- Barely a month after President William Ruto was sworn into office, the government announced the lift of the ban on GMOs in the country.
- Following the move, ODM party leader Raila Odinga voiced his opposition saying GMO products portend serious health risks to the people of Kenya.
There is confusion among many Kenyans as to whether it was wise for the government to lift the ban on Genetically Modified Organisms-GMO.
For a country that is annually plagued by food insecurity occasioned by among other factors, drought which has exposed millions of Kenyans to hunger each year, the myth held by many is that GMOs are dangerous to human health and agricultural sustenance.
Barely a month after President William Ruto was sworn into office, the government announced the lift of the ban on GMOs in the country.
Following the move, ODM party leader Raila Odinga voiced his opposition saying GMO products portend serious health risks to the people of Kenya.
Last month, Raila's lawyer Paul Mwangi filed a petition against the government’s decision saying it was unconstitutional, a threat to food security in the country, and goes against the right to food of acceptable quality, consumer rights guaranteed by Article 43.
On his part, Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka while also voicing his opposition, said the situation puts the fate of Kenya’s food security in the hands of multinationals who own GMO technologies which in turn puts at risk the country’s unique biodiversity.
A survey conducted in December 2021 by ‘Route to Food’, a Nairobi-based food security pressure group, found that 57 per cent of Kenyans are not willing to consume genetically modified food.
However, experts and scientists feel there is much more to benefit from GMOs than the perceived dangers.
According to John Muoma, an Associate Professor of Plant Biotechnology at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology-MMUST, GMO crops are as good as any traditional crop seeing as the research in the field has undergone tremendous revolution.
He reaffirms that the future is actually GMO and that people need to let go of the belief that GMO is here to fight other practices and lead to loss of indigenous seeds.
"I urge you to appreciate GMO because it is not here to fight other practices and through it, we are not going to lose our indigenous seeds," said Muoma.
He says the chances of GMO endangering people and the environment are nil because all research and testing is done in restricted laboratories, green houses or confined field trials to prevent contamination of the environment.
Dennis Ochieno, the Coordinator of Webometrics at MMUST says it is the inception of the technology that has affected the acceptance of GMO crops not just in Kenya but in most African nations.
He says there has never been any supporting data to confirm the negative impacts of GMO crops as commonly alleged.
Ochieno believes GMO researchers and proponents have a duty to provide reliable data to policy makers and the public to help people see the good side of GMO.
“Further, I advise GMO researchers to be sensitive to the views of people, especially to matters of indigenous biodiversity and the need to conserve it,” he said.
Robert Leitich, a Senior Lecturer and Researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at MMUST, says the objective should be to raise awareness, make people informed from a factual point and demystify misconceptions about GMO.
He however stresses on the application of Bacillus Thuringiensis-BT technology in addressing farmanancy.
“BT is a species of bacteria that produces proteins that are toxic to certain insects.
Professor Joseph Kimatu however challenged his colleagues saying the current biotechnology infrastructure and corruption atmosphere in Kenya is quite inadequate to either produce or regulate GMOs.
"We should have GMO production procedures and trials articulated in products and labelled with all possible side effects," Kimatu said.
Some researchers feel the argument that GMO food is needed to feed the entire world population is absurd.
The GMO debate is an area that will require researchers to continue burning the midnight oil to demystify the fears associated with it that have deepened in the minds of farmers.
According to Richard Oduor, a professor of Biotechnology at Kenyatta University and chairperson of Kenya Universities Biotech Consortium, the GMO topic is being trivialised.
He says those linking it to cancer are simply misinformed because genetic modification does not entail chemical modification.
“Those saying it allows citizens living in Kenya’s 23 arid and semi-arid counties to build resilience against hunger and climate change need to understand that what is usually modified in GMO is the DNA of an organism and not its chemical components,” Oduor says.
While revealing that Kenya has four laboratories for researching on GMO crops, Oduor said among its many benefits are the GMO insulin which is used to control diabetes.
“We are already moving into genome editing to remove bad genes in crops. We are now developing GMO cassava to erase cyanide which naturally occurs in raw cassava,” he says.
Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya national coordinator Anne Maina however feels the GMO ban needs to be reinstated considering many food consumers are unaware of the toxicity of the types of herbicides used in the cultivation of GMO maize for instance.
She says some conditions under which GMO crops are grown require the use of particular herbicides and pesticides which can be carcinogenic.
“Therefore we urge the government to invest in research and stay away from multinationals whose major objective is to promote what they make," she said.
The majority of civil societies in the country have continued to pile pressure on the government to restore the ban and instead seek alternative mitigations to the rampant food insecurity in the country.
At the moment, about 14.5 million Kenyans face food insecurity and poor nutrition annually.
Other African countries that have commercialised the farming of GMO crops are South Africa, Eswatini, Malawi, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mozambique, and Uganda.