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Health

Kenya in spotlight as more nations turn to GM foods

A trial plantation of genetically modified cotton at the KARI centre in Kenya's Thika town. Photo/FILE
A trial plantation of genetically modified cotton at the KARI centre in Kenya's Thika town. Photo/FILE 

Policy implementers are expected to come under renewed pressure over the use of genetically modified foods in Kenya, following a steady rise in the volume of crops produced using the technology in key import markets.

New data by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application (ISAAA) shows that in South Africa, which currently ranks as Kenya’s main source of imported maize, farmland under GMO crops increased to 2.3 million hectares in the 2010/11 season from 2.16 million hectares in the preceding season.

The ISAAA said the land cultivated for GMO maize in South Africa was 1.9 million hectares, while genetically modified soya beans were produced on 390,000 hectares and cotton on 15,000 hectares.

Statistics further show that overall, the tillage of biotech crops had exceeded one billion hectares by 2010, just 15 years after GMO crops were commercialised worldwide.

“The government will have to take action sooner rather that later because the growing influence of GMOs is real. It can partially open windows for GMO products as more assessment into the probable effects is done,” an expert, John Njoroge, said.

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According to the Economic Survey 2010, Kenya’s imports from South Africa rose significantly from Sh46.69 billion in 2008 to Sh70.56 billion, mainly on the account of maize valued at Sh23.63billion compared to Sh5.5billion realised the previous year.

Kenya did not import maize from South Africa last year, thanks to a bumper harvest of 36 million bags that are expected to keep the country going until August.

A projected dry spell over the first half of this year is however expected affect production, placing the country on the path of possible importation from countries such as South Africa that are going big on GMOs.

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 his President Mwai Kibaki in February this year 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).

Increasing dominance

Analysts said the increasing dominance of GMO crops in the international market is likely to push Kenya into accepting the technology, albeit partial, or risk costly import bills whenever production deficits occurred locally.

At the peak of the famine in 2009, the then Agriculture minister William Ruto went public in support of GMOs, saying the global dominance by GM maize was frustrating efforts to import the grain from key international markets to cover for local production deficit.

Several regional countries are already working towards the adoption of GMOs as part of a strategy to boost their food security levels.

Some advocacy groups are opposed to the adoption of the GMO technology in Kenya.

In April 2010 one the groups, Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, kicked off a storm when it claimed the South African government had authorised a firm to export 240,000 tonnes of GM maize into Kenya.

The group also claimed that commodity trader Louis Dreyfus had a further 40,000 tonnes already held up in Mombasa. The government denied the allegations.

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