Can small scale farmers benefit from biotechnology?
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CTA. 2003. Can small scale farmers benefit from biotechnology?. Rural Radio Resource Pack 03/01. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to cite or share this item: https://hdl.handle.net/10568/57417
Malawi, faced with a crisis situation, accepted genetically modified food aid, despite misgivings from some scientists. Dr Sosten Chiota is an environmental scientist at the University of Malawi.
Cue: With so much controversy over GMOs ? the so called ?third generation biotechnologies?, it?s sometimes forgotten that biotechnology has been around for a long time. But is it only for big commercial farmers or can smallscale farmers, who have little spare cash for investing in their farming business, also benefit? That?s the principal interest of the Biotechnology Trust. It?s Executive Director for Africa, Joseph Wekundah, talks to Sarah Reynolds about their work. IN: ?I think I?ll say we are doing two things ?? OUT: ?? increase food in the country.? DUR?N 6?15? BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: Joseph Wekundah, of Biotechnology Trust, Africa. Transcript Wekundah I think I?ll say we are doing two things. First is to promote and second is really to make sure that whatever applications we are promoting it goes towards helping the small-scale farmers in the country. Reynolds Because people tend to think of biotechnology as something for big business only? Wekundah I think that means you are looking at GMO?s which actually is a very small part of biotechnology. But we are looking at the broader aspect of biotechnology starting from the first generation all the way to second generation and also now considering the third generation in areas where we think there are constraints that can only be addressed by genetically modified products. Reynolds So genetically modified is third generation. What?s second generation, I don?t understand what the different generations mean? Wekundah The second generation is basically looking at things like tissue culture, microbiology, looking at biopesticides and looking at the bio fertilisers and whatever. And also looking at the marker assisted selection. But the third generation is where we actually go into the actual genetic modification. Like you get a gene from somewhere and you insert it into a particular plant of interest. Reynolds Well let?s come on to that in a moment. But with second generation you said tissue culture. What benefits does tissue culture have to a small-scale farmer in Kenya growing cassava or Irish potatoes for example? Wekundah First I think I would say the tissue culture has actually increased the yields up to 40%. In some instances it does even go beyond 60, 70%. Reynolds But how? Wekundah What it does is first it cleans up the material so that all the diseases and all other you know problems that it does have will actually be more or less like cleaned up. And tissue culture also helps in increasing the growth rate so that at least whatever you have will actually grow extremely fast and it also yields at the same time so you are able to get a product to the market at one go. Reynolds Now what about cost to a farmer because it?s all very well having wonderful planting material but if you can?t afford it, then there?s not much point? Wekundah It is very true that the cost is high. In fact like for you to get about 80 kilogram bag of certified potato you are supposed to pay one thousand six hundred which is extremely high for the small-scale farmer. So what we are doing is that we go around it by getting some of these foundation seeds and we give to farmers in the rural areas to grow this seed and they will be able to sell to their colleagues at reduced prices. Reynolds Now you say that you have close connections with small-scale farmers so what do they think about it? What are they doing? Are they embracing this tissue cultured type of planting material with enthusiasm or some reluctance? Wekundah Actually they have got a lot of enthusiasm because some of them have got further after getting a lot of potatoes and cassava. Some have even gone into processing the excess material if of course the market is not good. I will tell you that there is one woman group that I?ve even come up with a technique of making soap out of sweet potato. And this is happening and they are quite excited about it and therefore they go forward to continue growing this particular you know varieties that we have given them. Reynolds So there obviously is a place then for this second generation as you said biotechnology. Now is there a place for third generation, the genetically modified? Wekundah I would say, to the way I look at it, yes. There is a place for the third generation. We are talking about things like drought which is a major, major constraint in Kenya. So one of the things that we think about could be probably to get a gene out of some of these drought tolerant trees and then we transfer into maize. This maybe something that??.. Reynolds Could that be possible? Wekundah I think so because you know you had the DNA for all plants and for all animals are the same. So you are able to transfer a gene from one to the other. So as long as this gene can be identified from a particular plant species it?s possible to change it and get that gene and insert into our maize. Reynolds Are there laboratories within Kenya where scientists are actually doing this gene transfer? Actually firing the gene from one organism, one plant into another? Wekundah I would say yes because we have got some of these international laboratories based in Kenya and they have got all the equipment. Reynolds That?s in international laboratories but are Kenyan scientists themselves involved? Wekundah I would say in ILRI we have got a few Kenyan scientists involved in this but also in KARI we now have got a lab that is being developed. In fact its started briefly working and we are trying to continue with this developing of sweet potato which actually is resistant to various viruses that attacks it. And although there is one out on trial but we think that we need to have several for our local varieties with this particular gene so that farmers can grow it without having a lot of problems. Reynolds So the name of your organisation Biotechnology Trust in effect means ?trust technology?? Wekundah Well I think in this particular case I would like to mention that our approach of promotion of biotechnology is not one-sided. We do it but we also look at the various risks involved in whatever application there is. What I would want to say here is that our focus really is set to ensure that these applications really benefit the resource poor farmer so that we are able really to address this problem of food security. Because it?s only from that label that we can actually manage to increase food in the country. End of Track 3.
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