• A survey conducted by the Route to Food Initiative, in December 2021 showed that a majority of Kenyans (57%) are not willing to consume GMOs.
• Lobbyists say there was no public participation prior lifting of the GM ban and it goes against the will and the right to food for Kenyans.
Lobbyists have condemned the cabinet’s decision to lift the ban on the cultivation and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into Kenya, which was put in place 10 years ago.
The ban was put in place through a cabinet memo on 8 November 2012, following growing concerns over the safety of genetically modified food.
They comprised of farmers, civil society, community-based organizations (CBOs) and faith-based Organizations (FBO). There were also consumer networks including Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA), PELUM Kenya, African Biodiversity Network (ABN), SEED Savers Network, Route to Food Initiative, Greenpeace Africa, Consumer Grassroots Association and Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN).
They spoke on Thursday during a press briefing on lifting of the GMO ban.
The lobbyists said for the last 10 years, there has been no need to import or allow open cultivation of genetically modified organisms/food as the country has been able to make do without GMOs.
They noted that farmers have been producing the bulk of Kenya’s maize supply and the deficit (an average of about 10-15 million bags per year) has been supplemented through GMO free imports from Tanzania and Uganda.
“We note that this decision comes when more than 4.2 million Kenyans are facing severe hunger and high food prices due to the ongoing drought and effects of the Russia-Ukraine war, among others. More than 50 percent of the population are vulnerable to a less visible struggle of access to food. This includes those in urban areas due to the country’s hard economic situation which is equally significant but mostly ignored,” said Anne Maina, BIBA Kenya national coordinator.
She said the rushed decision to lift the ban on importation of GMOs into the country lacked public participation.
“No public consultations were done and views of the public were not considered in the decision to lift the ban, which essentially curtails the freedom of Kenyans to choose what they want to eat, or not. Kenyans are not aware of or sensitized on the purported research or report of the Taskforce used to arrive at this decision, which stands in violation of the provisions of the Right to access Information,” she said.
On socio-economic issue, Maina said lifting of the ban on GMOs opens the market to US farmers using sophisticated technologies and highly subsidised farming to compete with Kenyan maize farmers that are inadequately supported.
This is not a fair market for our farmers. Our neighbors, Uganda and Tanzania will also not favorably compete with the US maize farmers. Is this the bottom-up economic model that we were promised?” she asked.
“Opening the import market of GMOs will not form a solution, as our local trade will be at risk. We note the growing global export market of organic products from Kenya and it is devastating that we want to continue to export organic foods and import GMOS,” Maina said.
A survey conducted by the Route to Food Initiative, in December 2021 showed that a majority of Kenyans (57%) are not willing to consume GMOs.
The lobbyists said the lifting of the ban therefore goes against the will of the Kenyan people and goes against their human right to food.
“The existing GMO regulatory framework in Kenya fails to provide mechanisms for redress in the event of possible harmful effects arising from consumption and use of GMOs. What was the rush to lift the ban on GMOs even before such basic safeguards are in place? Food security is not just the amount of food but the quality and safety of food. Our cultural and indigenous food have proved to be safer, with diverse nutrients and with less harmful chemical inputs,” the group said.
The civil society groups have demanded that the ban be immediately reinstated and an inclusive participatory process be instituted to look into long-term and sustainable solutions to issues affecting food security and agricultural productivity in the country.
“The solutions will include putting in place safeguards to protect millions of producers and consumers who do not embrace the technology. Knee-jerk reactions to structural food system challenges will not work,” they said.
They also called for reviewing of the biosafety policy, regulatory and institutional framework to ensure implementation of the precautionary principle in the adoption of biotechnology.
A robust monitoring mechanism is critical to aid in redress should the technology cause harm to both human health and environment.
They further said it is important to ensure representation of key constituencies such as farmers, consumers, and CSOs in key GM management institutions while building their capacity to carry out rigorous risk and food safety assessments before introduction of GMO and any other related technologies.
“Government, in partnership with CSOs, consumer and farmer organizations should immediately roll out public awareness campaigns. This will help inform the public about the pros and cons associated with GM food and seek their consent before allowing GM food on Kenyans’ plates,” said the lobby groups.