University students threaten demos over GMO ban

A group of Civil Societies demonstrate outside Deputy President William Ruto's office against the lifting of the ban on GMOs on September 17, 2015. University students have threatened to hold demos to have the ban lifted. /PATRICK VIDIJA
A group of Civil Societies demonstrate outside Deputy President William Ruto's office against the lifting of the ban on GMOs on September 17, 2015. University students have threatened to hold demos to have the ban lifted. /PATRICK VIDIJA

Students from five public universities have threatened to usher in the New Year with massive nationwide protests if the Jubilee administration fails to reverse the ban on genetically modified food products.

University student leaders yesterday said the ban is hurting learners undertaking biotechnology courses in terms of much time they spend researching on GMOs and their future careers.

The student union leaders spoke at a press conference in Nairobi.

They included Babu Owino (University of Nairobi), Sam Were (Kenyatta Univeristy), Towett Ng’etich (Moi University), Doreen Mwenda (Kenyatta University), Anyungu Wanyungu (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology) and Antony Mumo (Egerton University).

They accused the government and the National Environment Management Authority of derailing scientific research in the food industry in failing to lift the GMO ban.

"We must support local institutions ready to produce GMO foods to reduce the country’s over-reliance on imports. This will create jobs and enhance food security," Owino said.

"The power of the people is stronger than the people in power. We will be going to the streets from January to protect the rights of our fellow students," he added.

The student leaders questioned why the government was wasting taxpayers' money in paying salaries of Biotechnology lecturers and admitting students to undertake the course when it does not recognise the graduates.

They condemned Nema for refusing to issue a permit to the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation to allow it test locally produced GMOs.

The National Assembly Agriculture Committee early this month upheld the GMO ban imposed by the Health ministry on grounds that no product have been tested by the National Biosafety Authority to establish if the food is safe for human consumption.

The students, however, termed the committee's decision a plot by MPs to frustrate local production of GMOs for cartels to continue importing food.

Ng'etich warned that they will not sit back and watch as multinational companies dominate the Kenyan market with GMO products sold at high prices.

"GMOs are labelled in bad light but if allowed they can mitigate the annual food shortages. Those talking about safety concerns are only engaging in sideshows," he said.

The students questioned why the government imposed the ban in 2012 yet imported GMO products have been busted in the market, particularly in leading supermarkets.