The debate on whether Kenya should adopt genetically modified crops has been re-ignited, with a section of non-governmental organisations raising concerns over what they termed contradictory statements by the government over the issue.
In a statement, the groups Route to Food Initiative (RTFI), Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC), Africa Biodiversity Network (ABN) and Greenpeace Africa, expressed concern over “recent disconcerting developments in the country”, that suggest the government has made a unilateral decision to adopt GMOs.
President Uhuru Kenyatta in his Mashujaa Day speech, directed the ministries of Health, Agriculture and Trade to develop “a quick mechanism to revive production of the cotton sector, including the possibility of farming Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton”.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) have been conducting an online media sensitisation campaign on Bt maize.
The NGOs have wondered why the government was considering the possibilities of Bt cotton farming and profiling yield increases from Genetically Modified Maize when the 2012 ban on GM food imports is still in effect.
“More so, a public engagement on whether the country is ready for this technology, has not been heard. Why is Kalro promoting research that is skewed in favour of GMOs while its mandate is to release and promote objective, unbiased research?” said Anne Maina from the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition.
“An all-inclusive nationwide discourse through public participation, which addresses whether the technology is appropriate for us, is being circumvented,” said Ms Layla Liebetrau, from Route to Food Initiative.
In November 2013, the government, through the Ministry of Health, set up a task force to review matters on genetically modified foods and safety and also assess the country’s readiness for the adoption of GMOs.
“The report was completed in 2014 but nearly five years later, it has not been released to the public despite numerous requests by KBioC’s lawyers,” the NGO’s statement read further.
“The lack of transparency evidenced in the current status of the task force report as well as in the statement by President Kenyatta on Mashujaa Day presupposes public agreement to, and acceptance of, GMOs,” added the statement.
Others who signed the report included: Karen Nekesa (Africa Biodiversity Network) and Renee Olende (Greenpeace Africa).
“As organisations that are involved in the promotion of food rights and the adoption of sustainable solutions to the problem of food insecurity, we recognise the need to increase food availability and affordability to Kenyans,” the NGOs stated.
“We are involved in various initiatives to boost availability and enable affordability. However, these are not the only considerations. Equally critical are food safety and environmental protection,” they added.
The NGOs said that genetically engineered seeds and crops have previously been presented by authorities and certain corporates as a panacea to achieving food security in Kenya and Africa at large.
“However, these modified seeds and farm produce represent a corporate takeover of our food systems. Overdependence on corporates for seeds and other farm inputs has increased our vulnerability to shocks related to food production,” they said in their statement.
They cited Burkina Faso and South Africa as case studies illustrating that GMOs are part of a form of agriculture which throws farmers into long term dependencies, undermining critical biodiversity and, by promoting large scale industrial infrastructure, drives millions into greater but not lesser poverty.
“A multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder dialogue is necessary before we rush to promote, adopt or commercialise GMOs,” the NGOs have proposed.