In 2011, Kenya was poised to enter the club of GMO growing nations when the National Biosafety Authority affirmed the safety of GM foods through a ministerial brief to Parliament.
But a growing consensus in favor of the technology fell apart the next year. Kenya banned the importation of genetically modified foods after the publication of controversial research by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini that linked GM corn to cancer in rats. The study, heavily criticized by independent science groups at the time, was eventually retracted, but the damage was done: Kenya’s agricultural policy remains in limbo, hostage to a discredited study.
Writing in The Star of Kenya, Richard Oduor, who heads the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology at Kenyatta University, says its long past time to rescind the precautionary ban.
“There is an urgent need to lift the ban, which is a threat to Kenya’s food security, and the agriculture biotechnology field in general, to nurture homegrown biotech skills,” Odour writes. “The ban is hurting students registered and those graduating with biotechnology and related degrees since they are not sure of finding jobs when they graduate.”
Over the past few weeks, nine Kenyan members of Parliament have pledged to try to get the ban lifted. The MPs visited the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project’s confined field trials site at KALRO Kiboko on October 9, 2014. They were briefed on ongoing efforts to develop water efficient maize with insect resistance trait.
“We know that GM foods are safe for human consumption. Credible institutions have conducted trials on this and they have assured us of the safety,” said Hon. Fred Outa. The MPs regretted that the technology is already available, yet people could not benefit from it as a result of the ban.
“We are in the process of constituting a Parliamentary Select Committee, to independently gather information on GM food safety, and ultimately advise the House and the Cabinet to lift the ban” said Hon. Wilbur Otichilo. He lauded the scientists for having done their work in ensuring that the country has the technology and that it was now for the parliamentarians to work around the politics hindering the commercialization of the biotech crops for the benefit of poor farmers.
The government has invested considerable resources empowering a range of oversight institutions, including the Health and Agriculture ministries, Department of Veterinary Services, Kenya Bureau of Standards, Pest Control Products Board, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, National Environment Management Authority, Kenya Wildlife Service, and Kenya Industrial Property Institute.
Research facilities are in place with ave highly qualified staff and internationally recognized scientists holding doctorate degrees in biotechnology and related fields. Various genetic engineering research projects in sweet potatoes, maize and cassava that are almost ready for commercialisation at Kenyatta University, Maseno University, JKUAT, the University of Nairobi and other government research institutions are hanging on the fence.
“It is time Kenya reaped the benefits of investing in GM technology,” he writes. “The Biosafety Act of 2009 domesticated the Cartagena Protocol on Convention on Biological Diversity, which Kenya signed on May 15, 2000 and ratified on September 11, 2003. With the continued ban, the country may soon be accused of breaching the protocol.”
in November 2012, it was seen as a timely precautionary move. It was expected to await urgent scientific verification of the findings in European research that linked GM maize to cancer in rats.