Drought-resistant GM seeds won't benefit Kenyans for the next decade, says Monsanto (1/2/2006)

There's been so much hype about salt-tolerant and drought-tolerant crops courtesy of GM (not to mention suggestions that they're already there for the asking!) that the Monsanto man quoted in the article below seems refreshingly truthful when he admits that "miracle crops" with drought-tolerance might be at least 8-10 years away from benefitting farmers in Africa. The only problem is that that's almost certainly a massive understatement.

That's certainly the view of Professor Tim Flowers of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sussex:

"Evaluation of claims that biotechnology can produce salt-tolerant crops reveals that, after ten years of research using transgenic plants to alter salt tolerance, the value of this approach has yet to be established in the field. Biotechnologists have reasons for exaggerating their abilities to manipulate plants

If 'biotechnology' is to contribute tolerant crops, these crops may still be decades from commercial availability. The generation of drought tolerant crops is likely to have a similar period of development."

Drought-resistant GM seeds won't benefit Kenyans for the next decade
By Kevin J. Kelley The Nation (Kenya), 31 January 2006

US bio-engineers working to develop drought-resistant seeds say Kenyans should not expect to benefit from such "miracle crops" for at least eight to 10 years.

Those currently starving in parts of the country and those likely to suffer hunger if drought conditions persist will have to look to emergency food aid rather than to agricultural self-sufficiency, the scientists say.

Maize and other biotech crops able to thrive despite scant rainfall will not be planted in the United States until about 2010, says Christopher Horner, a spokesman for Monsanto, one of the world's leading developers of genetically modified seeds.

Such crops "will be introduced initially in the United States well before they become available in other countries," Mr Horner adds. But he notes that Monsanto is striving to "enable Africa to benefit in more of a parallel fashion rather than a sequential fashion from breakthroughs such as drought-resistant seeds.

"Kenya may be one of the first African countries where these seeds are introduced, he adds.

"Kenya is a priority for us. We know they’re trying to put in place a regulatory system for this kind of technology," Mr Horner says.

The first generation of genetically modified crops was engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, notes Robert Horsch, Monsanto's vice president for international development partnerships. Seeds designed with these properties have proven easier to develop than those tolerant of drought conditions, he says.

"The genome of plants and factors such as water uptake make for a more complicated challenge in regard to drought tolerance," Mr Horsch explains.

Farmers in drought-prone areas should meanwhile lessen their reliance on maize and plant more crops such as sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes that can better withstand lack of rainfall, Mr Horsch suggests.

Farmers struggling with temporary shortages of rainfall can meanwhile prevent maize yield losses of up to 25 per cent by planting currently available drought-tolerant hybrid seeds, adds an official with Pioneer, a company affiliated with US-based DuPont.

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