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Economy

Biotech maize field trials fail to get crop agency green light

Anti-GMO activists take part in demonstrations along Kimathi Street in Nairobi on December 8, 2016.
Anti-GMO activists take part in demonstrations along Kimathi Street in Nairobi on December 8, 2016. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Plans for commercial cultivation of genetically modified maize in Kenya have been dealt a blow after a plants agency declined to give State scientists the green light to proceed with the exercise.

National Biosafety Authority, the body responsible for regulating GMOs, had late last year written to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) allowing them to go ahead with field trials for biotech maize after consulting with the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis).

But Kephis rejected Kalro’s request, saying they can only be allowed to conduct national performance trials (NPTs) with authorisation from the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema).

“We made a request to Kephis through a letter but they declined so the whole process has stopped there,” said a senior director of Kalro.

Kephis managing director Esther Kimani did not respond to calls but her communication office referred us to Kalro.

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Best people

“About the issue of biotech and NPTs, the best people to talk to are Kalro and Nema,” said a communication official from Kalro through a text message.

This is the latest attempt by the proponents of GMO to seek the government’s go-ahead for the trial of the crop ahead of commercialisation.

NBA said last year the field trials for biotech maize and cotton were scheduled to start as soon as October 2017.

The Ministry of Health in 2016 said introduction of GMOs in Kenya remained bound by a decision of the Cabinet meeting that banned imports of biotech foods.

Kalro and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation had submitted the environmental impact report for the biotech crops last year seeking approval for field trials.

Nema allowed them to go on with the process before the agency made an about turn and stopped the exercise.

The trials, which were expected to take two years, were to be conducted nationwide at the Kephis confined fields and inspected by other government agencies.

See varieties

Kephis was to compare the conventional seed varieties with the genetically-modified ones to determine changes in nutritional composition, yield performance and pest tolerance.

Kenya imposed a ban on GMO crops in November, 2012, citing danger to public health, a decision that locked out many countries, including South Africa, from exporting maize to the country.

The taskforce formed to establish the safety of GMO crops following the ban, and influenced by a scientific journal that linked GMO crops to cancer, recommended the lifting of the ban on a case-by-case basis.

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