Dominance of genetically modified (GMO) maize in the global market is frustrating government efforts to get imports to cover for local production deficits.
Agriculture minister William Ruto said on Tuesday that GMOs had taken up huge portions of international grain markets leaving little headroom for those seeking to purchase ordinary maize.
“We are now forced to pay a premium for the normal maize because close to 90 per cent of the global grain market is now comprised of GMOs,” he said.
The minister said the government pays an average of $300 per tonne of normal maize compared to $200 per tonne paid out by those taking up GMO stocks.
Kenya is yet to embrace the GMO concept even though an Act guiding the legal and legislative frameworks on modern biotechnology is already in place.
The Biosafety Act 2009, was approved by President Kibaki in February with the National Biosafety Committee as an interim measure until the biosafety law is implemented.
The National Biosafety Committee executes its activities under the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST).
Mr Ruto said plans were underway to operationalise the Biosafety Act 2009 within the year and hinted that Kenya could soon take up the GMO products.
“We must not get stuck in what in what used to happen before,” he told a news conference in Nairobi, signalling plans to take up the GMOs.
He said research was ongoing locally on new technology that ensure Kenyans had access to safe produce and also help improve on crop production yields.
“A lot of work has been done towards this front and locally developed varieties of seed will be out soon,” he said.
Import 10m bags of maize
Kenya is expected to import about 10 million bags of maize this year following reports that the expected 2009 long rain season production is estimated at 1.84 million tonnes which is 28 per cent below normal.
Reduced maize production is likely to exacerbate an already tight national supply situation.
With such huge requirements, the grain import bill is certain to climb, at least for now because of the premium rates on normal maize.
Most Kenyans are however still cautious about GMO products and urged for caution on the part of government before it allows for usage of such produce.
“We still don’t have any GMO products in Kenya,” Mr Ruto however assured.
The controversy over GMO is not in Kenya alone as has played out even in developed economies such as Germany where authorities in April said they would ban cultivation and sale of GMO maize despite European Union rulings that the biotech grain is safe.
The ban by German authorities affected US biotech company Monsanto’s MON 810 maize.
The move put Germany alongside France, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg which have banned MON 810 maize despite its approval by the EU for commercial use throughout the bloc.