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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

Food Security

Agriculture in Africa faces several challenges, such as drought, pests and limited resources. Kenya is trying to overcome these challenges using gene editing on their staple crops.

Sorghum is one of their staple crops, and although drought-tolerant, the cereal is difficult to digest and has no taste.

Farmers in Kenya are stopping sorghum farming because, although once popular due to its resistance, the crop is vulnerable to Striga (a lethal plant weed).

This is where science comes in with gene editing. Scientists are developing a new variety of sorghum that is easier to digest, has more flavour and, very importantly, is resistant to the Striga weed.

The gene-editing technique is a lot faster than traditional breeding methods and can create new varieties in under 3 years.

Other gene-editing research in Kenya is looking at developing maize that is resistant to maize lethal necrosis, bananas resistant to fusarium wilt and banana streak virus. There is also research focusing on making pigs resistant to African swine fever and plant viruses.

There are clear and overwhelming benefits to gene-edited crops. The pest-resistant crops increase food security and provide income for farmers who previously lost multiple crop seasons to pests like the striga.

Striga (aka the witch weed) has infected ~217 000 hectares in Kenya and caused a loss of $53 million USD in crop yield per year.

To ensure the new crop varieties' quality and safety, Kenya has set strict procedures and disciplinary fines.

Food security is an ongoing problem that affects millions of people in Africa every day. This research hopes to alleviate some of the crop shortages and challenges faced by sustainable farmers across the continent.

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