Kenya receives mixed reactions after lifting of ban on GMOs

KENYA – East African counterparts and other activists have raised an eyebrow in response to Kenya’s recent move to repeal the 10-year prohibition on genetically modified (GM) foods, remaining skeptical of the goods’ safety.

After a French scientist’s article stated that the crops had a relation to cancer, former Health Minister Beth Mugo ordered the ban on GMOs in 2012. However, the journal was withdrawn two years later on the grounds that it was inconclusive.

The decision to end the 10-year moratorium, according to Kenya’s Cabinet, was made in reaction to the country’s worst drought in 40 years, which has left more than three million people on the verge of hunger.

The lobbies, however, claim that the decision was made without consulting the public and that it “basically restricts Kenyans’ ability to pick what they want to consume.”

They urged the prohibition to be promptly lifted and the establishment of an inclusive participatory process to consider long-term and viable solutions to problems affecting food security.

“Food security is not just about the amount of food but the quality and safety of food. Our cultural and indigenous foods have proved to be safer, with diverse nutrients and with less harmful chemical inputs,” said a joint statement signed by a dozen groups, including Greenpeace Africa.

Kenya, like many other African countries, outlawed GM crops out of concern for public health and safety as well as to defend smallholder farmers, who make up the great majority of the nation’s rural agricultural producers.

However, it received criticism for the prohibition, especially from the US, a significant exporter of GM crops.

Tanzania bashes Kenya’s move

Given Kenya’s porous borders and the lack of a formal regional policy on GM technology, its neighbors are racing to tighten regulations, reports The East African.

Hussein Bashe, Tanzania’s Minister of Agriculture, stated that Dodoma was adamantly opposed to the use of biotechnology in food production and would enact stricter regulations to stop GM foods or cash crops produced in “neighboring nations” from entering the nation.

African Organic Network (AfroNET), a Dar es Salaam-based organization, claimed Kenya proceeded without adequately assessing the long-term effects of GM technology on the general health of its populace.

“They have taken a wrong approach to such a contentious issue. It is not simply about ensuring food security in times of drought, as they seem to think,” said Constantine Akitanda, AfroNET Spokesperson.

Kenya is the second country after South Africa to back out of an African Union resolution to adopt organic agriculture instead of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) methods to minimize the effects of climate change.

Food security is not just about the amount of food but the quality and safety of food. Our cultural and indigenous foods have proved to be safer, with diverse nutrients and with less harmful chemical inputs.

Akitanda claims that despite 25 years of GM farming experimentation in South Africa, the country is “just now realizing that the expectations and goals they had when they started have not materialized.”

“Kenya is now on course to also learn the hard way. The World Food Programme stipulates in its own guidelines that any food crops it endorses for exchange between countries must be non-GMO, which means Kenya may have to forget about exporting any of its own farm produce,” he said.

On the argument that GM crops could help alleviate food scarcity, Akitanda added, “Africa has enough arable land to produce sufficient food without deploying unnatural methods to boost production.”

He argued that African nations must defy external pressure in order to adopt GM technology.

According to observers, Kenya’s hasty move was motivated by the desire to provide a pathway for receiving food aid from nations that have approved GMOs, like the US.

The approval aims to cut the price of flour, which has reached a high of Ksh240 (US$ 2) for a two-kilo package, by allowing the importation of widely and inexpensively available GM maize after the new government scrapped a subsidy program that Dr. Ruto deemed unsustainable.

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