TELL us what you are here for
THERE is a problem of drought which we are familiar with. There is a problem of insect pest as well.
What normally happens is that when there is drought, the insect attack also increases. Africa as a continent is regarded as a drought prone continent because three out of the global drought events have taken place in Africa. Then, we also have the problem of insect pests. The insect called stem borer has been there with us, and we have been managing it.
But unfortunately, a new pest came out in 2016 and it is called Fall Armyworm. It is devastating maize all over Africa. For example, within a year of arriving in Africa from America, it devastated maize to the tune of $2.6 billion of maize harvest in 12 countries. In Nigeria, the study by FAO showed that from 2016 to 2017, $270 million worth of food
crop was consumed in Abia, Ekiti, Oyo and Ondo States. Imagine $270 million worth of crops consumed by this pest within a year! So people are saying if Africa doesn’t take action, Africa is going to lose 20 million metric tonnes of maize, enough to feed 100 million people. This means half of our population will suffer starvation and food deficiency. Knowing how important maize is in Africa, it is a big threat on food security.
Now that we all know it is a big threat, do we fold our arms and start importing food or look for solution to this problem? In AATF, we have chosen to get the solution to help our farmers. So, in getting that solution, we have found maize variety that has been genetically modified to have an in-built protection against this pest. So, the project I am coordinating here is a TELA maize project. It is a publicprivate partnership project that is addressing the problem of developing maize that is tolerant to drought and at the same time has protection against the pest called Fall Armyworm.
So that when farmers plant these seeds, they have good crop better than what they got before, and if at all the pest comes in, because the crop has in-built protection, it will no longer devastate the crop. We have been running the project for more than seven years in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa and Nigeria has just joined.
What are you trying to address with your project?
We are trying to address the problem of drought, because when there is no rain, maize is one of the most sensitive crops to drought. The moment there is no rain, the crops get devastated if drought comes when the maize is about to flower.
We also realized that this pest Fall Armyworm that came in 2016 is even worse than other pests and Africa is losing. We said let’s look for solution because climate change is affecting our maize production.
There is a lot of negative talk about genetic engineering. How safe is your product?
The issue of safety of crops when it comes to genetic engineering is always occurring, but the funniest thing is that the debate is only in Africa. Not even in all of Africa. South Africa has been eating genetic modified crops since 20 years ago, including maize.
And since then, has the population of South Africa decreased? No. If it was so, the population will have gone down. Brazil and America have been growing GM crops. GM crops is a new way to grow crops, especially crops like maize where this pest we mentioned can be curtailed. In fact, the Fall Armyworm I talked about has been existing in America. How have they been controlling it? They are managing it using genetically engineered maize. They found out a soil micro organism found to be safe for human and animals is extracted and analyzed (Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)) and use it before to spray their vegetable crops. Scientists say instead of spraying which takes time, considering the volume of maize you grow, and if you have to do that every year, it is going to be expensive for the farmer and they decided to put it inside the
maize crop through genetic engineering. It will look similar to the other maize plant, except for the protection against that insect. That is the difference.
If I show you a GM maize, and those without it, you will not know the difference. The only time you get to know the difference is when planted where one is infested with pest and the other is not.
This is just a form of breeding device by scientist discovered to make farming better for farmers.