RWANDA – Rwanda, a country heavily reliant on maize production, is contemplating the adoption of genetically modified (GM) maize crop varieties to combat the devastating effects of pests such as Fall Armyworm.

The urgency for GM maize arises as traditional pest management methods, including pesticides, struggle to contain the resilience of this pest.

Fall Armyworm, notorious for its destructive impact on various crops, was first identified in Rwanda in 2017, rapidly spreading across the country and infesting significant portions of maize fields.

Efforts to mitigate its impact have prompted considerations for innovative agricultural approaches, with the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) disclosing a potential strategy to consider genetically modified crops.

The move to embrace GM maize follows Rwanda’s recent enactment of biosafety regulations, aiming to ensure the safe handling and utilization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) within the country.

Telesphore Ndabamenye, the Director General of RAB, emphasized the potential of GM crop varieties to thrive amidst climate change-induced challenges, including drought and pest invasions.

We believe that in the coming years we will have good varieties that will be disseminated to farmers,” Ndabamenye stated during a stakeholder meeting. “We are working with the Ministry of Environment on how to disseminate the varieties in a few farmers’ fields to see the adaptability of these varieties,” he noted.

He highlighted ongoing trials for cassava crops and affirmed plans to extend the initiative to maize and Irish potatoes.

Evariste Tugirinshuti, president of Rwanda Maize Farmer Cooperatives Federation, recounted the substantial losses incurred by farmers due to pest attacks. He revealed that some farmers lost between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of their produce to the pest.

Meanwhile, neighboring countries like Malawi, Kenya and Ethiopia have embarked on similar ventures, with successful trials of Bt maize demonstrating resistance to Fall Armyworm.

In Malawi, the promising results of Bt maize trials offer hope for enhanced pest tolerance and improved yields, potentially benefiting farmers grappling with pest-related losses.

Bt maize/ Bt corn is a variant of maize that has been genetically altered to express one or more proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis including Delta endotoxins.

Malawi has reported excellent performance of the first Bt Maize Confined Field Trial (CFTs) planted on December 26, 2023.

We were testing insect resistance to Fall Armyworm. Whereas the Bt maize variety withstood the insect, the ordinary maize which does not have the Bt gene was eaten up by the insects,” said Dr Abel Sefasi, a molecular biologist in Malawi.  

On the other hand, Ethiopia is ready for TELA Bt maize variety. In the country, TELA maize has completed all regulatory stages and should be ready for variety release. At the same time, scientists say that work is progressing well on late blight-resistant potatoes.

Whereas in Kenya, the Bt maize planted in western Kenya is already showing resistance to the destructive stem borer and fall armyworm pests, which will help farmers reduce their use of pesticide sprays.

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