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By Juventud Rebelde
03-March-2009 Cuba News Headlines
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Genetically modified corn is being grown for the first time in Cuba as a part of an experiment aimed at obtaining high-yield varieties.

Three hectares of genetically modified corn have been planted as part of an experiment on transgenic corn FR-Bt1 carried out by the National Center for Genetic Engeneering and Biotechnology (CIGB).

The crop is being grown in Yaguajay, Sancti Spiritus by the Valle de Caonao company. A specialist from the CIGB, Raúl Armas, told JR that the Cuban variety has been modified to be more resistance to the Palomilla del maíz, the principal pest that affects this crop, and to increase the crop’s tolerance to pesticides.

The research, conducted according to the strict biological and environmental security norms set in Cuba, sets out to produce high-yield varieties for human and animal consumption.

The project aims to substitute imports and is being implemented in coordination with local agricultural and environmental groups. Some 60 hectares are scheduled to be planted in the provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila and Santiago de Cuba.

This variety of transgenic corn was first planted in the Valle de Caonao at the end of last December. The variety features no significant modifications to the plant or cob, maintaining its nutritional value and flavour. The first harvest is scheduled for late March or early April.

This genetically modified crop needs little maintenance requiring only watering and spraying with herbicides. Although these first hectares were planted by hand, farm machinery will be used on larger farms.

Armas noted that the first transgenic crops worldwide were planted in 1994; by 2008, some 120 million hectares were covered by genetically modified crops, especially soya beans, corn and cotton. In the case of corn, 22 percent of the worldwide harvest is of genetically engineering verities, principally in the United States, Canada, Argentine and South Africa —the major corn-producing countries. Other experiments on transgenic sweet potatoe, tomatoes, potatoes and rice are being conducted across Cuba.

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