Stakeholders Meet To Deliberate On The Introduction Of GMOs

The Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Executive Director, Dr. Canisius Kanangire, has urged Kenya and other African countries to embrace biotechnology in food production in order to save their populations from hunger. Dr. Kanangire said the much-talked-about climate change was a reality in Africa and has led to a myriad of challenges such as drought and floods that have led to crop failure and millions of livestock dying, leading to millions of people being thrown into starvation while women and children continue to be ravaged by malnutrition. 'Achieving food and nutrition security in most African countries, including Kenya, has been a persistent challenge, influenced by many factors. However, one avenue we can explore to overcome these hurdles is to consider proven innovative solutions that have succeeded elsewhere and integrate them into our existing agricultural practices,' he said. Consequently, the Executive Director urged countries to embrace the use of biotechnology to grow Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods, which will save populations from the pangs of hunger. He said this change demands three fundamental components: superior seed varieties, a viable environment, knowledgeable farmers, and fertile soil. He noted that with these elements in place, Africa can effectively address the current agricultural challenges, and such success stories have been noted in countries such as Nigeria and South Africa. Dr. Kanangire was speaking during the AATF Agriculture Biotechnology Awareness Workshop with the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries in Naivasha on Friday. He said AATF, which was founded in 2003, provides farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with practical technology solutions to overcome farm productivity constraints and have a prosperous, resilient, food- and nutrition-secure Africa where smallholder farmers' livelihoods are transformed through agricultural innovations. He noted that agriculture plays a fundamentally important role in Kenya's economy as the most important driver of the economy, contributing 33.3 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and another 57 per cent of GDP indirectly through linkages with other sectors. It employs over 40 per cent of the total population and more than 70 per cent of the country's rural population. To this end, Dr. Kanangire advised the Senate committee to consider the immense potential of agriculture biotechnology and help the country leverage the Biosafety Law and the commitment it represents to ensure that all Kenyan farmers, especially smallholders, can access the benefits of GMO crops, saying this will pave the way for a brighter and more food-secure future for the nation. The Kenya Biotechnology Institute Director, Dr. Martin Mwirigi, while supporting the introduction of biotechnology in the country, said it has taken 17 years of scientific research to inform the decision to use agricultural biotechnology as a safe way of food production in the country. He reminded his audience that last year, Kenya faced a serious drought that led to severe food shortages and crises, and over 2.5 million livestock died. Dr. Mwirigi said currently, farmers in the country are facing growing challenges, including pests such as the armyworm, which destroys 30 per cent of produce, and diseases. Farmers need to be provided with adequate planting seeds and materials that are disease-resistant. He stated that climate change on its part leads to increased droughts, unpredicted weather patterns, and rising temperatures, which biotechnology, if adopted, can help solve. The director added that there were policy gaps in shaping the adoption of agricultural technologies which needed to be looked into. Dr. Mwirigi revealed that so far, 40 Agriculture Biotechnology projects have been approved by the National Biosafety Authority, and three of these projects have been released for use of cultivation. These include BT cotton, which was approved in 2020 and is already in cultivation in various counties; BT maize, which was approved in 2022, but unfortunately faced numerous cases in court stopping its implementation until it was finalised; and lastly, the virus-resistant cassava that has also been approved in the country. At the same time, Mwirigi decried inadequate funding, which he said had slowed down continuous research in Agricultural Biotechnology Technologies. Nyeri Senator Wahome wa Matinga, who is Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries, said they were meeting with professionals in the Biotechnology sector to identify the legal gaps in the implementation of the technology and come up with the necessary legislation. He said biotechnology cannot be wished away in the face of climate change, which requires the country to come up with proper seeds and seedlings through biotechnology as a sure way to food security. Wahome also said many myths being peddled about biotechnology were being done for selfish ends as this technology is in use in many of the countries where those peddling this misinformation have come from, saying we must save Kenyans from hunger through technology. Kenya banned GM crops in 2012. The ministerial statement on the ban at the time was largely informed by a 2012 scientific report dubbed the Séralini study that associated GMOs with cancer in rats. But in October 2022, the new Kenya Kwanza Government lifted the decade-long ban on the cultivation and importation of genetically modified food products (GMOs). Lifting the ban means that Kenyan farmers can now openly cultivate GM crops as well as import food and animal feed produced through genetic modification, such as white maize, which is the country's staple food and is grown on most Kenyan farms. Those opposed to the lifting of the ban on GMO products allege that they pose a health risk to Kenyans, particularly the poor and those with low incomes. They also allege that the government lifted the ban without involving Kenyans through public participation, as required by the Constitution.

Source: Kenya News Agency