Breeders urge Nema to issue permit for GMO performance trials

EIA certificate given by Nema retracted citing implication of the GMO ban imposed in 2012

In Summary

• Researchers say delay in getting approvals for NPT is an injustice to farmers 'who are currently not getting value for money for varieties they plant'. 

• Anti-GMO lobby groups have been calling on the government not to lift the ban citing human and environmental health risks. 

Maize plantation
GMO BANNED IN KENYA: Maize plantation
Image: COURTESY

Maize breeders have urged the environment regulator to issue a permit for performance trials on genetically modified maize.

The researchers say the permit would enable them to complete almost decade-long efforts to breed superior variety of maize. 

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre country representative Steven Mugo said trials conducted on insect-resistant Bt maize varieties for the last 10 years have produced positive results. 

But researchers cannot complete the research process until the National Performance Trials (NPT) are conducted to allow the varieties to get to the farmers.

NPT is the process of validating the performance (insect-resistance and yield) of the variety. It is done by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service.

In January 2017, the National Biosafety Authority — the GMO regulator — granted its approval for the National Performance Trials for Bt maize. 

The process also required an Environmental Impact Assessment conducted by Nema for determination of environmental risks associated with the technology.

Mugo said this was done in collaboration with Kephis on the six proposed NPT sites including Thika, Mwea, Kibos, Alupe, Embu and Kakamega.

"The report was submitted to Nema as per the approval by NBA," Mugo said.

However, an EIA certificate given by Nema was later retracted citing the implications of the GMO ban that was imposed in October 2012 by the Cabinet.

The directive banned the importation and consumption of GMO products in Kenya. 

Mugo spoke on Tuesday during a visit at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation-Kiboko confined field site.

Anti-GMO lobby groups have been calling on the government to continue enforcing the ban citing human and environmental health risks. 

Mugo said the delay in getting approvals for NPT and the consequent release of Bt maize is an injustice to the farmers. 

He said the farmers are currently not getting value for money for varieties they plant.

Paul Kimani, a member of the National Variety Release Committee in Kenya, said if approved, the technology will be a major milestone for farmers.  

“The trials conducted have shown evidence that the Bt maize has a high resistance to pests such as fall armyworm. I call upon Nema to accelerate the approvals so that farmers can benefit from the technology,” Kimani said.

He said they are engaging MPs and other agencies towards ensuring that the ban on GMOs is lifted.

National Performance Trial Committee member Erick Manyasa said, “We have come a long way and finally there is light at the end of the tunnel. We have seen Bt varieties that are showing great tolerance and resistance to stem borers and fall armyworm."

The member who is also a sorghum breeder added, "Our role today was to see what is on the ground to be able to make recommendations on the release once the approvals are ready.”

Edited by R.Wamochie