•Biotechnology crops (BT crops), also known as Genetically Modified crops (GM crops) have been altered using genetic engineering techniques or traditional breeding methods to impart desirable traits.
•Biotechnology crops continue to meet the challenge of increased population and climate change - increasing yields and reducing losses, it contributed to food availability.
As of 2019, 17 million farmers, mostly in developing countries, had adopted to use of biotechnology crops due to their socioeconomic benefits.
The four primary crops—soybean, maize, soya, and canola—have had their DNA altered using genetic engineering techniques to impart desirable traits. These plants are known as biotechnology crops or genetically modified crops (GM crops).
Biotechnology maize occupied 60.9 million hectares globally, which was 31 per cent of the global maize production in 2019. The adoption of these crops has led to an increase in productivity and yield as well as a decrease in pesticide use, both of which have contributed to the reduction of food insecurity. As from October 9, 2022, Kenya no longer has a 10-year ban on genetically modified crops, giving us access to use these quickly embraced BT crops to help meet the challenges of a growing population and climate change through greater food supply.
Prior to this announcement, The National Biosafety Authority (NBA), the regulatory agency charged with the responsibility to oversee activities involved in genetically modified organisms, had approved 14 confined field trials and reviewed two environmental release applications for BT cotton and BT maize resulting in the approval of commercial farming BT cotton in March 2020.
With favourable traits - high germination rate, insect resistance, and early maturation - Kenya envision producing 2,000 kg of cotton per hectare against the previous average yield of 572 kg per hectare.
The production of maize and other crops has been drastically reduced in Western Kenya, Kakamega, Homa Bay, Kericho, Busia, and Bungoma as a result of a fall armyworm infestation. The farmers attempt to control their spread and devastation by using pesticides.
But without using any chemicals, the BT maize approved for performance trial has been shown to have some effect on these harmful pests, which is good for the environment and crop output. This amply illustrates the effects of BT crops. Scientists also contend that the application of the Kenyan BT maize variety developed is likely to have a 40% yield advantage in comparison to the conventionally grown maize.
Commercially cultivated BT crops are not intended to replace conventional or organic crop farming in any way. In the same ecosystem, they can all co-exist. Contrary to common opinion, there is little to no data that support the nutritional superiority between BT crops, organic crops, and conventionally grown.
Advantageous traits like disease resistance, herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, and drought resistance are added to BT crops to boost productivity and meet the growing demand for food. Regardless of how the food crops were grown or produced—whether organically, conventionally, or using genetically modified organisms—all provide essential nutrition for our bodies.
According to World Health Organization, WHO, GM foods that are now sold on the global market have passed safety tests and are not anticipated to pose health concerns to people. Additionally, the intake of such foods by the general public in the nations where they have been allowed has not been linked to any consequences on human health. Continuous evaluation based on the Codex Alimentarius principles and, when necessary, adequate post-market monitoring ensure that these foods are safe.
Due to their early adoption of BT crops, South Africa and Sudan lead the continent in GMO crops. These countries have developed faster maturing, better yielding, disease-resistant, and drought-tolerant crop types to combat a changing climate and soils that are rapidly losing fertility.
Despite what appears to be reluctance on the part of other African countries to accept GMO seeds, 11 African nations—Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Uganda—have continued to support biotech crop research, with 14 traits on 12 crops in various stages of development.
Each country has sovereign authority over the development, use, and distribution of GM crops. To monitor GMOs and create its own regulations governing their usage, each nation must set up its own biosafety regulatory organization.
Only GM seeds that have received official approval for commercial usage are available to farmers. Farmers are expected to pay for those seeds, just as they do currently for hybrid types, because some GM crops are patented. Other crops created by the public sector are offered to farmers for free or at a reasonable cost and are royalty-free.