Maputo — Maize production could increase by up to 50 per cent with the use of genetically modified seeds, according to a study held by Mozambique's Agricultural Research Institute (IIAM).
Maize is one of the most important crops in Mozambique, but farmers growing maize have been faced with drought in the southern provinces, and insect pests throughout the country. The use of genetically modified seeds, however, can lead to greater tolerance to dry conditions, and resistance to pests, according to Pedro Fato, the IIAM's lead researcher on the study.
Announcing the results of the study in Maputo on Monday, Fato said that the tests, held over two years in closed environments in the southern province of Gaza, showed that, in conditions of drought, the genetically modified seeds could raise maize yields dramatically.
"The study showed great potential for producing drought tolerant maize, which is also resistant to the pests which compromise agricultural production", he said. The purpose of the study "was to test genetically modified maize, and try to mitigate the problems of climate change and of pests that the country and the region are facing".
The maize grown from the modified seeds would be twice as productive under dry conditions than normal maize. As for protection from insect pests, the genetically modified maize proved to produce 10 to 12 per cent more than unmodified maize exposed to the same pests.
This phase was only the first part of the research, said Fato, and had been done under conditions of quarantine. The second phase will take place in open conditions, where the genetically modified plants are in normal contact with the environment, marking the start of the use of genetically modified seeds in Mozambican maize production.
Fato insisted that this will be perfectly safe, since the genetically modified seeds do not present any risk to human or animal life, or to the environment. He said there is no scientific evidence that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) pose any threat.
"In terms of bio-safety, any study involving GMOs is accompanied with a strong study of security measures, and from the work we have done so far, we have not discovered any risk for human beings", added Fato.
As for producing the modified seeds in Mozambique, Fato explained that the studies show that the techniques can be developed on a national scale, and in principle any farmer can use them.
"When the seed becomes available, any producer can have access to it, and produce genetically modified maize in any corner of the country", he said.
For his part, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Celso Laice, said that publicising the results of activities involving GMOs is one of the aspects covered by the regulations on biosecurity approved in a government decree of November 2014.
The Ministry was involved in all phases of the study, said Laice, since it represents the National Biosecurity Authority, with the task "of ensuring that activities involving GMOs are undertaken in a safe and responsible manner".
He said Mozambique expects that the representatives of the African Network of Biosecurity Specialists, who were present at the IIAM announcement, will share with the country other experiences with GMOs in Africa, including cases both of success and of failure, and the best practices to adopt.