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Checkbiotech: Insect resistant maize in Africa moves forward
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora (IP Logged)
Date: December 29, 2004 08:47AM ;

Highlighting the Insect Resistant Maize in Africa (IRMA) project's
mid-December annual meetings in Nairobi, Kenya, was news that an application
to conduct the first field planting of transgenic Bt maize in Kenya would be
submitted and likely approved before year's end, December 2004.

The application was indeed approved during the week of 13 December by the
Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Biosafety Committee and was
scheduled for consideration by the National Biosafety Committee on 12
January 2005. If all goes well, planting of Bt maize at the project's
secure, open quarantine site could go forward in February 2005. Dr. Stephen
Mugo of CIMMYT and Dr. Simon Gichuki of KARI presented and defended the
application for field evaluation of maize containing the or cry1Ba (Bt)

The broader significance of the above is that it keeps the IRMA project on
track with its timetable to get insect resistant maize out to Kenyan
farmers. This notable progress was but one of many activities reported and
considered at IRMA's annual project meetings held 8-10 December, which
included the reporting/planning meeting, the fifth annual stakeholders
meeting, and the steering committee meeting.

Reporting/Planning Meeting

Scientists from multiple disciplines gathered together for the
reporting/planning meeting to hear from their colleagues about progress
toward objectives during the past year and to formulate integrated work
plans for the coming year. High points and achievements of 2004 included the
official launch of the level-2 biosafety greenhouse by the Hon. Mwai Kibaki,
President of Kenya; the importation of Bt maize seed for testing in the
biosafety greenhouse; the entry of conventional IRMA maize varieties with
insect resistance into the Kenyan National Performance Trials (NPTs);
completion of surveys to determine available refugia across the nation's
five maize growing agro-ecozones; and analysis of urban consumer acceptance
surveys on GM crops.

Based on milestones achieved during 2004, ten theme groups put together
detailed work plans and proposed budgets for 2005, in accordance with the
recently revised project plan. The proposed 2005 activities chart a clear
course forward, based on the crucial field testing and analysis of IRMA's Bt
maize varieties. Equally significant is the strong possibility that IRMA
maize varieties with conventional resistance will be favorably reviewed by
the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) in national performance
trials and pre-released in February 2005 for testing in farmers' fields
under their management.

Fifth Annual Stakeholders Meeting

Approximately 75 people, in addition to a sizable media entourage,
participated in the IRMA stakeholders meeting. Participants were first taken
to the biosafety greenhouse complex at KARI-NARL, where they inspected
experiments on the efficacy of Bt maize against Kenyan stem borers. They
also saw contained breeding activities aimed at producing Bt varieties that
are well adapted to Kenyan conditions and for producing seed for further

Following the greenhouse visit, stakeholders traveled to the Nairobi Hilton
Hotel, where Dr. Mpoko Bokanga, Executive Director of the Africa Agriculture
Technology Foundation (AATF), chaired the meeting. Project Manager Stephen
Mugo provided an overview of IRMA activities during the past year, including
the new management structure for the project. He informed the stakeholders
that Phase II of the project will focus on getting products to farmers, with
a major effort to addressing regulatory issues. The stakeholders also heard
from representatives of current and new IRMA partners: KARI, CIMMYT, the
Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, the Rockefeller Foundation,
and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

Remarks by Dr. Joe DeVries of the Rockefeller Foundation captured the gist
of many of the brief addresses. He said that since IRMA's inception, the
Foundation has appreciated the project's work on valuable technologies with
the potential to change the lives of farmers, and has been impressed by its
spirit of transparency and well intentioned communication efforts. He
stressed that promising or proven technologies must be shared with poor
farmers with the same or even greater urgency as they are with the rich, and
that the IRMA project presents a great opportunity for Kenyan scientists to
assess novel technologies under their own conditions.

During the question and answer period, IRMA scientists fielded questions
from farmers, representatives of civil society, university teachers and
students, scientists, and others about biosafety, regulatory and trade
issues, and, as in the past, the timetable for products to reach the field.
A proceedings of the meeting will be published in 2005 and made available to
the public.

Steering Committee Meeting

The IRMA steering committee met in a private session during the final day of
meetings to consider the proposed work plans and budgets and discuss
strategic issues. Renewal of the project for Phase II and review of the
project plan were high on the list of priorities. Among the participants
were Dr. Masa Iwanaga, Director General of CIMMYT, Dr. Romano Kiome,
Director of KARI, Dr. Andrew Bennett, Executive Director of the Syngenta
Foundation, Dr. DeVries, and Dr. Bokanga.


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