Need For More Food May Force Kenya To Re-Examine GMO Ban

From 2009 to 2012, Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA) allowed humanitarian agencies to import GM products as food aid during the drought season.

Back in November 2012 the Kenyan government slapped a ban on genetically modified (GM) foods following the publication of a study in the Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal alleging that GM maize caused cancerous tumors in mice, but now that the original study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini has been retracted by the journal (back in November of 2013), there are signs that Kenya may now be preparing to revise its stance on GM foods again.

The Kenyan government is not opposed to biotechnology, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Kosgey told Thomson Reuters Foundation recently at the launch of the African Plant Breeding Academy at the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) in Nairobi.

Kosgey described the retraction of the Seralini report as “good for Africa”, underlining that the continent needs to understand which technologies are useful and which are harmful. “Kenya will continue adopting the good traits in GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and discard the bad ones."

For now, the sale, distribution or consumption of GM products remains illegal in Kenya, according to an NBA spokesperson, but the government has continued to fund biotechnology research, including on GMOs, through the National Council for Science and Technology.

By no means all Kenyans are yet convinced of the benefits of GM crops.

Organic farmer Justus Lavi from Kilome village in lower eastern Kenya is afraid they could destroy indigenous farming. “What arid Kenya needs are technologies such as water harvesting to feed rural agriculture,” he said. Others like Wanjiru Kamau of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC) insist there is no evidence showing GM crops increase yields, while warning they could foster the emergence of super-pests.

For now, it remains unclear whether the pro- or anti-GM camp will win out in Kenya. But as peasant farmers find it tougher to feed their families, the lure of GM crops appears to be growing in poorer rural areas at least.

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