Opinion and Analysis

Biotechnology can enhance food production in Kenya

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By Denis T. Kyetere

Posted  Monday, May 19  2014 at  18:15

The recent endorsement of agricultural biotechnology by President Barack Obama through a letter to Julie Borlaug, the granddaughter of Norman Borlaug, the ‘father of the Green Revolution’, is a pointer of how important this technology is in food production and security in the world.

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President Obama said that he shares his belief that “investment in enhanced biotechnology is an essential component of the solution to some of our planet’s most pressing agricultural problems,” and that his government will use the “technologies…to help farmers and ranchers face the climate challenges ahead.”

It is worth noting that these technologies can also help our country and indeed the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa to cope with the challenge of climate change that is ravaging our agriculture.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that climate change will lead to a decline in agricultural yields of up to two per cent each decade as the demand for food increases by 14 per cent per decade.

In support of this bleak outlook, Oxfam says that unpredictable weather seasons are affecting what farmers can grow leading to hunger which is also causing the cost of the available food to go up. The body admits that climate change is the biggest threat to winning the fight against hunger.

And indeed as per the IPCC’s warning, the 2013 short rains and the 2014 long rains in Kenya did not come as expected. This means that farmers have missed out on two consecutive planting seasons which will most likely translate to food shortage.

The above food production challenges are caused by drought/climate change that can also be addressed by biotechnology.

Scientists have used this tool to develop drought-tolerant maize varieties and water-use efficient rice among other climate ready crops.

Drought caused by climate change also intensifies other agricultural production challenges like insect-pest infestation on any food crop that happens to survive the drought. This is also an area that biotechnology has addressed through the development of insect-resistant crop varieties.

Given the above dire prediction, every tool in the box that can be used to contain the looming global food crisis including biotechnology should be considered. However, unless we deliberately give biotechnology a chance we will lose out.

Dr Kyetere is executive director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.