically Modified (GMO) maize seeds are resistant to insects, particularly fall armyworms which affect maize yields in Malawi.

The trials for the GMO maize are being done at LUANAR’S Bunda Campus and according to scientists, leaves for maize plants that have trans genes are intact while those that do not have trans genes have had their leaves damaged by the fall armyworms.

The scientists are pushing for the use of genetically modified maize seeds saying such crops can help in ending food security because of their resistance to insects which affect yield of maize.

For example, this year maize  farms in many parts of the country have been damaged  by fall armyworms due to persistent dry spells the country experienced and this could result in low yields to farmers and possibility of food insecurity.

One of the farmers from Dedza, Alice Gubudu, told Malawi24 that  her farm has really been damaged by the fall armyworms and this could result in low yield of maize.

“The fall army worms have really damaged my maize crops and I doubt if I will harvest so much maize like I used to do. This is where my income comes from, I pay school fees and buy some necessities from the money that comes from farming but this year with the dry spells and the damage caused by the fall armyworms,  I don’t think I will be able to do that,” she said.

Alice Gubudu one of the farmers from Dedza who visited the trial site

According to Dr Kingdom Kwapata, Trial Manager for the Research Program for Bio Technology (Bt) at Bunda, Bt maize has been genetically modified to produce an insecticide Bt protein that kills stem borers and it has a potential to transform Malawi’s Maize production and contribute to the struggle against food insecurity.

“The major benefit is that it will increase yield for farmers and because of that we are expecting also a corresponding increase in incomes. As you know, fall armyworms are one of the major devastating pest for maize in the country. Now that this research has demonstrated that the maize variety that we have is resistant to  this insect, I think it’s good news for farmers and the country as a whole,” said Kwapata.

Kwapata disclosed that  the trials will take 3 to 4 years because they will also conduct further trials to other parts of the country to ensure stability of the gene in the sense that it should be able to perform the way it is performing at Bunda trial farm.

“We want it to have a uniformity in terms of performance across the nation and that will take about 2 years and then the other year probably will be issues to do with registration of the trait so that it can be commercialized,” said Kwapata.

National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) is the champion for this technology in the country.

Chief Research Officer at NCST Lyson Kampira told Malawi24 that  NCST is promoting Bt technology in the country because it has seen that this technology has got potential in the maize crops which reduces yield in Malawi.

“So after noting  that all avenues are failing especially in dealing with fall armyworm, we are trying out this Bt maize.

“Having visited the trial site, what we can say is that it appears  the Bt maize is protected from the fall armyworms in the sense that it is growing very well while our local varieties are suffering, especially those that are not being treated,” said Kampira.

He then advised people in the country to stop listening to hearsays about the GMO’s  because people who are saying GMO’s are bad, have no basis scientifically and they should let the results from the trials confirm the situation.

“If you look around the region, the maize that we are getting especially from South Africa is already GMO maize  and all the fears which people talk about, we don’t see them,” he explained.

The Bt technology is already contributing to global food security. According to a  report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications credits, GM technology accounted for the global production of 330 million tonnes of soyabean and 595 million tonnes of maize over the past 25 years.

Research into the value gained from planting GM crops has shown that 65% of the gain came from higher yield and production and 35% from lower costs.

The Open Forum on Agriculture Biotechnology (OFAB) based in Nairobi, Kenya is supporting Bt technology in Africa countries including Malawi.

Vitumbiko Chinoko is the project manager for OFAB and he says climate change is affecting agriculture and food systems in Africa and the only way farmers in Africa can encounter those challenges is the adoption and integration of technologies into the Agriculture systems.

“So what we are saying is that it’s high time Malawi embraced this kind of technology because it has an impact in terms of food security and nutrition as well as how it can cover and protect the economy of this country,” said Chinoko.

He also noted that the GMO technology has a lot of perceptions which are affecting the adoption and integration of the same into food systems but he claimed that some negative reports people have been hearing about GMOs are actually false.

“We have been in countries which for the past 20 years have been growing GMO technology, nothing of the perception, of the propaganda you have been hearing has been proven true. So anything negative about the technology is actually not true science wise,” he explained.

Chinoko made an assurance that the trials being conducted in Malawi will go through a rigorous process such that nothing dangerous will be given to farmers at the end of the day.

Are farmers impressed with the GMO maize?

Some farmers had the opportunity to go and appreciate what is being done at Bunda trial site and they were very satisfied with the GMO maize, saying this is the only way they can generate more income from farming and also end hunger in their homes.

Speaking to Malawi24 after visiting the trial site, Senior Group Chikangwe from Dedza who is also a farmer said if this GMO is adopted  it will benefit a lot of farmers and the problems they are facing now about fall armyworms will be a thing of the past.

“As a farmer, as a Chief, I  lead people in the community and I know what farmers in my community want and this is what they want right now. I want Government to fast track this program so that it can start soon. We need this in the country. This year we have suffered, our maize has been affected and if we adopt this kind of maize, I think we will benefit financially and also many people in the country will never experience hunger as it is right now,” said Chikangwe.

What are Members of Parliament saying about the GMO maize?

Members of Parliament are the people that represent people in parliament and they also make laws. Roseby Gadama is the chairperson of Women Parliamentary caucus and she is quite impressed with the GMO maize. She wants Government to adopt the technology because it will end hunger as well as poverty in the country.

“After visiting the trial site at Bunda, I can say that what the researchers are doing is quite good and maize being tried at Bunda is the type of maize the country needs right now due to climate change. As MPs, we will push for this to be done as soon as possible because farmers out there are facing problems and this is one of the solutions to end such problems and I want Government to empower these researchers with the relevant materials they need,” said Gadama.

While some agricultural experts say the adoption of GMO maize is good for the country, others argue that there is need to do rigorous process to ensure that the adopted maize is not affecting the health of people.

Leonard Chimwaza, one of the agricultural experts, says the adoption of GMO maize can help in ending hunger in the country but scientists need to tread carefully on the development.

“The development is good but the people need to be educated on the GMO maize before they adopt it. Scientists have a job to convince people that the GMO maize is not harmful to their health by doing that we  will not have problems. But I can say this is  a good initiative for the country,” he explained.

In Malawi famers, are  already benefiting from Bio Technology cotton especially Bt cotton. A Report by the National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) shows that Bt cotton – a genetically modified variety – has improved farmers’ yield by 100 percent.

Since the introduction of Biotech cotton, the yields for farmers who adopted the seed have been increased to 800 kgs per hectare from 400 kgs per hectare, according to the NCST.

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