Kenya, TZ court cases block tonnes of GMO maize seeds


National Biosafety Authority (NBA) CEO Roy Mugiira during the interview at Nacosti Building on February 8, 2023. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Four court cases have blocked the release of 11 tonnes of genetically modified maize seeds that were to be made available to farmers this planting season.

The BT maize seeds had been planned for release to farmers by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) in the months of March and April.

Developed by KALRO in its laboratories, the maize seeds that were to be availed at a subsidised fee had been undergoing testing in confined field trials in the country for years.

The Business Daily has learnt that four cases have been filed in court so far to bar the regulator, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), from approving this consignment for release.

There are two cases in Nairobi, one at the High Court and the other at the Court of Appeal and one in Nyahururu.

The fourth case has been filed at the East Africa Court of Justice (EACJ) in Arusha, Tanzania, with the Attorney General as the first respondent.

The orders barred the government from importing, transacting, distributing and growing GMOs.

The petitioners are challenging the constitutionality of the Cabinet decision to remove the ban in October last year without public participation as required by law.

Several traders have approached NBA with requests to import GM products into the country, including a consignment of GM white maize from South Africa.

The regulator, however, froze the requests until after the determination of the court cases.

‘‘We will be able to approve the requests as soon as the courts give directions on this matter,’’ Dr Roy Mugiira, the chief executive of NBA, told the Business Daily.

Dr Mugiira says the seeds were to be used for demonstration purposes, with farmers able to compare them with other seed varieties in the market.

‘‘That roadmap is on hold,’’ Dr Mugiira says.

The cabinet lifted the ban that had been in place since November 2012, effectively allowing traders to import genetically modified food crops, and for farmers to grow them.

Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya says elected leaders in the country are ‘‘seriously aggrieved’’ because they were not consulted before this ‘‘monumental decision’’ was made by the government.

‘‘Only the president and his deputy are elected by the people. The rest of the Cabinet are appointees. They do not represent anybody,’’ says the governor.

Some of the petitioners say genetically modified crops would contaminate indigenous seeds, and destroy the environment while putting Kenyans’ health at risk if allowed into the country.

In rejoinder, researchers say BT maize is more resistant to pests, particularly the stem borer, which promises higher yields.

The stem borer is responsible for the loss of more than 15 percent of the maize crop yield in Kenya.

There has also been debate on the control of patents and ownership of seed development technology that has divided Kenyans further.

Daniel Wanjama, the coordinator of Seed Savers Network, argues that importing seeds would erode Kenya’s food sovereignty by making Kenyans dependent on seed multinationals.

‘‘Seed companies want to tell us what to eat, what to grow and how to grow it,’’ Wanjama warns, saying these companies only sell what is ‘‘good for business’’ rather than what is ‘‘good for nutrition.’’

NBA says the ban has hurt research in biotech in the country, with universities and research institutes losing funding worth millions of shillings.

‘‘You cannot be in research forever. No one wants to fund research that will not find its way into application. Some students were hesitant to take up the course after the ban on biotech products,’’ says Dr Mugiira.

The case at the Court of Appeal had been set for hearing on January 31 but failed to take off following the unavailability of one of the judges.

Only BT cotton has been approved for commercial production in Kenya after it got a clean bill of health in 2019.

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