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Economy

Nema and ministry showdown clouds launch of GMO field tests

Tomatoes: The ban on importation of GMO products is still in force. PHOTO | FILE
Tomatoes: The ban on importation of GMO products is still in force. PHOTO | FILE 

The controversy over Kenya’s plan to release Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) for field tests deepened yesterday after the Agriculture ministry turned down a request for a policy direction.

The ministry said it cannot draft a legal framework for field trials as requested by the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) because it does not have expertise on biotech crops.

Nema had approved GMO field trials but later wrote to the ministry asking it to craft a policy framework before any such material is released for field use.

“Nema is better placed than us when it comes to policy matters in regard to the impact of the crop, if any, on field trials of the GMO,” Agriculture Secretary Willy Bett told the Business Daily.

The move implies that Nema will have a hard decision to make because it had already approved field trials of the GMO crop before subjecting it to the Ministry of Agriculture for policy direction.

Nema had told the Kenya Livestock and Research Organisation (Kalro) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), who had applied for the field trials, that they had to wait for the ministry to give a go-ahead.

The National Bio-safety Authority (NBA), the sector regulator, said the applicants have already raised concerns over the delays. “The applicants have told us that they should have started the field trials this month but they will not because of the policy direction that Nema is seeking from the Agriculture ministry,” said Willy Tonui, NBA chief executive officer in an earlier interview.

The researchers will now have to wait until next year to perform the field trials, if the government will allow them, now that the short rain season that they were banking on is passing.

If approved, the decision will effectively give the greenlight for trials to be conducted nationwide by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) and other government agencies.

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.

If the trials reveals that the seeds meet expectations such as pest and drought resistance, then Kephis will go ahead and approve it for large scale cultivation.

AATF said they were targeting 2018 for commercialisation but this could be delayed by the ongoing impasse.

The ban on importation of GMO products is still in force and it can only be lifted by the Health Cabinet secretary.

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