Economy

Biosafety authority wants ban on GMO imports lifted

A supermarket selling GMO-free food in Moscow. Kenya’s biosafety agency wants ban on GMOs lifted. PHOTO | AFP
A supermarket selling GMO-free food in Moscow. Kenya’s biosafety agency wants ban on GMOs lifted. PHOTO | AFP 

Kenya is expected to lift the ban on imports of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in the next three months after the biosafety authority recommended an end to the four-year freeze.

National Biosafety Authority (NBA) chief executive Willy Tunoi says the regulator has advised Parliament and the Executive on the need to lift the ban that was imposed in 2012.

This would end the restrictions on GM maize that have locked out major exporters including South Africa from the Kenyan market, which faces frequent grain deficits.

Millers say GM maize is 30 per cent cheaper than local produce and that the imports would cushion Kenyans from surging prices and ease pressure on inflation.

“We expect the ban to be lifted in the next three months, we have briefed Parliament and the minister responsible on the need to do so,” said Dr Tunoi.

Kenya is banking on GM crops to enhance food security and cut production costs and losses in a country that suffers perennial food shortage annually.

Scientists have argued that the biotech maize is resistant to stalkborers and does not require pesticides, reducing the cost of production. The NBA has already given the greenlight for scientists at the State agency to plant GM maize on their trial farms.

This followed an application by the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.

Dr Joel Ochieng’, the secretary-general of the Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium, said the decision gives a ray of hope to students of biotechnology, whose careers have been hanging in the balance as they could not apply the skills learnt.

He pointed out that university intakes for biotechnology courses dropped significantly following the GMO ban in 2012 as students were discouraged from studying a course whose practical application was not guaranteed.

“When we restrict GMOs and we have students who are pursuing those courses, it creates an impression in their minds that what they are doing is useless since they cannot execute what they were taught anywhere within the country,” he said.

In 2014, student admission to biotechnology course stood at 1,872 with 29 learners switching to other fields.