IRMA - Activities

Scientists sharing skills

Breeding insect resistant maize for Africa was never going to be an easy task, particularly when the agreement between the partners was to develop and release maize varieties based on Kenyan germplasm using both conventional breeding and the development of transgenic varieties containing the genes from the common soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

The process has included KARI and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) scientists developing new knowledge, skills, and technologies. It has involved:

  • more attention to dialogue with stakeholders, farmers, and consumers,
  • the construction of new infrastructure such as a special containment greenhouse and an open quarantine site,
  • the development of inventories of pests and non-target organisms to help build the information needed to answer questions on biosafety, and the means by which the possible build-up of resistance in the target pests can be managed,
  • studies on gene-flow using yellow maize grown within fields of white maize,
  • the search for Bt events, which give good control of the main stem borers found in Kenya.

Expanding research

IRMA's conventional breeding program is paying off. Newly developed varieties of maize with higher stem borer resistance are under test for the second season in national trials and are scheduled for introduction. However, while trials using publicly available transgenic events show reasonable results against stem borers found in the country's medium- and low-altitude maize, there is poor control of the stem borer common in highland areas. IRMA will expand its research to include other Bt events likely to be uniformly effective against lowland, mid-altitude, and highland stem borers. The goal continues to be the delivery of the best available technology, under licensing arrangements that are favorable for smallholder farmers.

IRMA outreach activities

In 2005 and 2006 IRMA continued its outreach to farmers, media, consumers, and civil society.

  • A workshop was held for farmers, extension staff, and researchers at KARI Kitale Research Center on the use of refugia in the management of insect resistance.
  • Scientists and the media were brought together in a workshop, responding to interest by Kenyan reporters for greater clarity in the explanation of scientific information.
  • In November, IRMA's annual stakeholder event took place, attended by growers, researchers, food companies, government officials, non-governmental organizations, and the press.

IRMA project key activities in 2005:

  • Developed bio assays for transgenic maize using cry-proteins.
  • Field-tested conventionally bred stem borer resistant maize.
  • Constructed open field quarantine site.
  • Initiated refugia crops study.
  • Interviewed approximately 1000 farmers from five different ecological zones for baseline understanding of current insect management programs, and for understanding relevance to farmers of new techniques and technologies.
  • Information exchange program initiated between CIMMYT and KARI scientists.
  • Annual public stakeholder meetings held among farmers, government officials, local non-governmental organizations, research communities, on project status
  • Built a reference insect collection at KARI's Katumani research facility.