Published: Friday 15 December 2000

Seedlings of genetically modified ( gm ) potatoes are currently being housed at two greenhouses in Nairobi, Kenya. The potatoes have been genetically modified by scientists from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute with the help of us -based Monsanto Life Sciences Company, private institutions and the us government. These potatoes are resistant to the mottle virus, an insect-borne pathogen that can destroy up to 80 per cent of any crop. The first field trial of the seedling will be conducted in the near future.

Experts opine that the introduction of gm potatoes could bring about a kind of agricultural revolution in Africa. It could either become the solution to the continent's unending food problem or adversely affect the continent's ecosystem.

If proven successful, the use of gm potatoes would mean a gain of us $500 million every year to Africa. Consumer groups, however, believe that there is an ulterior motive behind the us assistance and that the West will use the research to its commercial advantage. Besides, they have argued that research needs to be conducted about possible side effects that may range from spread of pesticide-resistant insects or loss of indigenous crops. "We are being rushed and there is not enough consultation," says Samuel Ochieng, spokesperson for Kenya Consumer Information Network. But, according to Monsanto, the technology has been provided free of cost to benefit the African community purely on humanitarian grounds.

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