GMO ban hits Kenya's mega textile city plan


Workers make clothes at an EPZ plant in Athi River. Foreign investors targeted by government for mass cotton production are reluctant to invest in the mega Textile City project unless Kenya reverses the ban on GMO products. PHOTO | FILE

Foreign investors targeted by government for mass cotton production are reluctant to invest in the venture unless Kenya reverses the ban on GMO products.

Industrialisation Principal Secretary Wilson Songa said the firms have agreed to commit to the multibillion shilling venture if allowed to grow cotton using biotechnology.

Kenya has restrictions on GM products that have locked out major exporters including South Africa from the local market, which faces frequent shortages of agro-based products.

The dispute looks set to delay the planned Textile City, which was to be fed by cotton from the foreign investors, and may defer planned entry of global fashion houses Calvin Klein, Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger that were eyeing space in the special economic zone.

READ: Calvin Klein, Hilfiger eye Kenya’s planned textile city

“The investors that we have had discussions with say they are ready to invest in the country’s cotton industry but only if the existing ban on GMO is lifted,” said Dr Songa.

He added that the bulk of the cotton farms were targeted at the Galana irrigation scheme—a state driven plan to put more than a million acres of land under irrigation.

Last year, representatives of Jiangsu Lianfa Textile Company of China said the firm was keen on large scale cotton farming.

They were in talks for the State to offer them 50,000 hectares of land for cotton farming and additional space to construct a textile factory.

The ban on GMOs in the country was made in 2012 when a task force formed by then minister for Public Health Beth Mugo declared that the foods were not safe for consumption, basing the decision on earlier studies that linked the crop to cancerous tumours in rats.

But a global scientific journal retracted an article that it had published earlier that linked genetically modified food to cancer, prompting journalists to call for the lifting of the ban.

READ: Experts accuse State of double standards over ban on GMOs

The report of task force that had been mandated to advise the government on whether the ban on GMO should be lifted or not is yet to be made public months after it was revived by the government.

The textile city targets to attract at least 100 investment firms and create more than 200,000 sustainable textile jobs by December 2016, Mr Songa said.