Environment agency delays GM field trials


Activists demonstrate against plans to lift ban on GMO foods in Nairobi last year. PHOTO | FILE


  • Nema retracts earlier nod, holding back pilot of GMO materials in plans to legalise cultivation.

The environmental watchdog has clashed with the biotechnology regulator over the delayed approval of field trials for GM maize, shelving the decision on commercial use of genetically modified foods in Kenya.

The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has retracted its earlier announcement that it had approved large-scale field trials, arguing that the application for the release of GMO material is still being reviewed and no approval had been issued for the pilot.

National Biosafety Authority (NBA) — the agency that regulates the biotech in the country — has accused Nema of causing unnecessary delays on the trials.

The Nema reckons that GM foods are sensitive and require more reviews before use.

“We did not approve the field trials for GMO. We have been still assessing the application and we will have to involve other stakeholders before making a decision,” said Nema director of compliance David Ongare.

This is in conflict with Nema’s verdict in August when the watchdog indicated on its website that it had approved requests for two organisations to start GMO field trails under the ID number NEMA/EIA/PSR/6145.

The Kenya Agricultural Research Organisation (Kalro) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) had earlier in the year sought Nema’s approval to start GM field trails. 

Kenya imposed a ban on GM crops in November, 2012, citing danger to public health, a decision that locked out exporters including South Africa, the biggest maize producer in the continent.

READ: Nema makes a U-turn on GMO field trials directive

The Kalro and AATF were given conditional approval by the NBA for the trials pending Nema’s nod.

“The stakeholders have been involved in this matter before, at the NBA level and during the environmental impact assessment and there is no point at all to conduct another stakeholder meeting,” says NBA chief executive Willy Tonui.

Dr Tonui said its approval of the GMO field trials was done with the knowledge of Nema given an executive of the environmental watchdog sits in the NBA board. NBA approvals was informed by a number stakeholder meetings.

Dr Tonui said the delay is affecting the work of Kalro and AATF that had planned to start the trials this year in what could ultimately lead to commercial GM farming.

The trials are expected to take up to two years. After trials, seed multiplication and supply will be conducted paving the way for large-scale commercial farming of GMO crops in Kenya for the first time.

The US, Brazil and India are the world’s largest growers of GM crops while in Africa, South Africa is the only that produces GM maize.