- Title: KENYA-GMO DEBATE Government plan to lift ban on GM crops in Kenya raises debate
- Date: 7th September 2015
- Summary: KAWANDA, UGANDA (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF RESEARCHER LOOKING THROUGH MICROSCOPE AS SHE CARRIES OUT TISSUE CULTURE TESTING VARIOUS OF PLANT SPECIMENS IN LABORATORY
- Embargoed: 22nd September 2015 13:00
- Location: Uganda
- Country: Uganda
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVA95D7925LLKI5V68Q2KEBQLCME
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Stephen Pulei checks on the crop at his farm in Kiserian, a town 30 kilometres southwest of Kenya's capital Nairobi.
Temperatures in Kiserian are cool given its location at the foot of the Ngong Hills and ideal for different varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Kenyans largely consume organic produce. A recent announcement by the government that a ban on genetically engineered foods will be lifted in the next two months has farmers like Pulei concerned about the market and the consumers.
"As an organic farmer I can say that organic agriculture is the best way to go about and let's embrace it and stop using a lot of those seeds which are not good; which have been artificially manipulated," Pulei said.
Researchers say there is no evidence of health risks from GM foods but opponents have turned to different arguments, saying it puts too much power in the hands of the firms that develop them and control the market for seed.
Other fears stems from the threat to biological diversity when introducing organisms selected to genetically weed out the weaker characteristics potentially present in existing species.
Until 2008, South Africa was the only country in Africa that allowed the commercial cultivation of genetically modified crops, such as maize, cotton and soybeans. That year Egypt started growing small quantities of altered maize and Burkina Faso allowed GM cotton.
Now, African countries keen to improve crop yields, reduce hunger and protect themselves from climate change have begun to reassess their objections to genetically modified crops.
Uganda has experienced some success with the Tissue-Culture banana which is a genetically engineered product. The process involves clipping of a plant with a genetic makeup that is favourable and growing it in a controlled environment so that the most desirable traits continually reproduce.
Africa harvest founder, Florence Wambugu says there is genuine promise in genetics playing a role to improve food security.
"If you're not going to have a global crisis of food, we really have to increase the food production and not just food but nutrition together and we need every arsenal we can use to increase, we need to push on nutrition on productivity on good quality and resilience in all kind of ways and so I see here biotechnology can play a role," she said.
Kenya set up a biosafety authority in 2009 which approved a few applications for import of genetically modified crops, mainly humanitarian aid for neighbouring countries. But in 2012, citing potential health risks, the government imposed a ban.
Kenya's deputy president William Ruto announced last month that the ban would be lifted within two months, pending a final decision by the cabinet.
The Consumer Federation of Kenya, COFEK says the decision is premature as proper measures have yet to be implemented by regulatory bodies before moving forward with GM development and imports.
"The fact that we have no clear assessment of risk and medication measures; and the fact that again there are no safeguards; we have also not been able to be told what will be the basis for the lifting a ban when there were clearly reasons for which it was imposed in the first place. And what really concerns us most is that we seem to be losing sovereignty of this country, that the people driving this debate are biotechnologists - local or foreign, are funded by people who have no immediate interests in this country, other than making money from this country and they go away," said Stephen Mutoro, secretary general of COFEK.
The government says health concerns have eased after years in which genetically modified food has been grown and consumed safely around the world. Officials also guarantee that small scale and organic farmers will not loose out and that there is room for everyone.
"There are responsibilities that go with decisions to bring biotechnology. Should it affect any citizen in this country, our citizens are very important to us and they are protected in case of any injury or damage, to themselves and their property," said National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation secretary, Edwardina Otieno.
Opinions of Kenyan consumers remain as divided on the issue as those of the experts and various industry players.
"I don't see a problem with that because you know change is a good thing. Especially if you're going to have more food within a very short time and the food is ok, not harmful in any way. It doesn't cause cancer or any disease that we are not aware of. Then I'm ok. I'm good with it," Evelyn Isigi, a Nairobi resident.
"There's quite a lot we can do agriculturally. We have land, we have people. We have technology. I think we should work on that. Let's just focus on that now before we go into creating vegetables and fruits which we can easily grow," said Mary Kinyua.
Opposition to GMOs is still alive around the world. Health risks are no longer at the forefront of the debate, although research continues. Concerns are now focused on the roles companies that deploy GMO products play.
The conversation in Kenya is set to continue with more than 75 percent of its population earning some form of income from agriculture.
- Copyright Holder: FILE REUTERS (CAN SELL)
- Copyright Notice: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015. Open For Restrictions - http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None