March 21, 2003

ZAMBIA: GM technology not responsible for maize disease?

Agriculture research scientists have dispelled assertions that maize smut disease, which has broken out in Southern Province is associated with genetic modification. Senior agricultural research officer, Goldwin Kaula said this when he paid a courtesy call on provincial agriculture coordinator Collins Nkatiko, at his office in Choma.

Mr Kaula, who is in the province to assess the impact of the maize smut disease and the control measures said the disease was not caused by gene alteration at all. He said plant pathology scientists had advised that farmers should remove the affected plants and burn them in order to control the disease. Last month, scores of peasant farmers in the province expressed worry that the disease could have been caused by genetically modified maize sent as relief food. Mr Kaula clarified that the disease affecting maize cobs was characterised by an abnormal growth with black spores and was controlled by burying and burning diseased plants. "We have advised farmers to remove plants which are affected to avoid further spreading of disease, farmers have already started burying the diseased plants," he said. He appealed to farmers not to use recycled seed, adding that the occurrence of the disease had been erratic as it mostly occurred during dry spells. Mr Kaula also called on farmers to cooperate with the ministry of Agriculture officials in the province to address the situation, saying the disease could be chemically controlled using carboxin + thira, and benomyl in the growing season. He said the fungicides had to be applied as seed dress.

Mr Kaula said the researchers had identified another disease known as grey leaf spot which he, however, said would not have any impact on maize yields as most of the crop had already reached maturity. He asked farmers to plant resistant seed if the disease was to be controlled.

In a separate development, the case in which former second republican President Chiluba and seven others are charged with the theft of public funds was adjourned to April 11. (The Times of Zambia, Ndola)

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