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Phase I Workshops: Kenya workshop

Kenya workshop: a case study of Bt maize

The project held a workshop in Kenya in November 2002, which brought together 49 scientists, over half from the public research sector in Kenya and neighbouring countries Ethiopia and Uganda, to discuss and develop methodologies for environmental risk assessment using the Bt maize case study.

In Kenya, maize yield loss caused by stem borers can be an important problem for both subsistence and commercial maize production. Scientists in the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) are involved in projects looking at Bt maize varieties that are toxic to stem borers. The Kenya workshop developed methods for research programs on the environmental risk assessment of these Bt maize varieties.

The Kenya workshop was hosted by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

The objectives of the workshop were to develop the draft methods, by applying them to the Kenyan case study, Bt maize. This provided Kenyan scientists with draft working methods for the biosafety testing of Bt maize in Kenya and key findings to further this analysis, and developed the methods into a form in which they could be published (the Kenya book).

Key findings:

Problem Formulation and Options Assessment (PFOA) in Kenya: The PFOA provides a technology evaluation process in which all stakeholders can contribute to the public discussion about the role of transgenic organisms in their nation. In the limited time of the workshop, the PFOA group selected just two contrasting scenarios: Bt maize and the push-pull technology. These options differ in the importance of seed availability for different farmers in Kenya, and the role of livestock with maize, so they may be best suited for different kinds of farmers - or could Bt maize be incorporated with the push-pull system?

Characterising transgene expression and locus structure of Bt maize varieties is essential for risk assessment: the Kenyan varieties still need to be characterised further, including phenotype and efficacy against the different stem borer species.

Possible recipient populations of gene flow from transgenic crops are other varieties of the same crop species. This may include local varieties used and bred by farmers who save seed from one crop to the next. The potential negative consequence of this gene flow would be the loss of unique varieties or germplasm. In Kenya, the systematic surveying of farmers’ use of maize landraces is only just beginning. This information would be necessary to understand the amount of unique germplasm that is likely to be present in Kenyan landraces. Kenyan scientists report that farmers frequently cross their landraces with improved varieties, suggesting that crop-to-crop gene flow may be frequent and widespread in Kenyan maize. Furthermore, information on how much seed saving is carried out by Kenyan farmers would be important in predicting the persistence of transgenes in the populations of local landraces, and how quickly the transgenes would spread.

There are no known barriers to gene flow between and among commercial Bt varieties, local open pollinated varieties and landraces in Kenya, by pollen or seed. The selective advantage of the Bt gene will vary regionally according to the susceptibility of the local varieties and the pest pressure: the gene flow group looked at some key experiments for analysing gene flow impacts.

Maize plants expressing Bt are associated with many non-target animal and weed species with ecosystem functions crucial to maize production in Kenya. We developed a selection process that highlights which species are highest priority for looking at possible impacts - pollinators, predators, possible pests, weeds or soil functions. We discussed experiments to answer the key questions in Kenya.

Resistance to Bt could develop in the four stem borer species in Kenya and will be a real risk without appropriate management strategies. The suite of stem borer species (Chilo partellus, Chilo orichalcociliellus, Sesamia calamistis and Busseola fusca) are main targets for Bt maize, although other pests such as Helicoverpa armigera should also be considered. Large-scale farmers can plant refuges of non-Bt maize, but for the smallholder maize production typical of Kenya other solutions are needed: the group discussed the options and the key data gaps needed to allow an evaluation of their efficacy. Resistance monitoring methods were considered.

Kenya workshop public day

The last day of the workshop was a public day to which a range of people from civil society organisations, biotechnology companies, other biosafety capacity building projects, regulatory organisations, journalists and farmer organisations were invited, as well as being open for all interested scientists from ICIPE, KARI or other centres.

The participants heard the results of the workshop groups, with presentations on problem formulation and options assessment in Kenya, using Bt maize as an example, analysing the transgene expression and locus structure of the Bt maize varieties being developed in Kenya, investigating non-target impacts and gene flow and its consequences in Bt maize, and tackling resistance evolution and management with small holder farmers growing Bt maize in Kenya.

Phase I follow-up activites in Kenya:

Workshop for Kenyan regulators
29 November - 3 December 2004

Nelson Amugune, University of Nairobi (email: or, helped run a biosafety workshop with FAO for regulators in KEPHIS, Kenya Bureau of Standards, and others, that used the GMO Guidelines Project material.

Regional Coordination Meeting
30 June 2004, ICIPE, Nairobi, Kenya

The morning of the meeting was dedicated to the opening addresses, presentations and a follow-up on the GMO Guidelines Project and its usefulness and application in on-going biosafety research projects in Kenya: this was underscored by the presentations of Drs. Josephine Songa and Adele Ngi-Song/Ellie Osir. Lively discussion ensued after each presentation, touching on resistance concerns in Busseola fusca and Helicoverpa armigera, efficacy, recent research on wild hosts and species, and post-release monitoring. The afternoon was devoted to a structured discussion on future activities of the GMO Guidelines Project in East Africa: developing and establishing effective communication tools, capacity building needs (discussion of project sections), training trainers program. Useful inputs were received, and topics for the project raised, e.g. IPR issues, greater emphasis on socio-economic issues, development of human resources for biosafety, especially young scientists trained in the field. The meeting generated a lot of good energy and enthusiasm, which will be drawn on in future plans of the project.

Further Information

• publication of the Kenya case study

• download program (pdf 56 KB)


Kenya Public Day

workshop participants

ICIPE field station